Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter are all smiles during this dinner to honour the cardinal in 1979. The controversial issue of school funding was an oft-raised topic in their ongoing conversations over the years, culminating in the 1984 decision to fully fund Catholic schools. Register file photo

The Register Archives: Full school funding brings more pressure

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  • June 5, 2018

On June 12, 1984, Ontario Premier Bill Davis surprised everyone with the announcement that the province’s Roman Catholic schools would be put on equal footing with the public school system and be fully funded through the end of high school. The end of the long fight to secure the funding — which included intense lobbying efforts by Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter — also brought out some words of caution by The Catholic Register’s Fr. Tom Raby in his column of June 30, 1984:


The struggle was a long one. It had been going on since Confederation. But it ended June 12 when Premier Davis of Ontario announced equal funding for Catholic schools in all grades.

All parties in the Legislature applauded this decision ending more than 100 years of injustice in school funding that caused a special hardship on parents of children in Catholic secondary schools and the school boards that operated them. While primary grades received increased government grants over the years, secondary grades received little or no help, forcing parents and parishes to support these schools through tuition and subsidies. 

We should be grateful to Premier Davis and all who supported him in this decision to give equal financial assistance to our Catholic schools. But now that equal funding is forthcoming, we must be more vigilant than ever that our Catholic schools remain Catholic in their aims and goals and spirit which are all directed to the spiritual and moral development of the students as well as their intellectual and physical growth. 

Teachers, administrators and parents must not lose sight of the whole purpose for which our Catholic schools were established and maintained over the years at great financial sacrifice. They must be committed to maintain these goals by accepting as readily the challenge of other and even more important sacrifices. 

The worst enemy of our Catholic school system is not a non-Catholic teacher who may want to teach in it, or the non-Catholic children who may attend, but our own Catholic parents and teachers who are not committed enough to their Catholic faith to make the sacrifices necessary to teach it in the most effective way — by the example of living it daily. 

For years the obligations that fell on parents and teachers to help maintain the Catholic school system called for a sacrifice that only a dedication to a cause could answer. Often the sacrifice was in lower wages for teachers, poorer facilities for students and extra fees from parents.

As the financial burdens are eased, however, there is the danger some will think there is no need for further commitment or spirit of sacrifice. It must be there in other ways keeping before us all the urgency to develop faith by instruction and example the distinguishing characteristic of our Catholic schools. 

If this is lost our schools will become indistinguishable from any other fully tax-supported system even in moral and religious training. The financial sacrifices called for over the years now must be replaced by another, which for some may be more difficult. That is the sacrifice of teachers, parents and administrators who need to be more committed than ever to live their Catholic faith by open practice as well as inward spirit, by governing their lives by its moral principles, supporting the Church in its teaching and the local parish in its worship and efforts to make Christ present in the daily faith and love of its people. 

This new financial assistance can be a good thing only if the spirit of financial sacrifice needed to operate our schools in the past continues in a spirit of commitment to maintain the Christian spirit and goals in the future. 

Someone once said: “The Church is never so poor as when it is rich.” This must not happen to our Catholic schools or the whole country will be poorer.

(To explore more from The Catholic Register Archive, go to catholicregister.org/archive)

Comments (1)

  1. Ed van Leeuwen

How prescient!

Public money comes with public oversight.

Before full funding of Catholic schools (in 1984) a fair bit of funding came directly out of the pockets of Separate School Supporters (rate payers) with tax rates set by Catholic...

How prescient!

Public money comes with public oversight.

Before full funding of Catholic schools (in 1984) a fair bit of funding came directly out of the pockets of Separate School Supporters (rate payers) with tax rates set by Catholic trustees directly accountable to those rate payers through elections.

That ended OVER a quarter of a century ago when Catholic schools received full public funding from K to 13.

The much hated Bob Rae and Mike Harris (why is it that us Ontarians hate all our former premiers?) both took steps to ensure that publicly funded Catholic Schools were truly publicly funded and on a level playing field with all other publicly funded Public schools.

As of 2018 public Catholic Schools receive 100% of their funds from all tax payers.

This has led to a HUGE increase in scrutiny by the public at large.

When only Catholics paid for Catholic education the schools had a relatively easy way to retain a distinct religious character.

Now that has been turned upside down.

When a person is a citizen they have a reasonable expectation of being able to influence the agenda. It's a cornerstone of a democracy. No taxation without representation.

Funding for Catholic education now comes also from non Catholics who get to (disproportionately) pay for the system since they pay for it as tax payers but don't get to work in it as employees.

This basic principle of how democracy works gives secular folks influence over the direction of publicly funded Catholic education.

In recent years, as awareness of the Catholic system has grown, this has dramatically increased public interest in and thus scrutiny of the publicly funded Catholic Separate schools.

For example, in the past year or two (very recent) students have won the legal right to attend Catholic high schools and opt out of the Faith based life of the school. This is possible if they're listed as Public School supporters on the tax roles. This could not have happened without secular public scrutiny.

Even Baptised Catholics can now change their status to Public School supporter (as they are legally allowed to do... In 21st century Ontario rate payers don't actually direct their taxes to one system or another anymore so you don't have to be a Separate School supporter to attend a Separate School) so their children don't have to participate in the Faith aspect of senior grades and can focus on their studies instead.

Secular groups are now also providing parents and students with information about how to go about receiving a wholly secular education within public Catholic schools.

And we see lawsuits being brought forward to challenge the very legitimacy of publicly funded Catholic schools that actually have a chance of succeeding (look at one of our western neighboring provinces who are threatening to use the politically toxic not withstanding clause to support an unconstitutional situation because public funding of non Catholics in Catholic schools was deemed unconstitutional).

How has publicly funded Catholic education responded to this scrutiny?

By becoming secular.

Teachers are at loggerheads with the Church teachings and trustees on MANY Faith-based fronts. Parents OVERWHELMINGLY side with teachers in these battles against Church doctrine as does the general public.

It is the teachers who are the foundation of the school and increasingly secular teachers mean increasingly secular schools, regardless of trustee and Church efforts.

Which kind of defeats the purpose of a Catholic education, doesn't it!?

Of course this also mirrors Catholics in Ontario who are rapidly becoming secular themselves, but, I still argue that it's the broader public who pushed Ontario's Catholic schools to become more secular.

One unintended consequence of full funding of Catholic schools is that Catholicism has now taken on the role of unofficial state religion in Ontario.

And, if we can learn anything from the examples of Ireland and Spain it is that state religions fall from grace rather quickly in 21st century Western societies. Look at the once powerful Church in Ireland and Spain where the Church was the religion of the state as recent as two decades ago.

The Church was powerless in recent years to mount an effective opposition to radical social change like same sex marriage, abortion and permissive divorce laws.

Accepting public money for Catholic education in Ontario was the beginning of the end for truly Catholic public education in Ontario.

PS I suggest you read "From Hope to Harris". It's now twenty years old but it does a great job of tracing public education in Ontario from the 1950's through to the 1990's.

Thank you for reading my rather lengthy comment.

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