Should Independent Schools Receive Public Funding? A Response to Cardus

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In a recent op-ed in the Hamilton Spectator, there was an article, “Independent schools should be encouraged, and Ontario should fund them.” This article was a follow up on some more academic research that the think-tank Cardus has done into independent education. Here, they look at the value of independent schools and how they contribute to the culture of Ontario. In this research, Dr. Beth Green, Doug Sikkema, and David Sikkink have done some good work to promote independent and Christian education. Their research is invaluable in promoting a better understanding of the value of independent education for public life.

I do have a concern with their opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator. Dr. Green and Doug Sikkema write:

There’s no funding in Ontario for independent schools even though they are proving to provide a very public good by equipping young men and women to trust, to know and to take care of their neighbours. They often do all of this to a higher degree than the public schools that receive every last dime of our public funds.

They have a legitimate concern for how independent schools are treated in this article: “They often do all of this to a higher degree than the public schools that receive every last dime of our public funds.” The fact is, parents do have to make sacrifices to send their children to private and independent schools, while their taxes are funneled off into public education. As Dr. Green and Doug Sikkema comment, for the value that independent schools bring to the public sphere, money could be handled differently.

But is the answer to promote public funding for independent schools? I know I am just one opinion among many, but I am sure that many would argue no. Many sacrifices have been made for independent education, for the very reason that families want to be the primary educators. It is not just fear-mongering to point to the current situation in Alberta, because after all, we see exactly what is happening in Alberta. Independent schools are no longer independent, because the government is able to leverage their control by threatening to pull public funding to schools that have learned to rely on their hand-outs. As such, I would argue that promoting public funding threatens the very existence of the independent or Christian school. If we believe in the principles of parental control, then we would not want to hand that control over to a centralized body. In fact, more controversially, I would suggest that we could encourage independent accreditation bodies to step up to the plate.

But for all these ideals, our taxes for public education are still being funnelled away from independent schools and into the public sphere. Independent schools, according to the Cardus survey, contribute heavily to the public sphere. And so we still have a problem on our hands.

For that reason I would argue that we should promote tax breaks for families who send their children to independent schools. It would be easy enough for families to put their tuition payments on their tax forms for an extra break. This would promote individual responsibility, rather than passing off responsibility to the government. This would put money back into our hands, so that we can run our schools together. I would argue that independent funding encourages independent education, and then also promotes innovation through de-centralization.

The thinkers over at Cardus are allies in this discussion over education. I appreciate their arguments, and the excitement to promote independent education, but I would propose different solutions. I would be happy to hear arguments from different angles, but I would encourage any responses to engage with the principles at stake. I think it would be excellent if more people were to interact with Cardus and the Ford-government. Above all, I would love to see people promote individual responsibility and the privatization of school funds in Ontario.

– Nathan Zekveld

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