Conservative promises school funding will be election issue

By  Catholic Register Staff
  • March 1, 2007
Education Minister Kathleen WynneTORONTO - Which religious traditions get support from publicly funded schools is going to be an issue in Ontario’s Oct. 10 election, promises Ontario Progressive Conservative education critic Frank Klees.
Klees has been meeting with parents who have children in private religious schools across the province, and late last year tabled a petition calling for an end to exclusive public funding for Roman Catholic schools. Jewish, Evangelical and Muslim schools are unfairly discriminated against by a funding formula that includes Catholic schools but forces parents of other faiths to pay tuition on top of their taxes, according to Klees.

“It is very difficult for anyone to justify that the public education system would fund one religion to the exclusion of all others,” Klees told The Catholic Register.

Catholic schools have had full funding to the end of high school since 1984. The Conservative government of Bill Davis extended funding to the Catholic system after a series of court decisions which ruled excluding Catholic schools from full public funding violated terms of the 1867 British North America Act.

In 1999 the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled funding Catholic schools but not other religious schools violated Canada’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UNHCR repeated its censure of Ontario in 2005.

When the Liberal party came to power in 2003 it cancelled a tax credit system which gave tuition-paying parents a tax break for all private schools, religious or not.

Klees’ campaign to fund non-Catholic religious schools has support in principle from Ontario’s Catholic bishops, who have advocated for all parents to have the right to educate their children in their religious traditions since 1984.

“We consider that parents have a right to schools which reflect the values and the religion which people believe. That’s a statement of principle,” said Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops’ education commission chair.

But the bishops don’t want to be mixed up in the politics of the debate, and have no advice about how non-Catholic religious schools should be funded, said Durocher.

“There are a lot of parameters involved in these discussions, but we’re not taking any position,” Durocher said.

The Liberals aren’t going to make any moves toward funding non-Catholic schools, said Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.

“We’re proud of having cancelled the private school credit,” she said.

Spreading the existing education dollar over even more schools would be a backwards step, Wynne told The Catholic Register.

“We would continue to support the publicly funded education system as it exists. It’s based on our history and our Constitution,” she said. “To look at fracturing the education system to fund other faith-based schools is not something that this government is prepared to do.”

Klees claims adding other faith-based schools to the publicly funded system would not mean spreading the education budget thinner, and that a Conservative government would spend more money than the Liberals on education.

“Education will be a priority for our government. Having made this commitment we are fully aware that it will require additional funding,” he said.

Klees said his party hasn’t yet worked out the details and wouldn’t be pinned down on whether the Conservatives would propose tax credits or direct funding for non-Catholic religious schools. Funding all religious schools would be political insurance for continued funding of Catholic schools, said Klees.

“It is in the interest again of Catholic education and Catholic educators to join with us in advocating for faith-based education that does not discriminate against other faiths,” he said. “Because the attack at the end of the day will come against the Catholic schools. There will be those who will then argue that if you’re not prepared to fund our faith-based school then you should be funding none of them.”

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