Ending Equity in Education?

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Appeared in the Toronto Sun, November 25, 2003
Premier McGuinty has announced the cancellation of what he calls “the reckless private school tax credit.” He and the teachers’ unions claim that the Equity in Education Tax Credit (EETC) “drains dollars and hope away from public education.”

What its cancellation really does it is snatch the financial lifeline away from the many thousands of Ontario families who depend on it for their children’s education.

When fully implemented, the EETC would have offered Ontario parents a refundable tax credit for 50 percent of up to $7000 in independent school tuition. With its cancellation, many lower- and middle-income Ontario families will struggle to provide their children with an independent school education.

The EETC was introduced to provide families with the financial assistance necessary to afford their school of choice. These families choose independent schools for a variety of reasons, including religious or academic concerns, a desire to protect their child from being bullied, or because their child had a special need and could not flourish in the public school classroom. The families know how to choose the school that is best suited for their child – they just need the financial support.

Families of all incomes utilized the EETC, and because it is a refundable tax credit, its cancellation will have the greatest impact on the pocketbooks of Ontario’s lower-income families.

According to Ontario parent Allison James, “I make significant sacrifices in my budget in order to cover my children’s tuition. Without the tax credit, it will be difficult to provide my daughters with the education they need.” Ms. James is concerned that the cancellation of the tax credit will deepen the inequity in opportunity for school choice that exists between wealthy and lower–income Ontario families.

Parents currently sending their children to independent school are not alone in their support for equity in education. A recent Ipsos-Reid poll found that three quarters of Ontario residents polled agreed or agreed strongly that, “parents’ satisfaction with education would increase if they were able to freely choose the school that their child attends.” And just over half of Ontarians believe that “if parents could freely choose the school for their children, all schools would improve.”

Statistics Canada reports that most families choosing independent education for their children are from low- and middle-income brackets. Despite the significant financial sacrifice required, enrolment in independent school is increasing in Ontario. According to Statistics Canada, between 1987 and 1998, the percentage of Ontario children attending independent schools rose by 30 percent. Independent schools are responding to the demand – 870 independent schools are registered to operate in Ontario for the 2003-04 school year, up from 801 last year.

The parents across Ontario choosing to send their children to independent school are expressing satisfaction with their choice, a trend consistent with research that shows that when funding follows children to their parents’ choice of school, parental satisfaction, academic achievement, and educational opportunities improve.
Studies show that competition from independent schools is often a key factor in fostering high student achievement. When faced with competition for student enrolment, public schools respond both by providing a greater choice of programs and by paying more attention to student achievement.

Children First: School Choice Trust, Canada’s first and only privately funded program to help Ontario families improve their educational choices, will continue to offer tuition assistance grants to lower-income parents who want to send their child to an independent elementary school. Children First, which is currently serving 150 children across the province, funds up to 50 percent of tuition costs for children from junior kindergarten to Grade 8, based solely on financial need.

The thousands of families that applied for Children First: School Choice Trust grants when it was announced last winter revealed the overwhelming demand from lower-income families in this province who cannot currently afford even the modest tuition charged by many independent schools. The average cost of independent schools chosen by Children First grant recipients is $6,300. The average household income of families in the program is $26,500.

Programs like Children First and the Equity in Education Tax Credit provide assistance for families who are eager to choose their child’s schools, but are sometimes overlooked. Parents of all incomes are eager for greater educational opportunities for their children, and will suffer with the cancellation of the tax credit.

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