Parents deserve more school choice in Ontario

Printer-friendly version
Appeared in True North, May 10, 2023
Parents deserve more school choice in Ontario

The Ontario government wants to promote diversity. That’s why it’s made “equity” and “inclusion” a key focus in K-12 schools. However, if Ontario wants to actually promote diversity in education, it should help increase school choice and expand the educational options available to parents.

Unlike Quebec and the four Western provinces, Ontario does not fund independent schools, which means parents who wish to enroll their children in a non-government school must pay the full cost of tuition (along with their regular taxes that pay for the public school system). In essence, they pay twice for their children’s education.

This might not be a problem for wealthier families who can easily afford high tuition fees, but it’s not so simple for middle- and lower-income families. As a result, only 6.9 per cent of Ontario students attend independent schools compared to 13.2 per cent in British Columbia and 11.7 per cent in Quebec. The partial funding of independent schools by these provinces makes this option more affordable for many parents.

Importantly, when provinces fund independent schools, they do so based on enrollment. Thus, it’s more accurate to say that money follows the student because independent schools only receive funds if parents choose to send their children there. Clearly, independent schools meet an important need for many families and should remain available as an option.

Another positive reform would be to follow Alberta’s lead and allow the creation of charter schools. Contrary to what many people assume, charter schools are not independent schools but are rather autonomous, not-for-profit schools within the public system. And they’re non-sectarian, cannot charge tuition, and must be open to all students.

Charter schools have proven to be quite successful in Alberta. Some charter schools, such as Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Calgary, provide a traditional back-to-basics approach while others, such as Boyle Street Education Centre in Edmonton, focus on alternative programs targeting at-risk youth. With the recent decision by the Alberta government to lift the cap on charter schools, the number of these schools—and the number of students enrolled in them—will continue to grow in that province.

There are also good reasons why Ontario parents might want to remove their children from the government-run school system. In far too many cases, public school boards have been captured by woke ideology. Look no further than the Halton District School Board where a teacher wearing giant Z-cup prosthetic breasts is allowed to teach classes. By not enforcing professional standards for teachers, this school board became an international embarrassment. One wonders how any learning could possibly take place in this teacher’s classes.

Other public school boards have also descended into the absurd. Whether it’s the blatant pushing of critical race theory in the Waterloo Region District School Board, the serious violent incidents in Toronto schools, or the multiple attempts by an Ottawa trustee to impose mask mandates on students, parents are right to wonder what their children are learning during the day. It certainly doesn’t look like these school boards are focused on the academic basics.

Lest one think that the separate (Catholic) school system is any better, many of these school boards are equally influenced by woke ideology. Case in point—a Grade 11 student in the Renfrew Catholic School Board was recently suspended for objecting to his school’s policy of allowing transgender students to use the washroom of their choice. In other words, this Catholic student is no longer allowed to attend his Catholic high school because he refuses to stay silent about his Catholic religious beliefs.

Considering all the craziness going on in Ontario government schools (both public and separate), it’s no surprise that many parents are desperately looking for other options. Instead of forcing almost all students into the same government school box, it makes far more sense to provide more educational options to parents who could then choose the school that best meets their needs. Ontario families deserve better. Providing school choice to parents would a great first step.