Strikes underscore need for school choice in Ontario
The strike seems to be over—for now. In Ontario, the Ford government and the Canadian Union for Public Employees will go back to the negotiating table and early childhood educators, educational assistants and custodians will go back to work.
But that may be cold comfort to some parents. After two years of COVID school closures and learning loss—the longest closures in the country—Ontario children were once again shut out of their classrooms for reasons beyond their control. And Ontario parents were again left scrambling to find childcare and supplement their kids’ learning. It’s time to give them the ability to opt out of this drama; it’s time to give Ontario families the ability to choose their schools. Because regardless of one’s views on government employee wages or how governments should manage negotiations with big labour unions, no one can honestly deny that children are the ones being harmed.
And in so many cases, they don’t have a choice. Unlike families in every other Canadian province outside of Atlantic Canada, Ontario families must send their children to local government-run public or Catholic schools, unless they can afford to pay the full cost of an independent school.
That doesn’t make much sense when families in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec have a portion of their tax dollars follow their children to the schools of their choice including independent schools. In Alberta, this also includes public charter schools, each with their own unique educational focus, which are independently run but fully government-funded for operations while parents pay no tuition.
In other words, families in half of the provinces, and particularly the other big three provinces, have many different types of schools to choose from, and due to government funding, this option is affordable to many families.
But in Ontario, families who want to remove their children from the seemingly endless labour negotiations and strikes—or families who want to switch to a school that better fits their child’s learning needs, cultural or extracurricular interest—must pay out of pocket, twice. First, they pay their full tax bill to fund government-run public and Catholic schools. Then, they pay the costs for the school they actually want their child to attend.
Why does the Ontario government leave children trapped in this system with no affordable options? In Ontario, why is school choice only available to the wealthy? Why does school choice for the middle class exist in neighbouring Quebec and Manitoba but stop at the Ontario border?
Moreover, the latest Education Quality and Accountability Office results show that Ontario kids are failing math—more than half of Grade Six students in the province failed to meet the provincial math standard. Only 59 per cent of Grade Three students met the standard, and only 52 per cent of students in Grade Nine. These are grim results but not surprising given nearly 80 per cent of Ontario parents felt their kids had fallen behind due to government pandemic policies according to a recent poll. And one in five Ontario parents had no confidence their child’s school had a plan to catch them up.
Parents know their kids best. Yet the Ontario government refuses to empower parents with the ability to use their tax dollars to fund the education they want for their kids. These latest school closures prove yet again why Ontario families urgently require educational choice.