Ontario opposition education critic Frank Klees says the policy plan the Conservatives brought forward to invite faith-based independent schools into the public system is a necessary step to stop discrimination. “I don’t believe that any government can justify the discriminatory policy that we have in this province today,” says Klees. “In a multi-cultural, multi-faith society to fund Catholic schools to the exclusion of all other faiths is untenable.”
In Ontario, Catholic schools fall under the public system whereas other faith-based schools – including Christian, Jewish and Muslim – parents pay tuition and receive no government support.
But that could change if the Conservatives win the Oct. 10 election and follow-through on their June 8 policy convention announcement to give other faith-based schools in the province the same funding as the Catholic system.
The Conservatives plan is to add $800 million to public education if John Tory becomes premier.
There are currently 53,000 students attending religious independent schools in the province.
“The objective is to meet the test that all faith-based schools in the province are treated equally and fairly,” says Klees.
The funding, which will be offered to faith-based schools and not all private schools, has details that are yet to be determined. The policy plan includes certain requirements for faith-based schools in order to receive public funds including participation in standardized provincial tests, the use of Ontario curriculum and provincial teacher credentials.
“The only option, really, is going to be whether faith-based schools decide to take advantage of the offer that would be made to join into the public education system,” says Klees.
While some provinces apply different levels of funding depending on which regulations the school follows, Klees says he doesn’t anticipate this type of system for Ontario. He says stakeholders would be in consultation to work out these types of funding details.
“I don’t anticipate that we would have four or five different levels of funding at all, I think that again leaves us in a situation where it’s difficult to justify where you draw the line, how many standards you have,” says Klees.
“It’s much more straight forward, I believe, to simply say we are opening the doors for faith-based schools to become part of the public education system in the same way that Catholic schools were given that opportunity.”
The inclusion of all faith-based schools will strengthen the public education system, says Klees.
“We’re going to provide an opportunity for all schools to participate equally in the curriculum,” he says. He adds the opportunity to encourage educational excellent applied throughout the board will improve the standards of education for both teachers and students.
“Now we have a very fragmented education system in our province. This, I believe, will be bringing cohesion and I believe it is going to be a much more robust education system than we have now.”