Independent schools provide an important public service to the families and students using them but are publicly misunderstood in the province of Ontario. It is important to remember that supporting true educational choice would involve making the province’s independent schools accessible to ALL parents by removing the current financial penalty for parents who must pay both educational taxes and tuitions. Because these schools are not currently supported by the government, parents must pay tuition to send their children which is a financial barrier to many parents who would otherwise choose them.
Doesn’t support for school choice weaken public education?
It doesn’t!!! In all jurisdictions where governments have financially supported school choice, they have also retained their commitment to quality public education! In North America, wherever provinces (5) or states (37) support school choice, over 90% of all students still attend public schools. There is a growing body of evidence which shows increased levels of student achievement and parental satisfaction in all schools, including public schools, when parents are truly free to choose. Most of the western world practices some degree of government supported school choice. From the full voucher system found in Scandinavia, to governement-funded systems of choice in the countries of Western Europe and New Zealand, to the 37 American states with varying levels of choice legislation, to the five provinces in Canada which provide funding for school choice, there is widespread acknowledgement of the positive value of school choice.
Isn’t it mostly kids from wealthy families attending independent schools?
No!! The vast majority of students attending independent schools come from hard-working, responsible, lower & middle-class families. n Ontario, over 80% of the students attending independent schools do so because their parents have cultural, religious or pedagogical reasons for choosing them. Most of these schools have financial support mechanisms for families with lesser means.
If the government supports independent schools, won’t that just work to fragment society and break down social cohesion?
No!!! Democracy is about diversity, not conformity! Independent schools have responsible citizenship high on their list of priorities, but it’s a mistake to think that good citizenship and tolerance is learned only in school. Children learn their roles in society from parents, extended family, community leaders, popular heroes, teachers, spiritual leaders and community activities. Independent schools often draw from a wide spectrum of children, not restricted, as are public schools, by geography. In Ontario, the many and valued contributions made by graduates of Roamn Catholic schools make a lie of statements that suggest that a single system of education is the only means to social cohesion.
Is school choice intended to create competition in education?
The primary purpose of true school choice is to empower parents to participate fully in the education of their children. Poorly performing schools just do not survive. The accountability of the marketplace is a powerful regulator. Parents should be able to choose another school when they are not happy with the education their children are receving.
What is the government’s position on supporting true school choice?
The government mantra has been reduced to a single concept of “being committed to public education.” As an extension of this position, the government has tried to portray school choice as an “either-or” situation, where one is either totally in support of the public education system or against the public system. The other 5 provinces supporting school choice have shown this to be a false dilemma, since they have not reduced commitment to a quality public system, while at the same time providing support for other educational choices. Although education reform in Ontario has been superficial at best, the opponents (teacher’s federations/unions & school boards) have raised the stakes to such a degree that any action on the part of government is claimed as an attack on education. In light of this formidable opposition, the government has been unwilling to say or do anything that could remotely be construed as less than 100% supportive of public education. It is an enormous irony that the educational establishment preaches tolerance, social cohesion and inclusion, but practises self-interest, intolerance and exclusion.
How much would true school choice cost?
About one half of one percent of the provincial budget, and dropping. It costs on average $9500 per student per year to educate children in Ontario’s publicly funded system. There are approximately 125,000 students (about 6% of the total students in the province) attending independent schools in Ontario. If BC & Alberta school choice models were used in Ontario and 50% per student was given to independent schools in Ontario, the maximum would be about $500 million, an amount which represents about 0.5% of the province’s annual $75 billion budget. Keep in mind that the provincial government is constitutionally obligated to “provide for” the education of every children. Remember this as well – If the 125,00 children currently attending independent schools suddenly decided to exercise their rights to register at their local public schools, the cost to the province, at $9500 per students, would increase by over $1 billion annually. The province is currently enjoying a significant annual savings by having all of these children educated elsewhere!
Where would the money come from to pay for this?
The government already has the money – it comes from the taxes of independent school parents. Every parent presently choosing independent schools pays education taxes, but gets nothing for the education of their children. If fact, they must pay again for the education of their children through tuition. Considering the fact that it would cost over $1 billion per year if these students attended public schools, the province has saved that amount each and every year because of the double burden on parents who choose something else.
Can’t independent schools take just the best students leaving the public schools to deal with the others?
Parents will only choose a school which offers an education that complements the beliefs and traditions of the home. Good schools have very clear mission statements. Most independent schools work very hard to attract students, rather than selectively turning them away as it is often portrayed by critics. It is simply common sense that schools will accept students/families who seek the type of education being offered. Many independent schools offer parents high levels of participation at school as well. It is reasonable for parents to commit to the philosophy and direction of the school when they seek to enrol their children. These are the same types of admission policies found in public school alternatives.
Why is school choice such a “tough sell” in Ontario?
Many people believe the myth that public education is the saviour of society in Ontario and that any deterance from it threatens social cohesion. Since the mid 19th century the public school system has been viewed as the guardian of democracy and the vehicle for developing a unified culture in Ontario. Many citizens, themselves graduates of the system, have difficulty accepting the fact that things have changed. The truth is that democracy remains vital and creative when freedom and choice are nutured, and “cultural mosaic” has become the dominant social vision over the last few decades. In spite of the new world of the 21st century, the educational establishment is loathe to relinquish control over education and continues to feed the motherhood and apple pie myth to a willing audience.