Catholic schools’ future may rest in private schools

  • October 19, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - In a province where the government offers full funding for Catholic schools, there still exists a niche for self-funded private Catholic education, say supporters of independent schools.

“The model we may want to look at is making all schools independent,” said Fr. Joseph Redican, C.S.B., president of St. Michael’s College School in Toronto.  

Redican said he is a supporter of publicly funded Catholic education because it allows for healthy competition, but if the system is not meeting its clients needs, private schools are the alternative.  

What’s the difference for students?

Catholic and public schools are funded differently across the nation, with a number of provinces where Catholic schools receive no government funding while others receive half of what their public school counterparts receive. The Catholic Register asked Catholic high school students from across Canada what differences they noticed in terms of resources, programs and the quality of teachers compared to publicly funded secular schools in their area.

“Public schools seem to have more opportunities and they can get larger funding. For the resources we have, the money has to be raised. In terms of sports equipment, our parents’ council has to sell hot lunches.” Olivia Maxwell, 17, in Grade 12 at St. Andrew’s Regional High School in Victoria, B.C. B.C. Catholic schools receive 50-per-cent government funding.

“More or less it’s the same. Sure public schools, their textbooks are more ratty, but they also have more funding to buy new textbooks, but content- wise they are basically the same. Lisa Newburg, 17, in Grade 12 at St. Andrew’s Regional High School in Victoria, B.C.

“There are programs not offered in the Catholic system that are offered in the public system... like automotive and fashion, but in the Catholic system there’s more emphasis on your continued education to make sure you are attending school and getting good grades.” Cynthia Schultz, 16, in Grade 12 at Dr. Martin LeBoldus High School in Regina, Sask., a fully government-funded school.

“We spend a lot more of the tuition money on getting new computers, like teaching supply stuff. I’m on student council. (Public schools) will get money for student council, but we don’t get any for our council, but aside from that there aren’t many differences.” Sarah MacGregor, 17, in Grade 12 at Sacred Heart School in Halifax, N.S., a private Catholic school that receives no government funding.

“I don’t know if (funding) is a problem. I’m on (a three-year) scholarship here. So I have the opportunity to come here when I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”Jillian Lamontagne, 16, in Grade 11 at Sacred Heart School in Halifax, N.S., a private Catholic school that receives no government funding.

“Parents are looking for private Catholic schools. If there aren’t private Catholic schools they’ll just send them to non-Catholic private schools,” he said.

Redican said private schools can operate more efficiently, listing smaller classroom sizes, more individual attention, tighter discipline, less bureaucracy, a clean school environment and better cafeteria food as options parents will find there.

Private schools are “not caught up in the system. A combination of the local bureaucracy of the boards, and the limitations put on by an overly stringent unionized environment has resulted in an inability of the publicly funded schools to respond to the needs of students and parents,” said Redican, who’s also worked in the publicly funded separate school system.

Working for change within the separate school system is what Fr. James Mulligan, CSC, advocates instead of looking outside the system to private schools.

“We have to get this Catholic identity question front and centre. Our schools have to become more Catholic,” said Fr. James Mulligan, CSC, who has drawn on his 25 years of experience as a religious education teacher to write four books on Catholic education, including his latest, A Conversation Around Catholic Education: Ensuring a Future.

“A huge question that I’ve written about in all four of my books is the competence of our teachers. How committed they are, how formed and informed they are, and that really is a core concern,” said Mulligan.

Mulligan also cautions that private Catholic education can cause elitism.

“In the public Catholic system you have everybody, but an elite system where you have to pay for education — it’s pretty much the rich,” said Mulligan, though he does note that some kids who normally wouldn’t be able to afford private schooling are subsidized.

“Poorer people are interested in the same things for their kids,” said Redican, explaining the school does offer some financial aid. Have-not students can apply for a scholarship or a 10-per-cent subsidy for an at minimum $12,825 yearly tuition.

But Redican recognizes not everyone’s needs can be met.

“One of the things the public schools can do very well is they provide education for everybody. We are not able to provide education for those who are not going on to post-secondary education. I like to think we are academically elite, but most of our parents are economically well off (too),” he said.

Mulligan said private schools need to ask if they are creating both the Catholic and corporate leaders of tomorrow or just the latter.

“Will they be the leaders in our parish, in our church in Ontario? Will they be the leaders in society where they apply the social teachings in the workplace and in society? Are we raising corporate leaders, or are they conscious that they are trying to raise leaders in full participation?”

“There’s a danger of (elitism) that we have to be actively conscious about,” said Redican. “We should be informed by our Catholic tradition that we shouldn’t be exclusive or elitist and I think we make genuine efforts to do that.”

Mulligan said a positive spin on private school education is Regis High School in New York City, a tuition-free Jesuit-run high school for low-income kids where rigourous Jesuit standards are applied to kids failing out of the public system.

In the past 20 years new private schools have been opening, such as Toronto’s Hawthorn School for Girls, Maryvale  Academy and St. Clements Secondary School in Ottawa and the new Holy Name of Mary College School in Mississauga, the sister school to St. Michael’s College School, which is slated to open its doors next September.  

If the separate system were dismantled more private schools would develop, said Redican.

“I think you are going to see more anyways.... I have to admit that private schools are what may remain for Catholic education in Ontario.”

“It would be very sad if the separate system were dismantled, said Mulligan, who doesn’t think the public funding for Catholic schools will be debated again for a few years, perhaps not until the next election.

“We have a treasure here that unfortunately too many of us are taking it for granted and maybe this last month and a half has been a wake up call for us.”

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