Answering the call to defund Catholic schools

Last week we reported on news that a group acronymically called O.P.E.N. is suing the Government of Ontario to compel it to defund the Catholic school board within our provincial educational system.

In response to the news of the O.P.E.N. lawsuit, David Hunt, education program director at the Hamilton-based think-tank Cardus, wrote a strong rebuttal of the stated reasons that underpin that lawsuit under the headline ‘Expand religious school funding in Ontario’.

Hunt’s response is compelling. It enables readers to understand clearly the differing approaches and values that animate the competing visions for the delivery of education to the children of Ontario. In addition, it provides empirical information that can help educational policy decision makers arrive at sound, proper, correct decisions.

GAJE supports Hunt’s point of view because we earnestly strive to help facilitate a Jewish education for as many children of our community as possible. But overarching all of the competing visions for Ontario education, the minimum requirement for Ontario’s educational system should be fairness, the absence of discrimination and just treatment for all Ontarians, let alone all Ontarian taxpayers.

We reproduce Hunt’s article in its entirety. It was published in the Hamilton Spectator on February 18. It is available at: https://www.thespec.com/opinion/contributors/2022/02/18/expand-religious-school-funding-in-ontario.html

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“Should Ontario defund Catholic separate schools? This perennial question is at the forefront of a legal challenge launched in Hamilton.

The plaintiffs claim funding Catholic schools is unconstitutional, violates separation of church and state, contaminates worship institutions, and is an inherent conflict of interest. The people funding the lawsuit also claim a single, centrally-administered public system will provide more options for students and teachers, promote diversity and save money.

Every single one of these assertions is wrong. Does one monolithic public-school system increase options for students? No, eliminating diversity does not create diversity. Should we worry about the separation of church and state? Again, no. Section 93 of the Constitution Act of 1867 mandates the public funding of Catholic separate schools in Ontario. 

The very existence of Section 93 is a clear rejection of what Americans call “separation of church and state.” We do not have an equivalent to the Establishment Clause of the U.S. First Amendment.

What about the concern that funding religious schools creates a “conflict of interest” that “contaminates worship institutions?” To make these claims is to thoroughly misunderstand what schools are and why we publicly fund them. Schools are social goods. Education forms us — and not just those in the classroom. The education of my neighbours’ kids — or the lack thereof — profoundly shapes the whole neighbourhood. In other words, education has spillover effects that benefit more than just the recipient. This is why we fund schools. 

However, just because all children ought to be educated does not mean they all learn the same way, fit in, or thrive in the same environments. Every child is unique, and the more educational pathways we afford them, the better. 

The research bears this out. Religious-school students matched to schools of their own faith outperform their unmatched peers. This also helps explain why Islamic schools are more effective than state-run schools at integrating Muslim students into Western societies. 

Schools are not merely of interest to society, they are also a function of society. As social goods, schools most naturally — and efficiently and effectively — emerge out of society, not from a command tower.

This is why rather than defund Catholic schools, we should expand such funding to students at other religious schools — including independent schools.

Would this be prohibitively expensive? There are 70 empirical studies to date that examine the costs and potential savings of independent-school funding programs in the U.S. Only five find that publicly funding independent schools generates net costs for taxpayers. More than 90 per cent of all methodologically defensible empirical studies find that independent-school funding generates taxpayer savings.

How is this possible? Monopolies remove incentives to maximize every dollar, attract students and improve quality. This results in mass waste and inefficiencies. So, it’s not surprising that school-district consolidations haven’t led to cost-savings.

Democracy assumes a diversity of perspectives. Educating for a strong democracy requires no less. This is why 100 countries — including every OECD country except Greece — fund a wide variety of different types of schools and school systems, including religious schools. And they’re better for it. The preponderance of evidence bears out overwhelming evidence that religious schools strengthen social cohesion.

Rather than abolishing taxpayer-funded Catholic schools, let’s let funding follow all students to their best-fit school — including religious independent schools. It would cost less than you think! A recent peer-reviewed economic analysis estimates the Ontario taxpayer expense to be the equivalent of 0.3 to 0.8 per cent of the provincial budget — a minimal cost for substantial benefit.”

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If you wish to help underwrite GAJE’s lawsuit for fairness and justice, please click here.

For further information, please contact Israel Mida at imida1818@gmail.com

Charitable receipts for donations for income tax purposes will be issued by Mizrachi Canada. Your donations will be used for the sole purpose of underwriting the costs of the lawsuit.

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Shabbat shalom.

Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE),

February 25, 2022

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