One public system

A conversation that needs to be had

It is a fact that an object tossed into water creates ripples that expand far beyond the point of impact, with potentially far-reaching effects. Similarly, a solid idea “tossed into a discussion” will often stimulate a more expansive debate and begin a process of enquiry that, though potentially difficult, can have an enormous positive effect.

Such is the case for the campaign to achieve a single school system and the issue of education funding and governance in Ontario. It is the policy of OSSTF/FEESO that there should be only one publicly-funded school system for each official language and that there be no job loss as a result of moving to such a system.

Currently, publicly-funded education in Ontario is divided into four distinct systems—English Public; English Catholic; French Public and French Catholic. All fully funded by the taxpayers of Ontario. Each one provides high quality education to the students it serves. Something all of us can be proud of.

But this arrangement is facing a number of challenges, and if our education system is to remain current and a world leader, it is in need of a rethink. Demographic changes to Ontario over the past five decades alone have meant that declining enrollment is a reality for all four systems. This is contributing to school closures and inequitable outcomes for some communities. As the cliché goes, busing students past one half-empty school so they can be educated in another half-empty school only impoverishes the entire system.

In situations like this, creating one school system could, in many instances, mean merging two or more under-capacity schools into one, which is a good thing. Full schools mean more programs, more caring adults in the building, and more opportunities for students when it comes to educational programing and extra-curricular activities.

The funding formula currently rewards boards for closing under-enrolled schools. As overall student numbers have decreased, pressure to maintain enrolment has led to more competition between these different school systems and schools boards. In fact a significant amount of money is spent on television, radio and print advertising encouraging students to choose a particular board. These are resources which could be better spent on students’ needs.

It also continues to be indefensible, in 2017, to provide fully-funded religious education for one denomination—especially when students can now be exempt from receiving religious instruction in those schools! The fact that more and more non-Catholics are attending Catholic schools but receiving no religious instruction defeats the original purpose for having a Roman Catholic system. The fact that leaders in Canada back in 1867 made a deal, based on the demographic make-up of the country at that time, should not mean that deal can never change. Ontario’s increasingly diverse population also agrees that there should be a streamlining, according to polling done by Vector research over the past 10 years.

Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador both changed their school systems. Quebec has eliminated its Catholic and Protestant school boards, and Newfoundland and Labrador has replaced seven denominational school boards with one public board. All that is needed in Ontario is the political will to make a similar change. What is needed is a respectful dialogue between educators, government, parents and local communities agreeing on the kinds of schools they need.

One year ago the campaign for a single system was launched with the website onepublicsystem.ca.

The campaign proposes a Charter for Public Education, which declares that Ontarians have a right to high quality, publicly-funded education that is universally accessible and supports diversity, equity and fairness. It pledges to respect students’ and their families’ beliefs while recognizing that publicly-funded education is open to everyone, and does not favour one religion or denomination over another.

The campaign calls on the provincial government to establish an all-party task force to look into the pros and cons of moving to one public, secular school system for each official language.
The campaign also emphasizes that this is not a cost-cutting measure and asks members of the public to reinvest any savings found to improve the educational outcomes for students. The One Public System website includes a poll that asks visitors how they would reinvest savings.

To date, more than 4,000 people have completed the poll, and the top three recommendations for reinvestment are to:

  • Reduce class sizes;
  • Ensure appropriate supports are in place to provide optimum learning for every student;
  • Increase the availability of specialty teachers in subjects such as music, health and physical education, and art.

In one short year, the campaign has achieved exceptional reach by attracting tens of thousands Ontarians. In that time dozens of articles have appeared on the topic. Journalists have conducted interviews with recently retired Members of Provincial Parliament, and in many cases those MPPs themselves agree that the issue needs to be discussed in a formal, organized way. Former deputy ministers have also come out in favour of this solution as a way of modernizing our school system. The news section of the website tracks media reports dealing with the issue from a variety of perspectives. “It is clearly an idea whose time has come,” as one radio host commented while opening the phone lines to listeners’ opinions on the merits of combining school boards.

Our Federation is committed to this campaign because we recognize that moving to one public system would provide long-term solutions to many of the immediate problems that plague our
current system.

As we consider new initiatives and innovations in our ongoing commitment to building the best possible education system, it would be a huge mistake for us to not toss this idea into the debate about the kinds of changes needed to protect and enhance public education.

About Domenic Bellissimo
Domenic Bellissimo is the Director of the Communications/Political Action Department at Provincial Office.

4 Comments on One public system

  1. Dianna K. Goneau Inkster // November 17, 2017 at 11:36 am // Reply

    Newfoundland and Labrador has 2 school boards. One governs English language schools and the other governs French language schools. I presume the author of this blog and the OSSTF intends that Ontario (a much larger province with a more diverse population) would go the same route. I have a permanent teaching certificate from Newfoundland and Labrador. I am entitled to hold a grade 7 although because I live in Ontario I have never applied for it. I have a B.A.(ed.) and B.A. from Memorial University of Newfoundland and I have a M.L.S. from the University of Toronto. I note these qualifications so you know I know the facts. I had 2 children educated in the Early French Immersion and the French First Language schools in Kingston Ontario and a granddaughter currently in English in Toronto. My 4 years teaching experience in the 70s in NL were in a school system where co-operation was the norm. We all went to the same faculty of education at Memorial. We all used the same textbooks. Our colleagues had much the same qualifications. It was a more unified system even if there were 2 main players during the 70s (after 1968)as here, Integrated/Consolitdated (mainstream Protestant) and Roman Catholic. There was also a small Pentecostal board with a few elementary schools under its control. Good luck with your campaign, but I would encourage you to encourage any party forming the next government in Ontario to either abolish the system we have now or look for ways to encourage co-operation. This thieving of students from 1 board to fill seats in another board is conterproductive, but, at the same time, a board does have to advertise its programmes. Maybe, the Ministry could tell boards not to spend money on advertising, but to spend money on webpages and facebook pages so their programmes offered are fully described. You could also encourage schools to allow visitors.

  2. David Watson // November 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm // Reply

    I couldn’t agree more; however, after 45 years in Ontario classrooms, the conversation must consider a single system that includes specialty programming such as language immersion. The financial benefits will fund the transition and ongoing support. Ontario needs the leadership demonstrated in other Canadian provinces.

  3. Patrick Clare // November 25, 2017 at 10:53 am // Reply

    The results of having competing public education systems in Ontario can verge on the absurd. The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General is an intervenor in the Trinity Western University case going before the Supreme Court. The Attorney General is arguing in support of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s refusal to accredit the university’s future law graduates chiefly because the school discriminates against gay (LGBT) people.
    On the other side, the Ontario Ministry of Education funds separate school boards, which are in turn using those funds to intervene through the National Coalition of Catholic School Trustees’ Associations in favour of Trinity Western and its policy of discrimination. So one ministry is indirectly funding arguments against another. Why the government is permitting this is anyone’s guess.

  4. Peter van Tol // November 30, 2017 at 7:48 pm // Reply

    Qualified non-Catholic teachers should not be denied positions in publicly funded Catholic schools. It represents discrimination against non-Catholics. Publicly funded schools should be accessible to everyone.
    The current Catholic separate system must be merged into one publicly funded school system, which is inclusive and where everyone is welcome.

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