The de­bate sur­round­ing Catholic-school fund­ing ne­glects to ask the hard ques­tions

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - KON­RAD YAKABUSKI

The Fa­thers of Con­fed­er­a­tion were not perfect. Apart from lim­it­ing their cir­cle to white men such as them­selves, some held un­be­com­ing views about In­dige­nous peo­ples, not to men­tion each other. But they un­der­stood that with­out com­pro­mise, there would be no Canada.

One of these foun­da­tional com­pro­mises in­volved con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees for Catholics and Protes­tants that al­lowed each re­li­gious group to con­trol its own schools. At the time of Canada’s birth, lan­guage and re­li­gion were in­ter­change­able. Catholics largely spoke French, while the Protes­tant ma­jor­ity spoke English. Hav­ing sep­a­rate school boards saved ev­ery­body a lot of grief.

Yet, grief is ex­actly what this ar­range­ment has be­queathed in mod­ern-day Canada, where years of de­clin­ing el­e­men­tary en­rol­ment in ev­ery prov­ince ex­cept Al­berta has Catholic and pub­lic school boards fight­ing for stu­dents and the gov­ern­ment fund­ing they bring with them. Un­for­tu­nately, the Fa­thers who crafted the orig­i­nal com­pro­mise, and their suc­ces­sors who ex­tended it to Al­berta and Saskatchewan when those prov­inces joined the fed­er­a­tion, likely never con­tem­plated the idea that one day Catholic boards would be raid­ing their pub­lic ri­vals.

As The Globe and Mail’s Caro­line Alphonso re­ported this week, Catholic boards in On­tario are en­tic­ing nonCatholic par­ents to en­roll their chil­dren in faith-based schools in the aim of main­tain­ing their share of a shrink­ing stu­dent body. This spares them hav­ing to make un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions, such as clos­ing un­der­used schools or lay­ing off teach­ers. Ex­emp­tions from cat­e­chism classes are now com­mon at Catholic schools, as par­ents seek what they per­ceive to be a better ed­u­ca­tion for their kids with­out the Holy Spirit get­ting in­volved.

Of course, this ex­poses the ridicu­lous­ness in 2018 of main­tain­ing four dis­tinct pub­licly funded school sys­tems in On­tario – English pub­lic, English Catholic, French pub­lic and French Catholic. Most school boards are dys­func­tional enough, em­broiled as they are in petty pol­i­tics, with­out giv­ing trustees any added in­cen­tive to dream up ways of steal­ing stu­dents from ri­val boards.

Not that any politi­cian will touch this is­sue with a 10-foot pole. The provin­cial Lib­er­als re­cently asked mem­bers for ideas to in­clude in the party’s elec­tion plat­form and end­ing pub­lic fund­ing for Catholic schools topped the list. But Premier Kath­leen Wynne knows that any such prom­ise would be met with fury by Catholic par­ents and trustees, who care far more pas­sion­ately about main­tain­ing sep­a­rate school boards than those who want to get rid of them un­der­stand.

There are still about 650,000 chil­dren en­rolled in English-lan­guage and French-lan­guage Catholic el­e­men­tary and sec­ondary schools in On­tario, ac­count­ing for about 30 per cent of to­tal en­rol­ment at pub­licly funded schools. That is a lot of par­ents that no ma­jor­party politi­cian can af­ford to up­set, es­pe­cially in an elec­tion year.

Un­like in Que­bec, where there was broad pub­lic sup­port for a 1998 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that con­verted the prov­ince’s re­li­gious school guar­an­tees into lin­guis­tic ones, there is no such con­sen­sus in On­tario. It’s the same story in Al­berta and Saskatchewan, where a 2017 court rul­ing told the prov­ince to stop fund­ing non-Catholic en­rol­ment at Catholic schools. The Saskatchewan gov­ern­ment re­sponded by ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion and vow­ing to in­voke the not­with­stand­ing clause of the Con­sti­tu­tion if the rul­ing is ever up­held by the Supreme Court.

In­stead of sup­port­ers of a sin­gle non­faith-based school sys­tem de­plor­ing the spine­less­ness of politi­cians, how­ever, they should be ask­ing them­selves just why Catholic boards seem to have so much suc­cess at­tract­ing stu­dents from the pub­lic sys­tem. Catholic school stu­dents tend to per­form better on provin­cial stan­dard­ized tests. And rank­ings, such as the Fraser In­sti­tute’s an­nual Re­port Card on On­tario’s El­e­men­tary Schools, in­vite par­ents to com­pare schools. So­cio-de­mo­graphic dif­fer­ences mat­ter and pub­lic schools in up­per-in­come neigh­bour­hoods usu­ally do better than Catholic ones in low-in­come ar­eas. But when two schools are pit­ted against each other in the same neigh­bour­hood, small town or ru­ral com­mu­nity, the Catholic one tends to come out on top. Is it only be­cause its stu­dent body is self-se­lect­ing?

Or is it be­cause par­ents who send their chil­dren to Catholic schools are more en­gaged in their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion? Is it the com­bi­na­tion of more dis­ci­pline and the com­mu­nity spirit that Catholic schools pur­port to pro­vide that per­suades par­ents that their kids can de­velop more fully in the Catholic sys­tem? Are Catholic teach­ers better trained or more ded­i­cated than their pub­lic coun­ter­parts?

Such ques­tions tend to get peo­ples’ backs up, but they need to be asked if pro­po­nents of a sin­gle sys­tem are to over­come po­lit­i­cal re­sis­tance to their cause. Just be­cause they may not like the an­swers doesn’t mean they can ig­nore them.

Sup­port­ers of a sin­gle non-faith-based school sys­tem … should be ask­ing them­selves just why Catholic boards seem to have so much suc­cess at­tract­ing stu­dents from the pub­lic sys­tem.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.