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School choice supporters engage in policy discussions

Written on July 14th, 2008

Town hall meetings, online survey look to public input

The continued engagement of school choice supporters is important as the Progressive Conservative party looks to members for their opinions on policy, says Barb Bierman.

Bierman, Parents for Educational Choice (PEC) provincial spokesperson, says she encourages people to remain engaged and watch the news for opportunities such as online surveys and town hall meetings to show their support for school choice.

Ontario parents who send their children to an independent school pay tuition. In 2007, the province’s Progressive Conservative leader John Tory proposed a policy that if elected he would invite faith-based schools under public funding, providing certain criteria was met.

Faith-based school funding became a hot topic in the campaign. Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty, who opposes the idea, took a majority win.

During the Ontario Conservative convention and annual meeting in February Tory said “(Faith-based schools) will not be in our Party platform while I am leader, nor will it be pursued under any circumstances when I am elected Premier.”

Bierman says this poses a problem as Tory also promised to follow the Policy Advisory Council (PAC) process, inviting grassroots members to voice their opinions on policy matters, where the notion of school choice is still being talked about.

There is now an online form available on the Conservative website where people can express their interest in being part of the education PAC.

There have already been some town hall meetings and several independent school supporters have been attending and involved in the process.

“When I saw the list of people that are involved I felt really good that school choice will continue to be talked about because those people’s names are on that list,” says Bierman.

John Vanasselt, former communications director for the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), told the OACS News in March it will be interesting to see what Tory does with school choice when there is commitment from the grassroots level.

“We still believe that any child who receives an education that prepares them for citizenship deserves the support of the government, and that remains the starting point for our organization on this issue,” says Vanasselt.

“As the issue goes forward within the PC party you can expect our organization to continue to maintain that position, that we and a great number of other independent schools do a very good job of educating children for citizenship, and as a result we believe that government should still support that.”

While the political leaders may know that school choice is the right thing to do to improve education overall, they are afraid to put it forward in a way that will be easy to assail, says Bierman.

“Whatever they do, they have to convince the public that they are not out to hurt public education.”

A survey is available online that includes the top 20 policy issues identified at the February 2008 Party Convention. Education funding formula is one of the issues on the list.

“It is going to be interesting to see what happens with the survey and the results that come online, whether he hears that from a greater breadth of the province,” says Bierman.

Call to Action: Visit the Conservative party website for details on how to get involved or write a letter to your MPP. Upcoming Conservative party regional town hall meetings are booked for Sept. 13 in Sudbury, Oct. 18 in Hamilton and Nov. 1 in Port Hope.

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Faith-based schools to continue quest for fairness