Straight Talk
CHRISTINA BLIZZARD - Introduce voucher system to save schools

he new Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne in sworn into office by Lt. Gov. David Onley at Queens Park in Toronto, Ont.

Credits: Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

CHRISTINA BLIZZARD | QMI AGENCY

I never thought I'd say this, but thank God for the Catholic school system.

I know. Polls show a majority of people in this province think we should do away with the separate board.

Think where we'd be without it right now.

It's widely acknowledged that the main reason the union representing secondary school teachers is co-operating with the government on restoring extracurriculars is that this is the time of year when students are choosing their high schools and next year's courses.

Parents and children aren't stupid.

They're voting with their feet. While it's only anecdotal, even Education Minister Liz Sandals acknowledged this week that parents and students were choosing Catholic schools -- where the teachers already have a deal with the government.

That put pressure on public boards to talk about extracurriculars.

PC education critic Lisa MacLeod introduced a motion Tuesday that will make it easier for teachers to continue to volunteer for extracurricular activities -- even when their union says no. And it will define a teacher's job to include so-called "extras" -- like completing report cards and meeting with parents.

Fair enough, you can see where coaching volleyball or running the chess club isn't part of every teacher's day -- and they have the right to withdraw services.

Teachers who go that extra mile should get some kind of credit in the classroom for doing so -- a suggestion that was put forward to a 2000 task force on extracurricualrs by now Education Minister Liz Sandals when she was head of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.

But it's a stretch to say reporting to parents and meeting with them to discuss their child's progress is an "extra."

Those tasks are part of the job and teachers should do that work with a willing heart.

There's no doubt these powerful unions hold far too much sway.

In a recent memo to its members, OSSTF president Ken Coran bragged the union had been able to stop the Liberals from getting a majority in the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection and had been instrumental in having Dalton McGuinty resign as premier.

While MacLeod's motion is laudable, this latest episode simply points out the need to break the stranglehold these powerful unions have on the system.

The way to do that is through a voucher system for schools.

If the existence of the Catholic system provided the competition necessary to spur public school teachers back to work, think how much better the public system would be with dozens of competing schools vying for tax dollars.

MacLeod says it's not part of the PC plan and they don't support it.

"Parents want an education system with higher standards. They want to make sure their kids' extracurriculars are restored, they want to make sure those co-instructional activities are in place and they want their kids to be safe," she told reporters.

Then again, the Tories were badly burned in the 2007 election by a platform that called for the funding of all religious schools.

A voucher system, though, wouldn't be restricted to faith schools.

Good schools of all kinds would flourish. Schools where teachers happily and graciously got involved in all those extras that make school life fulfilling would be rewarded.

The bad schools, where teachers only grudgingly showed up to perform the most perfunctory service would go out of business.

And it would finally bring fairness to our inequitable system -- one where public funding goes to schools of only one faith.

Will it happen?

Not a chance.

After the Tories' disastrous election of 2007, there's not a politician around willing to do what it takes to bring excellence to our schools.

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