OVERCROWDING FORCES THE RELIGION OUT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS

Catholic Church in Tampa, FL

By Jubilee Cheung
Staff Writer

In recent years, overcrowding in schools has become something of a global issue. The worldwide push for education has perhaps played a role in the increasingly congested public schools that are becoming characteristic. Such is the case in Ontario, Canada. Some of Ontario’s public schools – that is, schools funded primarily by the government – are so full that they cannot afford to enroll new students as they come of age. In these cases, families desperate to educate their students often must resort to Catholic schools, which require at least one parent to be certified by the church as Roman Catholic. However, this isn’t an option for everyone: it goes without saying that not all of the unregistered children come from religious families.

For secular families, options are severely limited. They must often resort to sending their children to private schools, which can cost as much as $35,000 per year. But this cost is obviously too expensive for some, and seeing as these families pay their taxes, the situation hardly seems fair. It makes little sense that they should have to pay tuition fees on top of the taxes they already pay to educate other families’ children.

The exclusivity of Catholic schools, however, isn’t exactly helping to preserve their integrity as a religious foundation either. Families aren’t sending their children to Catholic school because they care about raising their children religiously, so much as they are seeking quality and a convenient location. If they cannot get that education in the public schools, they will find it elsewhere – and if their certification as a Roman Catholic grants them access to strong Catholic schools, why not go for it? As a result, Catholic schools are losing their identity as firm institutions of the faith. Students from families that are not actively religious sometimes go so far as to seek legal exemption from the Catholic activities the schools often require. One particular case is that of current junior Jonathan Erazo, who cited Ontario’s Education Act to escape his school’s religious classes. Erazo’s father, Oliver Erazo, also successfully sought exemption for his son from otherwise compulsory religious services and trips, much to the school’s chagrin.

In order to continue to be eligible for public funding, Catholic schools must technically comply with requests such as those made by the Erazo family. Their exclusivity is meant to act as a buffer against diluting their identity as a paragon of the Catholic community, but Canada’s insufficient public education facilities have worked against not just the country’s students but the Catholic Church as well.

Canada is not the only country struggling where its educational finances are concerned. In Australia, school enrollment is expected to increase by roughly 17 percent. The demand for available spaces in religious institutions is also expected to increase, such that 30 more Catholic schools would need to be established. As the Australian government provides for both private and religious schools, there is currently a push for increased funding overall. It is important to note that while such a request is not unreasonable, it might eventually place Australia in a situation similar to that of Canada, where religious schools, due to their being publicly funded, may become almost secular institutions despite their initial goal of religious purity. Australia would do well to take steps to expand its educational system so as to avoid the current quandaries faced by Canada, if it wants its religious schools to retain their religious identity.

The lack of space in public schools is the simple root of a complicated issue. It is forcing families to pay much more for education than they should ever have to, as well as compromising the religious integrity of the country’s religious institutions. The solution to the problem at large is glaringly simple, but arguably difficult to adopt in the near future. Nonetheless, Canada boasts strong global standing where education is concerned; if this is indicative of anything, one can trust that Canada will be taking steps towards rectification of the situation at hand.

Image by Matthew Paulson

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3 responses to “OVERCROWDING FORCES THE RELIGION OUT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS

  1. Your analysis of the Ontario situation misses the mark on many counts, but, given that you’re likely not intimately familiar with the situation, you can be forgiven.

    Ontario’s schools aren’t particularly crowded. We’ve been dealing with a declining enrollment over the past decade. And, quality is universally high. You don’t see the kind of have and have-not schools that you do south of our border [with the United States].

    As for people getting tax exemptions for sending their children to private schools–never! That inequity has been rejected by Ontario voters. Private schools are exclusive and completely opposite the ideal of (public) education.

    As for expanding funding to other religions–that too has been RESOUNDINGLY rejected by Ontario’s voters (John Tory and the Progressive Conservatives were slated to win but lost the moment they proposed expanding funding to other religions).

    The fact that Ontario still has the wrong of a publicly funded Catholic (aka Separate) school system is an anachronism from when Canada was founded in 1867 and also politicians fearful of a perceived Catholic backlash (Catholics are the largest religion in Ontario at 30%). At the time of confederation (1867) francophone Quebec was Catholic while anglophone Ontario was Anglican. Public schooling for minority language and religious rights in Ontario and Quebec (and some other provinces) were given some constitutional protection.

    Much to their credit the dominant protestant religions (largely Anglican) eliminated the protestant school boards in the 1950’s. The Catholics at the time did not. Quebec eliminated their religious school boards in the 1990’s as did Newfoundland and Labrador.

    This leaves Ontario as the last bastion of publicly funded religious schools in Eastern Canada (one western province still publicly funds their religious schools but they too are an anachronism).

    The problem with any public funds going to religious schools (whether through direct funding or tax breaks) is that religious schools in Canada have the legal right to discriminate against teachers in hiring and promotion and THEY DO while PUBLIC schools do not and cannot discriminate.

    In Ontario we have the perverse situation of having Catholics over-represented (double what you’d expect) amongst the ranks of publicly funded teachers because Public schools hire Catholics according to their % of the population without any discrimination against Catholics while Catholic schools hire exclusively Catholics.

    So public funds go to institutions that discriminate. My sense is that religious schools in many other jurisdictions discriminate the same way.

    What we see with any efforts to publicly fund religious schools is that we publicly fund discrimination.

    That said, there are times that you’d want to publicly fund religious schools since it acts as a normalizing and integrating force. It allows you to put the brakes on radicalization.

    In Ontario, the publicly funded Catholic system has had a normalizing influence on Catholicism. It is a much less militant brand than elsewhere and it has resulted in a dramatic decline in the percentage of devout Catholics.

    Whatever. Time will tell. Ontario is facing a major deficit problem and a few billion could be saved by amalgamating the English and French language Catholic and Public boards into boards based on language.

    PS French and English language education are constitutionally protected while religiously-based education is optional (the constitution allows provinces to provide it but the constitution does not compel provinces to do so).

  2. Re: character of religious schools

    There seems to be a realisation amongst some of the more fundamentalist Catholics in Ontario that public funding of Catholic school is having a normalizing effect on the adherents of their religion and that Catholic teachers have more in common with their Public counterparts (1/3 of whom are Catholic themselves) than with devout Catholics.

    The conservativesdemand that public funding come without any strings attached (i.e. publicly funded Catholic schools no longer have to respect societal norms and values), or, they’re starting to realise that they need to withdraw from public funding if they want to maintain a “Catholic” identity.

    There’s also a war being waged on the Catholic teacher’s federation by conservative Catholic groups. Teachers, Catholic teachers included, are largely well educated (in Ontario the teaching professions belongs to the best educated in the world) and largely liberal in their outlook.

    Many of the official stances of the Catholic church violate the sensibilities of Catholic teachers in the public system and have caused a pretty big rift between the church and the educators in the system.

    By and large, the publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario now provide lip service to Catholicism. They’re very good at creating Easter and Christmas Catholics but have turned religious participation into an afterthought since teachers are more concerned with teaching their charges than they are in infusing their lessons with religion..

  3. Pingback: Three policies for the Premier to Consider: improve democracy, make education truly public and look at the way we tax the public. | Burlington Gazette·

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