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
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.