Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful pledges to eliminate funding for Catholic school board

 

In news that will please some and go over like a lead balloon with others, it appears that an Ontario Liberal leadership candidate is pledging to do something that many politicians have been afraid to suggest for decades—merge the province's public and Catholic school boards. 

On Oct. 24, Alvin Tedjo, who is hoping to lead Ontario's embattled Liberal party, announced his campaign commitment to see the province's public and Catholic school boards merged successfully under one roof.

The move would eliminate public funding to a separate Catholic school board. 

Tedjo says the plan, dubbed Learning Together, would address fundamental issues facing the current public education system by merging Ontario's public and Catholic school boards into one English language board and one French language board.

In a statement, Tedjo argues that the merger makes fiscal sense. 

"For students, this change means the convenience of attending their closest school, less time on the bus and access to an optional religious curriculum. For teachers and early childhood educators, it means smaller class sizes, availability of more resources and the freedom to teach in any publicly funded school," said Tedjo in a news release. 

"Learning Together would also see more class offerings in STEM and the arts, as well as improved mental health resources and supports for students with special needs."

While the push to merge the two school boards is a controversial one, Tedjo is certainly not the first person to make such a suggestion

Recently, a grassroots organization sprang up in Ontario calling for an end to funding for the Catholic separate school system. Calling themselves One Public Education Now (OPEN), their argument is that with school closures happening throughout Ontario, the taxpayer-funded separate school system is no longer affordable in a society of many religions and cultures. They believe there should simply be one non-denominational, two-language (English and French) public school system. 

In the news release, Tedjo quoted Charles Pascal, a former Ontario Deputy Minister of Education and professor at OISE/University of Toronto, who previously said, "When it comes to publicly funded education in Ontario, it's time to let go of our 'separate ways' so we can come together. Providing Catholic education with public money is an anachronism waiting to be brought to an end by a courageous Queen's Park legislature."

From a fiscal standpoint, Tedjo argues that his plan to merge the school boards will result in substantial savings to the province. In fact, he estimates that the province will see $1.6B dollars in savings per year that would be reinvested back into public education for ongoing improvement. 

"Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador have already done this. It's time for Ontario to make a change and stop spending precious education dollars to maintain twice as many school boards as we actually need," said Tedjo.

Tedjo says Learning Together would not just merge the boards, but also reinvest all savings back into the education system to create smaller class sizes, speciality classes in STEM and the arts, supports for students with special needs, mental health resources, capital repairs; and resources for teachers and early childhood educators.

He also says the plan would involve conducting a comprehensive review and revision of the school funding formula and end standardized EQAO testing for all students and instead use random sampling to provide better empirical data about student progress. 

The news release also points out that a 2012 discussion paper from the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods estimates merging the boards would generate annual savings of $1.269 to $1.594B

“We applaud Alvin’s proposal to create a single, publicly funded school system for each official language. All Ontario children should learn and play together in a multicultural and pluralistic setting," said Greg Oliver, President of the Canadian Secular Alliance. 

Tedjo says he supports the move, even though his children are currently attending Catholic school. 

"As a father myself, I empathize with the decision that parents have to make. I have three young children enrolled in Catholic school and we love the education that they are receiving. Learning Together is about building on the strengths of both systems and doing what's best for Ontario's students."

Prior to running for leader, Tedjo was the director of government relations at Sheridan College and senior policy advisor to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

He has previously served as vice president of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare and founded Canadians for Paternity Leave, where he successfully pressured the federal government to increase paternity leave for Canadians.

Cover photo courtesy of Alvin Tedjo’s official Facebook page

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