When economist Don Drummond was asked why he didn’t recommend that Ontario scrap its wasteful separate Catholic school system, he said, simply, that it was because of “the constitutional issue.”
However, the One School System Network says merging Ontario’s two school systems into one publicly funded secular system would save approximately $500 million each year. This is not a small slice of the immense deficit Ontario is facing.
Drummond was not afraid to take on other controversial issues in a sweeping report released on Feb 15 that outlines recommendations the province must take if it is to balance the budget by 2018.
The 362 recommendations include deep cuts to healthcare, education, labour, justice and social programs.
So why not at the very least recommend a change to how school systems are funded?
It’s a question that has been asked repeatedly on social media and in the mainstream press since the report’s release, including by many Ontarians who are tired of their tax dollars funding a school system that has been resistant to implementing government policy that aims to protect and support gay youth.
“Why would we propose something that would rewrite the Constitution?” Drummond asked on The Agenda Feb 16 in response to a tweet by the Green Party’s Mark Daye that asked this very question.
Xtra’s interview requests to Drummond went unanswered.
Maybe Drummond is not aware that full funding for Catholic secondary schools has nothing to do with the original 1867 constitutional agreement, which covers funding only up to Grade 10. Full funding of Catholic schools was only recently adopted by Ontario.
When Progressive Conservative Premier Bill Davis decided to implement full funding in 1984, he said it would cost Ontario taxpayers $40 million a year.
But Sean Conway, a former education minister from that era, told the Toronto Star in 2007 that it was “substantially more expensive than advertised” and cost several times the original figure when implemented under Liberal Premier David Peterson.
Ontario remains the only province that covers 100 percent of the costs of running a Catholic school system, to the exclusion of all other faiths. Other provinces, including Newfoundland and Quebec, no longer fund Catholic schools.
Constitutional lawyer Douglas Elliott thinks Drummond probably stayed clear of the issue because it’s “a political hot potato” for Premier Dalton McGuinty. But Elliott says huge sums of money are wasted by having four essentially separate school boards: English public, English Catholic, French public and French Catholic.
“Just because it’s in the Constitution doesn’t mean it must be there forever,” Elliott says. “To be not debated at all is inappropriate.”
Drummond was, after all, tasked with examining all areas of government spending and identifying unnecessary and duplicate expenditures. He was asked to put aside personal ideology and partisan loyalties.
If implemented, his proposed education cuts will cost 6,000 teacher jobs, the equivalent of shutting down 40 schools, warns Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.
Budgets for classroom supplies, including books and computers, should be slashed by 25 percent, the report states. It also suggests that students should pay to ride school buses and be charged for obtaining extra credits in high school.
Access to education is guaranteed by the Constitution, Elliott points out. “Education is the business of government, and it is the business of government to provide access to education for children in Ontario. That is a core responsibility.”
It is morally reprehensible that the Catholic school system should continue to be funded while essential educational services are put on the chopping block.
And it is doubly shameful that the government continues to collect taxes from gay Ontarians, only to hand the funding over to a school system that teaches that gay people are disordered.
Stop the waste. Stop the discrimination. Ontario should move immediately to a single public school system for each official language.