The United Nations human rights committee says Ontario's policy of fully funding Roman Catholic schools, while denying full funding to other religious schools, is discriminatory.
In moving to comply with the ruling Ontario could do one of two things; extend funding to other religious schools, or end funding to Roman Catholic schools.
The United Nations reiterated its concern in 2005. Make no mistake, it is discriminatory. And, there is no such thing as fair discrimination, despite what some Ontario Liberals would have you believe.
Right now, Roman Catholics have three options for education - for those that can afford it, those parents can opt for a private school (religious or secular). If they are less well off, and cannot afford private school, they can still opt for a faith-based education in a publicly funded institution. Finally, if they do not necessarily need that faith-based option, they can choose to send their children to a secular public school.
Even Roman Catholics without children have the option to direct their property tax support to the separate school board. I suppose non-Catholics could do the same, but I'm guessing they would not.
While I primarily support and encourage the strengthening of non-faith based public schools, I do not sense there is a real problem with funding separate public school boards if that's what people want. For the record, I did not support the previous government's move to offer tax credits for private schools. That was wrong.
The reality is, there is not a government in Ontario that is going to stop funding Roman Catholic separate schools. Especially not when a third of Ontario's population is Roman Catholic.
That's why I support John Tory's plan to create new faith-based public schools [Ontario PC Party, For a Better Ontario, Investing in Public Education - PDF]:
John Tory and the PC Party believe that we need to achieve more effective integration of Ontario’s increasingly diverse student population into the mainstream of our province. That’s why we are committed to creating an opportunity for non-Catholic, faith-based schools to choose to join our publicly funded education system the same way Catholic schools have already done. Our policy will apply only to faith-based schools and we believe that the best results would be achieved through direct funding rather than through tax credits.
With this direct public funding will come strict criteria and accountability requirements. These criteria will include the expectation that participating schools:
- fully incorporate the complete requirements of Ontario’s common curriculum, just as in the Catholic system;
- participate in Ontario’s standardized testing program and agree to published results; and
- appropriately address teacher credentialing.
The fear propagated by opponents is that many private schools will turn into public schools to gain "free" tax money and that this will increase segregation. The truth of the matter is that this will not be the case.
Private schools will remain private schools. There would be no benefit for a private school to submit to the provincial authority over curriculum and spending decisions. These new public boards would have to submit to the same budgetary issues that all schools currently face.
What will occur is the same as occurs today with Catholic families. The wealthy will continue to choose between private and public (faith-based or secular), the less well off will choose between secular and faith-based public schools.
This will not increase segregation. Extending funding to Catholic schools did not segregate Catholics from non-Catholics, so I don't even know where to begin with this gem. The bulk of these new school boards will be formed in the Greater Toronto Area, an area that has diverse neighbourhoods as it is. In my neighbourhood growing up, I played with Catholics - yet they went to different schools. My children today play with Catholics, yet they go to different schools. The bottom line is, children will play with who they are going to play with regardless of where their parents send them to school or how much their parents tell them they should integrate. Children will get along with children in their schools and in their neighbourhoods.
Ideally, as I mentioned, there would only be one unified public school system (perhaps offering faith-based elective courses). I think the choice of boards to merge should be up to them, as well.
However, in the interest of fairness, funding more public schools is the best thing. It's always better than discrimination.
Updated: Corrected a link to the Public Education platform for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.