Letters (Feb. 11, 2002)

Education tax credit will improve student performance
Contrary to the view expressed in your editorial “Ontario gets failing grade in education” (Dec. 17, 2001), the Equity in Education Tax Credit manifests the best of this government’s attempts to restore a vibrant democratic spirit in this province. Our nation is based on diversity and freedom, principles that exist in the educational landscapes of the other major provinces, and now are found in education in Ontario. The future of democracy is not assured through the conformity and consensus of a single system of education, but by way of the dynamic energy generated through choice and creativity.

It is a false dilemma to suggest government support for educational choice sets up an either-or situation. No government would shoot itself in the head by underfunding public education for the sake of choice. In Alberta, where this nation’s greatest level of government-supported choice is available, national and international tests continuously demonstrate that province’s students ranking highest in the country. Further afield, there is a growing body of evidence from Scandinavia, Western Europe, the U.S. and New Zealand, that school choice improves student achievement and parental satisfaction.

On the matter of just who is getting the support, Statistics Canada recently reported the vast majority of families sending children to independent schools are from the lower and middle income brackets. For these families of modest means, the tax credit eases the financial burden of paying taxes and tuitions, and maybe more importantly, recognizes their choices as legitimate rights of first-class citizens.

Finally, scholarly research on choice jurisdictions south of the border shows there is a greater incidence of social integration in schools of choice than in public schools, the latter drawing students from more homogenous populations as restricted by geographic boundaries. Other data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education shows independent school families more involved in civic activities than their public school counterparts.

The Equity in Education Tax Credit is a positive and constructive measure to improve education in Ontario. Parents now have greater freedom to choose the type of education best suited to their children, and every child, regardless of social standing now has more opportunity to develop into a healthy, well-prepared member of society.
John Vanasselt
Director of Communications,
Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools

Diversity suffers under Ontario education tax credit
Publicly funded schools are open and accessible to all on an equal basis and founded upon the positive societal values that Canadians hold. These values transcend cultures and faiths, reinforce democratic rights and responsibilities, and are founded on a fundamental belief in the worth of all persons.

Recent world events demonstrate the tragic results when society is fractured along religious and cultural lines. We believe that children should be educated in a multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-religious climate of understanding and learning best provided by the public school system.

Since the Ontario government, however, is determined to proceed with a private school tax voucher — we believe that the design of the tax credit should be founded on two principles.

1. Private schools that receive public funding through the tax credit should be accountable to the taxpayers of Ontario. If you take the public’s money you follow the rules. In a survey by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 87 per cent of the public support this position.

2. Individuals who support private education should not have a tax advantage over individuals who support public education. Ninety-five per cent of the students in Ontario are in public education. Tax rules should not penalize their supporters.

When the provincial budget containing the private school tax credit was introduced last year, the government immediately stated that many other Canadian provinces provided public funding for private education. What the provincial government did not say is that no other province provides tax relief directly to the parent(s). The other provinces provide their funding to the institution on condition that the institution follow provincially mandated rules. This is an extremely significant difference. Ontario is the only province proposing to use public dollars to fund private education with no strings attached.

The Tories have spent considerable energy and resources ensuring that the public system remains accountable. In fact, the government is so committed to their education agenda, they are currently spending $5 million to $6 million on a public relations campaign telling taxpayers how important their accountability standards are to the future of public students. If they are that important, private school students deserve the same education standards.

In conclusion, we must again voice our objection to the controversial introduction of tax credits for private schools. This proposal can only negatively impact the system of public education without offering an alternative long-term design that has been arrived at as a result of informed public discussion. The people of Ontario have never had the opportunity to vote on the specific proposal of a tax credit for private schools. How else can we describe this action but undemocratic?
Liz Sandals
Ontario Public School Boards Association

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