Voicing Catholic education concerns for 70 years

By 
  • October 24, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Parents need a provincial voice to speak up for Catholic education, says the president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education.

And that, says Brian Evoy, is what the OAPCE has been doing on behalf of Catholic parents for the past seven decades. The organization celebrates its 70th anniversary next year.
Catholic education’s main challenge in Ontario is ensuring its survival as a publicly funded school system, Evoy said in a telephone interview from Ottawa.

During the 2007 Ontario election, Conservative leader John Tory’s proposal to extend faith-based funding to other religious schools was met with loud criticism and opposition. Critics even called for an end to public school funding for Catholic schools in the province. It’s an issue that refuses to go away and could be brought up again in the next NDP provincial leadership race. Leadership hopeful Michael Prue said in late July he would be in favour of resurrecting the debate on taxpayer-funded Catholic schools.

The OAPCE began in December 1939 in London, Ont. At that time, it was known as the Catholic Parent-Teacher movement, founded by Msgr. J.A. Feeney, who negotiated with the American Parent-Teacher Association for use of the name in Canada. Feeney was appointed head of the organization. Over the years it spread province-wide and in 1996 changed its name to OAPCE.

Funding seems to be the issue that just won’t go away. London District Catholic School Board trustee Patrick Smith said the pressing issues during his time as the parent organization’s first executive director in 1989 revolved around of funding for Catholic schools.

The association remains relevant today because parents need to guard against complacency about their children’s Catholic education, Smith said.

“Look around and we can see what’s happened in Quebec and Newfoundland,” he said, referring to the provinces where public Catholic schools are no longer part of the education landscape. “There is an ominous threat there.”

Right now, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan remain the only provinces with publicly funded Catholic school systems.

Maire Bracken, OAPCE president in 2000, remembers another politically sensitive period. She was president during Premier Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution which saw teachers and the government clash over the reform of the education system.

At that time, Bracken said the association was very active in presenting parents’ concerns to the government at several committee meetings.

Having a formally organized group of parent volunteers has also had its challenges over the years, Evoy said. The association is the only volunteer-run group representing 600,000 parents in Ontario.

“The work is accomplished through long hours and sacrifice for our families,” said Evoy, who juggles his responsibilities as association present with a full-time job.

But with the sacrifices come the rewards of having the voices of Catholic parents heard at the provincial level, he said.

The OAPCE only has one paid administrative staff. It receives Its operating budget is about $60,000  which comes from school board memberships to the association and a $16,000 grant from the Ontario government. The funding is used for office and operating expenses, communication such as newsletters and its web site, and board meetings, Evoy said.

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