Increasing Funding for Religious Schools in Ontario


Should Ontario Cut Funding for Catholic Separate Schools? This age-old question is at the forefront of a legal challenge launched in Hamilton.

The plaintiffs claim that funding Catholic schools is unconstitutional, violates the separation of church and state, contaminates institutions of worship, and constitutes an inherent conflict of interest. The people funding the lawsuit also say a single, centrally administered public system will provide more options for students and teachers, promote diversity and save money.

Each of these statements is false. Does a monolithic public school system increase options for students? No, eliminating diversity does not create diversity. Should we worry about the separation of Church and State? Again, no. Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 mandates public funding of separate Catholic schools in Ontario.

The very existence of Section 93 is a clear rejection of what Americans call “separation of church and state.” We have no equivalent to the establishment clause of the US First Amendment.

What about the fear that funding religious schools creates a “conflict of interest” that “contaminates institutions of worship?” To make these claims is to misunderstand what schools are and why we publicly fund them. Schools are social goods. Education shapes us – and not just those in the classroom. The education of my neighbors’ children – or lack thereof – deeply shapes the whole neighborhood. In other words, education has spin-offs that do not just benefit the recipient. That’s why we fund schools.

However, just because all children should be educated does not mean that they all learn in the same way, fit in or thrive in the same environment. Every child is unique, and the more educational pathways we offer them, the better.

the research confirms it. Students from faith-based schools paired with schools of their own denomination perform better than their untwinned peers. It also helps explain why Islamic schools are more effective than public schools in integrating Muslim students into Western societies.

Schools are not only interest to society, they are also a a function of the society. As social assets, schools emerge most naturally – and effectively – from society, not from a tower of command.

That is why, rather than funding Catholic schools, we should extend this funding to students in other religious schools, including independent schools.

Would it be prohibitively expensive? To date, 70 empirical studies examine the costs and potential savings of independent school funding programs in the United States. Only five of them find that public funding of independent schools generates net costs for taxpayers. More than 90% of all methodologically defensible empirical studies find that funding independent schools generates savings for taxpayers.

How is it possible? Monopolies remove incentives to maximize every dollar, attract students and improve quality. This results in mass wastage and inefficiencies. It is therefore not surprising that the consolidation of school districts did not lead to savings.

Democracy presupposes a diversity of perspectives. Educating for a strong democracy demands nothing less. That’s why 100 countries – including all OECD countries except Greece – fund a wide variety of different types of schools and school systems, including faith-based schools. And they’re better off. the The majority of people overwhelmingly confirms that religious schools strengthen social cohesion.

Rather than abolishing taxpayer-funded Catholic schools, let the funding follow all students to the most suitable school, including independent religious schools. It would cost less than you think! A recent peer-reviewed economic analysis estimates that spending by Ontario taxpayers would be equivalent to 0.3 to 0.8 per cent of the provincial budget — a minimal cost with a substantial benefit.

David Hunt is director of education at Hamilton-based think tank Cardus.

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