Every few years, the call to amalgamate Catholic and public school boards arises, and almost as quickly subsides. But John Kostoff warns Catholic supporters not to be complacent as the anti-Catholic school movement is becoming better funded and more aggressive. CNS file photo

Abolition threats knock on the door of Catholic education

By  John B. Kostoff
  • May 7, 2018

A sampling of recent media indicates voices are again ramping up their call for one school system in Ontario or, in short, for the abolishment of Catholic schools. 

The upcoming provincial election, recent articles in national newspapers and a spate of freedom of information requests have added to the clamour. It would be foolish to disregard these threats, which are largely motivated by self-interest and identity politics.   

The challenge to Catholic education in Ontario has existed since the first Catholic schools were opened in the 19th century. It persisted through the decades as these schools, despite constitutional guarantees, were underfunded, then continued to simmer even after full funding was granted in the 1980s. The difference now is the anti-Catholic school movement seems better funded and the language is more aggressive and mean-spirited.

A recent issue has been the acceptance of non-Catholic students into Catholic schools in certain circumstances. This seems to have infuriated those who oppose parental choice and those who would rather see empty classrooms. 

A common but misleading argument being made for abolishing Catholic schools is that one system would save money. In fact, there would be minimal, if any, savings. Merging the two systems would leave the same number of students who, due to mandated student-teacher ratios, would require at least the same number of teachers. Likewise for custodians, administrative assistants, superintendents, bus drivers, etc. There would be small bureaucratic savings at first, but how often have we heard about savings from city or hospital amalgamation, or consolidation of government services and yet the savings somehow never materialize? Any short-term benefits inevitably get absorbed into the new creation.

Even if it were true that one school system is more cost effective, a society doesn’t remove a person’s constitutional rights just to save money. If so, the Charter of Rights might as well have been drafted on an Etch A Sketch that could be shaken and re-written on a whim. 

The solution to the problem of paying for education is to fix a funding formula more than 30 years old that, if not broken, is  damaged badly. A new formula must be developed based on a set of agreed criteria that meets the needs of all who access our schools. This is a better approach than making individual funding announcements from time to time. It would be tough slogging and not for the faint-hearted, but it must be done. 

Some critics have claimed that funding Catholic schools has contributed to a teacher shortage. That’s false. The teacher shortage was a situation created by government decisions. It has nothing to do with Catholic school funding. In fact, it may be time for the Catholic community to develop a Catholic faculty of education to train teachers.

Another tired chestnut is that the United Nations has opposed publicly funded Catholic education. That is also false. The truth is that a commission suggested it was discriminatory to fund Catholic schools without broadening funding to include other faith groups, a position supported by Ontario’s bishops. 

Critics of Catholic education also argue that it is a holdover from another time. That is true in the same way that French language rights and aboriginal rights are holdovers from another time. What is the point of protected “group rights” if on a whim those historical guarantees can be disregarded? That is not my Canada. 

Imagine the disruption that would ensue from adoption of a single school system. It would be a nightmare when it came to the selection of appropriate classroom materials and curriculum. There would be objections that would make recent parental concerns about the new sex education section of the Physical Education Guideline pale by comparison. 

Catholic schools educate the whole student. Spirituality is just as important as academic, physical, social and artistic dimensions of development. Catholic education is predicated on a recognition that students have an intrinsic spiritual component that must be nurtured as every student is a child of God. 

Parents want a choice in one of their most fundamental decisions  — how to educate their children. It should be a choice, not a lock-step action that forces children into one system unless a family can afford private schooling. 

Ontario’s school system is the envy of much of the world. Many other educational systems around the world suffer from exclusivism or mediocrity, or are have lost direction, or lag due to political indecision. That’s not the case here.   

Does education need to be improved? Of course, and that is the place to put our energies. To adopt a myopic anti-Catholic approach and suggest that constitutional rights be trampled, that parental choice be denied and that the success of so many students be ignored is just foolish.

Catholic parents and supporters, priest, students and all in the Catholic community should not be complacent. The attacks on publicly-funded education are well-financed and orchestrated. The wolf is at the door. 

During Catholic Education Week we should celebrate all that is good in Catholic schools and commit to improving them. 

(John B. Kostoff, is the Executive Director of the Ontario Catholic Supervisory Officers’ Association.)

Comments (2)

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A one school system benefits Catholic education. Catholic education should be provided through private schools, not public funding so Catholic schools can practice and preach as desired without controls imposed by the government. Other faiths...

A one school system benefits Catholic education. Catholic education should be provided through private schools, not public funding so Catholic schools can practice and preach as desired without controls imposed by the government. Other faiths do this to their benefit.

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Catholic education in secondary schools should be abolished, as it is discriminatory based on faith to the teachers. Also religious education does take up 4 of the 40 credits that students need to receive a diploma which could be used for better...

Catholic education in secondary schools should be abolished, as it is discriminatory based on faith to the teachers. Also religious education does take up 4 of the 40 credits that students need to receive a diploma which could be used for better purposes. Purposes such as Persuing a course that is truly necessary for acceptance to a college or university. “Religion is the only ethnic and morals class in Ontario” is what you may say, but a solution to this is to introduce a morals & ethics class that is mandatory for one semester of high school (eg grade 11) If Catholic education is necessary then Fund it privately as it does not fit with the times today. This province is a multi-faith community and our education must represent this. If you give parents a choice of where there kids get educated, then non Catholic too must be accepted into catholic schools. A Muslim family has no choic but to send their young kids to public school or a private religious school as (most) catholic schools do not accept non-Catholics into (most of) their elementary schools!

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