Independent school children also need to “catch up”

Last week, Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced a post-Covid “Plan to Catch Up” for the upcoming school year.

“Our government is looking ahead as we remain squarely focused on ensuring students receive the best stable learning experience possible, and that starts with them being in class, on time, with all of the experiences students deserve,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.

According to the ministry’s press release, the plan includes five key components:

  1. Getting kids back in classrooms in September, on time, with a full school experience that includes extra-curriculars like clubs, band, and field trips;
  2. New tutoring supports to fill gaps in learning;
  3. Preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow;
  4. Providing more money to build schools and improve education; and
  5. Helping students with historic funding for mental health supports.

The press release touted the government’s financial investment in the educational system that entailed more than $26.6 billion in funding for the 2022-23 school year, “the highest investment in public education in Ontario’s history.” This amount included “allocating $90 million for mental health initiatives and supports for students.” The press release also listed various showcase spending programs for tutoring, special educational grants, students at risk, and capital grants.

The government also highlighted specifically earmarked Covid-protection initiatives. “Since August 2020, more than $665 million has been allocated to improve ventilation and filtration in schools as part of the province’s efforts to protect against COVID-19.” Unfortunately, the release does not tell the whole story about Covid protection in Ontario schools. It omits mentioning that the federal government gave Queen’s Park $763 million for the express purpose of making schools Covid safe for all Ontario children aged 4-18, even children attending independent schools in the province. Yet, Ontario disbursed not one dime to any of the independent schools in the province.

We are pleased that Ontario is investing richly in its schools. It is important beyond description that the government do so. Ontario is the most populous province in the country and its industrial heartland. Educational investment is vital to the province, the country and to all Canadians. But Ontario’s investment is neither appropriate nor adequate. Indeed, until Ontario includes funding for children in independent schools – as the next five largest provinces do – it never will be. Let no-one believe that the impediment to extending funding to independent schools is financial. Cardus, the independent think-tank, put paid to that notion. In its ground breaking study released last September, Cardus recorded “the hypothetical economic costs of funding Ontario’s independent schools if the province were to fully fund the sector or apply any of the partial-funding models in Canada.”

Cardus concluded that applying three different attendance scenarios to each of the seven provincial funding schemes that exist in Canada, the cost to Ontario would range “between $535.2 million and $1.539 billion in net annual cost to Ontario taxpayers. For context, within the scope of Ontario’s $186 billion annual budget, this is around 1/3 to 4/5 of 1 percent (0.3% to 0.8%) of the budget. In other words, any of these funding options is a relatively minimal cost to substantially benefit the families who need it most.”

In providing this comprehensive potential educational funding picture, Cardus noted  that

“funding (independent schools) is the norm around the world, as well as in Canada. Globally, 73 percent of countries at least partially fund independent schools—only one OECD country does not. In Canada outside Ontario, 75 percent of independent schools and 84 percent of independent-school students are partially publicly funded.

“Ontario’s lack of funding is anomalous in both a global and Canadian context.”

Cardus’s observation regarding Ontario’s educational funding must be emphasized: Ontario is the outlier in Canada and in the Western world.

The impediment to Ontario extending funding to independent schools is political. And it is entirely inexplicable since it is based on old, tired, incorrect and anachronistic information.

Despite the soaring rhetoric and the flowing self-congratulations in last week’s press release, Ontario’s educational system fails to match the overall excellence of the five next largest provinces. It fails the tax-paying independent school families whose children also need to “catch up” from the lapses of the past Covid years. And perhaps worst of all, by the government’s refusal to erase the line of discrimination that cuts through and across the educational system in the province, it fails to give true meaning to the values of fairness and justice embedded in Ontario’s very democratic ethos.

•••

As readers know, GAJE has launched an application in court to eliminate Ontario’s discrimination in educational funding. If you wish to contribute to the lawsuit, 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.

Shabbat shalom

Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE)August 5, 2022

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