Seeking ‘equitable access’ for independent schools

An op-ed appeared this week in The Toronto Sun co-written by Deani Van Pelt and David Hunt under the headline “Publicly-educated parents seeking other options for kids”. The writers are co-authors of the study ‘Who Chooses Ontario Independent Schools and Why’ published by Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think tank. 

The commentary commends itself to GAJE followers and to members of our community in general. The authors are scholars. Thus the findings in the larger study mentioned in the commentary are credible. And the subject is germane to our community’s effort to make Jewish education affordable for the majority of families.

The authors debunk the pernicious myth that independent schools are primarily the domain of the elite and that the parents of students in independent schools are rich and privileged. The truth is vastly different.

Van Pelt and Hunt categorically prove that independent school-parents are mostly middle class and that fully “75% of the parents in Ontario who send their kids to something other than their neighbourhood public or Catholic separate school attended public schools themselves.”

In other words, the Van Pelt and Hunt research show that the families at independent schools, in the main, are indeed “ordinary” Ontarians in terms of economic status and background. So too are their aspirations for their children the “ordinary” aspirations of most, if not all, parents.

As Van Pelt and Hunt point out, “the top reason” parents send their children to independent schools “is safety. And not just from the schoolyard bully, but the kind of safety and security they and their children experience when they trust both the curriculum and teachers. Parents also say they gravitate toward independent schools because they want a supportive, nurturing learning environment for their child. “

Van Pelt and Hunt also write about the financial hardships borne by parents who send their children to independent school. They bemoan the still astonishing fact “that too few Ontario families have equitable access to independent schools since they get no government funding.” Parents of children attending Jewish schools understand this very well.

And then they urge what we, and others, have urged for months and years: “This needs to change. Addressing the access gap means letting some education funding follow students to the school they attend. That’s what provinces like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, as well as countries like Iceland, Ireland, Italy, and India do.

“As ordinary folks increasingly find refuge in schools not operated by government, it’s time to ask: Shouldn’t Ontario catch up with the rest of the democratic world and fund a diversity of education providers — government and non-government— especially for those of limited means?”

Indeed, Ontario should. It makes educational sense. It makes budgetary sense.

And it is the fair and just thing to do.

••• The full op-ed by Van Pelt and Hunt can be found at:

•••

Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

September 13, 2019

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