Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Public Funding of Faith-Based Schools

As a Canadian, I am proud of our multiculturalism. Although not a perfect policy, it reflects, I think, one of our defining characteristics as a nation. However, during the current Ontario election campaign, there is a policy being promoted by the Conservative leader John Tory that I cannot support. His election promise to extend public education funding to faith-based schools is ill-considered and divisive.

Currently, about 53000 children attend such privately-funded schools. Tory’s contention that the extension of funding will ‘bring them into the public tent’ and promote understanding and greater tolerance makes no sense to me. First, a public system, by its nature, is open to all, and at least in theory offers equality of opportunity. Faith-based schools cater to an exclusive clientele and refuse to hire those who do not share their beliefs or religious denominations. I doubt that would change were funding extended. One has only to look at the publicly financed Catholic system to see its discriminatory hiring practices which no one challenges them on. The fact is that an applicant must be a good practising Catholic with a note from the parish priest to even get an interview. Indeed, they even refuse to share school buses with them, even though transportation costs could be reduced significantly. Would it be any different with other faiths and denominations?

Secondly, Tory’s assertion that it will bring people together is a non sequitor. When I went to Catholic elementary and high school, I was rarely exposed to people of other faiths. How would the extension of funding result in anything different? Indeed, isn’t it likely that the current 53000 enrollment would jump considerably if people didn’t have to pay the tuition, thereby increasing educational segregation?

Finally, and most importantly, a proposal that would take at least a half-billion dollars out of the public system can’t be healthy for that system. I was reading in the Globe the other day that there are many schools that now have to rely almost exclusively on fund-raisers in order to acquire books for the library. Indeed, Heather Reisman, CEO of Chapters and Indigo, has embarked on a program to fill that gap. What more sacrifices to the quality of public education will have to be made if funding is extended to others?

Mr. Tory has said publicly that this is the right thing to do. My own thought is it probably had its origins in an ill-advised bid to attract votes in large multi-cultural centers such as Toronto. In any event, polls show that it is a very unpopular proposal for the majority of Ontarians.

Election Day, October 10, will see which view prevails.


Coalition for Education Fairness said...

Can we suggest you read some of the information available at Education Fairness.ca.

It's interesting that you talk about how wonderful multiculturalism is but then criticize a multicultural policy. Quite the contradiction.

You must have gone to a Catholic school many years ago. It's not uncommon now to find students of all faiths in the Catholic system today.

The proposal does not take $500,000 out of public schooling. If all those 53,000 students decided to join the public system tomorrow, the province would have to pay those costs. It's about expanding public education, not taking from it.

Lorne said...

To coalition for education fairnes:

Thank you for your response. While I respect your viewpoint, I cannot agree with it. For me, multiculturalism means a respect for religious and cultural differences; you have to remember, however, that respect must be mutual. The best way, in my view, to accomplish this is through a single publicly-funded education system where people of all faiths and ethnicities have the opportunity to learn about one another. I therefore do not see the inconsistency you suggest me to be guilty of in my views on multiculturalism.

As well, to extend funding and to call faith-based institutions public schools is a kind of semantic legerdemain. Public schools insist on uniform standards, common curriculum, and fully-qualified and certified teachers. none of which are required in privately-funded schools. I wonder how willing these schools would be to surrender the autonomy they currently enjoy in exchange for tax dollars.