Recently, GAJE met with Ms. Deani Van Pelt, a Senior Fellow at the Hamilton-based think tank, Cardus.
According to its website, Cardus “is dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture.” The think tank orients its work on a foundation of values based upon what it describes as “more than 2000 years of Christian social thought.” The field of education is among the six areas of public life in which it conducts original research and publishes findings and opinion.
It was for the purpose of seeking common cause in the area of education, that GAJE met with Ms. Van Pelt. Indeed, there is. Cardus is committed to the reform of Ontario’s educational system to enable the existence of affordable independent schools – denominational and non-denominational. And so is GAJE.
Cardus starts from the proposition that competition among schools in the delivery of education to the public is better for the children in the system and for the overall system itself. In advancing this idea, Cardus stands on solid intellectual ground. In particular, it points to the conclusions of a commission on private schools conducted in Ontario in 1985 by Dr. Bernard Shapiro. He advocated for the province to enable parents to have more access to independent schools so that these schools would compete with public schools and in the process drive up the quality of education in Ontario.
“In the past thirty years (since the Shapiro report),” Cardus writes, “the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Saskatchewan have cultivated a landscape where educational diversity continues to emerge and grow. However, Ontario’s landscape has remained frozen in stasis. And thirty years is a long time for the ground to lay barren.
Last year Ms. Van Pelt wrote an op-ed for the Hamilton Spectator commenting upon an article by Patrick Daly that had appeared in the paper about the benefits to society of ensuring diversity and more choice for parents in the public education sector. The article pointed out that the public sector is strengthened with diversity and more choice.
Ms Van Pelt forcefully demonstrated that society is also strengthened by “choice outside of government schools”.
“More than six per cent of Ontario students come from families who choose an independent school for their education. About half choose a religiously oriented education for their children, but want something other than a Roman Catholic school environment. Unlike the next five largest provinces in Canada, parents of students at Ontario independent schools must manage the entire cost of educating their children. By contrast, the other five largest provinces provide independent schools with up to 60 per cent of the operational amount awarded per public school pupil.
“So, while the Catholic schools (discussed in Daly’s article) potentially save taxpayers more than $140 million dollars, the more than 136,000 students who will attend independent schools or be home schooled this fall (based on 2014/15 enrolments) will save taxpayers substantially more.
“Of course, we know not all of them would have chosen a government school since parents in our times increasingly are choosing forms of education outside of their neighbourhood public school. Indeed almost every form of schooling other than the local public school option has grown and continues to grow across Canada.
“Daly is right to set the record straight about how some education options are more cost effective than others. What needs to be added to his corrective is that non-government schooling options, even when partially-funded as is the case in every other non-Atlantic province, save taxpayers even more, and offer parents and students the choice and opportunity they seek.” (Our emphasis)
At GAJE’s meeting with Ms. Van Pelt, she repeated the important public policy statement that GAJE has expressed as well, namely, that fair educational funding for independent schools actually strengthens the entire system and all schools in Ontario.