Ontarians Reject John Tory's Questionable Private School Scheme



    TORONTO, Sept. 20 /CNW/ - A group of prominent Ontarians have rejected
ripping $500 million out publicly funded education for private religious
schools:

    Have Faith in Public Education

    Every election offers up one or two issues with the potential to
determine its outcome. Funding faith-based schools seems to be the early
leader.
    Presented as a matter of fairness and principle, portrayed as bringing
religious schools "into" public education, this notion - whether or not
intentional - is unfortunately a Trojan Horse carrying within social
fragmentation and major distraction from the most important issues at hand.
    We strongly support effective public education informed by a vision that
people of all faiths must be respected and accommodated in the currently
evolving publicly funded system. Our friends who choose to send their children
to privately funded faith-based schools have our deepest respect. Yet we
strongly believe that work to improve publicly funded education in Ontario
must not be impeded by policies that would seriously detract from these
efforts and take us back to the future.
    Inclusion rather than fragmentation must inform our way forward. We
imagine schools where children of all and no faiths learn about all religions.
Where numbers dictate, we imagine curriculum opportunities where students can
participate in religion-specific studies and, where appropriate, have prayer
breaks and separate washroom facilities. We imagine schools where all of our
children learn first-hand to live with respect for, and appreciation of, the
differences they all represent to create something special ... together.
    With respect to the Separate School funding issue, let's be clear about
this constitutional inheritance. First, our Catholic schools are increasingly
small "c" catholic marked by an increase in ethnocultural diversity reflecting
the changes to our society. Second, if we were starting a new system of
education in 2007, who among us would recommend spending public money on a
religion-specific basis?
    Regarding what other provinces have done regarding funding faith-based
schools, there are other examples of policies across Canada which further
fragment our nation as well. Should we adopt those? We need to avoid hopping
on the wrong bandwagon.
    As the future unfolds, as the Catholic system becomes more "public" as it
continues to respond to its increasingly diverse constituents and our public
schools progress to become more responsive and supportive of cultural and
religious differences, maybe a virtual single system will emerge naturally
somewhere down the road. There is nothing unfair about moving forward with the
legacy we have. But using this legacy to fragment an already tentative society
is not good public policy. With respect for what has been, let's nurture not
disrupt this natural progress. There's too much of the right kind of change
that needs doing.
    In the short run, let's dedicate and increase - not reduce - our public
resources to improving every student's literacy and mathematics; raising the
bar and reducing the gap among groups; doing better for disabled children,
second language students and gender issues; tackling high-school reform and
the alienation of youth, paying more attention to recreation and the arts, and
the major unfinished business of ensuring the best possible start by
developing and integrating early childhood learning and child care with
neighbourhood schools.
    Indeed, we need to focus on what matters, for we all know how important
education is to the future of all of our children, our communities, and our
society in general. The right kinds of investments in education will yield
futures that are more prosperous, healthier, fairer, and just for everyone.
Over the longer term, let's continue to imagine and realize those schools and
curriculum opportunities that allow for a variety of different religious and
cultural studies where students can learn to respect first-hand the personal
choices that inform the diverse lives of Canadians and the newly arrived -
people who choose to live together in a deeper and more active mutual respect.

    Our students deserve no less. Ontario and Canada need no less.

    Signed by: Ken Battle, C.M.; Avie Bennett, C.C; Monique Begin, O.C.;
Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld; Dr. Roberta Bondar, O.C.; Michael Bregman; Alan
Broadbent, C.M.; Helen Burstyn; David A. Galloway; Dr. Gordon Cleveland;
Charles S. Coffey, O.C.; Dave Cooke; Gordon Cressy; Joan Green; Grace-Edward
Galabuzi; Dr. Ricardo Grinspun; Dr. Ursula Franklin, C.C.; Martha Friendly;
Nathan Gilbert; Mary Gordon, C.M.; Professor Roger Hyman; Jay Ingram; Warren
Jestin; Dr. Bruce Kidd, O.C.; Annie Kidder; Dr. Ben Levin; Ross McGregor; Dr.
Robert McMurtry; Kerry McGuaig; Linda McQuaig; Deepa Mehta; Michael Mendelson;
Dr. Fraser Mustard, C.C.; Gail Nyberg; Ratna Omidvar, O. Ont.; Dr. Charles
Pascal; David Pecaut; Arlene Perly Rae; Rev. Bill Phipps; Bob Rae, O.C., O.
Ont.; Heather Reisman; Bill Roberts; Uzma Shakir; Dr. Janice Gross Stein,
C.M.; Mohammed Al Zaibak

    - Toronto Star, September 19, 2007





For further information:

For further information: Ben Chin, (416) 961-3800 ext. 412,
ben_chin@ontarioliberal.ca

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