How to fix Ontario’s education system [and save money too]

What I write here is based on my own experiences in the Ontario education system, with three out-of-four our own kids still in the system. Our kids have attended both the English-Public, and the English-Catholic boards in our area.

The problem: In rural Ontario, enrollment in schools has bottomed out, but some schools still face declining enrollment. That factors into putting local elementary and secondary schools at risk of closure.

At the elementary level, schools are put in peril by uneven programming, and a bias by parents that “new is always better”.

At the secondary level, it is a fact that some schools are losing students, because those boards are unable to provide the courses or options that larger schools can. As more students leave, the less a school can offer.

The costs to one board is enough, now add that across four school systems. Then consider transportation and it is easy to see why Ontario’s school system is a mess.

Ontario has four school systems, all competing against each other, all funded by the same government, to teach the same curriculum. That’s four sets of schools; Four sets of board offices; And four sets of administration.

Solution: End the four school system model.

Sounds simple, but I know it is not.

First, there needs to be a constitutional amendment passed. Catholic education is guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution. As this would only affect Ontario, passing the needed amendment only requires the passage of legislation in the Ontario legislature, and in the federal Parliament.

Second, you need a plan to deal reorganize the school boards. The simplest way to do this is use the existing English-Public boards as the new boards, and merge in all schools from the three other systems (English-Catholic, French-Catholic, French-Public). One board administration office instead of four accomplish. Not so fast, now you have multiple schools to deal with.

Consolidating schools will require blending school populations. In communities where one building could not fit the population of the combined school, the students would have to be split between buildings based on grade. Example, building one would have kindergarten to Grade 3, building two would have Grade 4-6, etc. This is no different to models already in Ontario already. In communities where there are multiple facilities and a building may need to be closed, the buildings that are the oldest, or in need of the most repair, should be closed.

There would be labour issues, harmonizing contracts, but some of that work was already done as the McGuinty and Wynne governments were able to negotiate the banked sick days “gratuity” out of the remaining labour agreements the teacher unions had.

This education shake up would mean that still, in the end, some schools would close. But rationalizing and balancing school populations should, in the end, minimize that.

In order for this to work, there would have to be firm rules and proper programming in place to have the rebalanced school system work.

1) Students attend the school in their community, period. There are no boundary or program jumpers. Just in the area where I live, there are approximately 80 Grade 9-12 students that do not attend the high school in the community here, they go to out of community high schools. This means the local high school has a low occupancy and puts the school at risk of closure. The next closest high schools are 25km-plus away.

2) Religious education classes would be available. Based on area and demand.

3) Full-time French instruction and French immersion would be available in areas where the population supports it. This keeps French language support where needed, and uses classroom resources better. Example, a school in Eastern Ontario could have a French instruction stream, a French immersion stream, and an English instruction stream. Resources between the three streams are shared.

4) By enforcing the boundaries of a school community, transportation costs will decrease greatly, especially for school areas where students are not being transported 40km down the road, past the school in the community they live in.

What should the government do with the financial savings found? This is where I differ greatly with the Ford Government. Education is the single biggest investment one can make in children. Our society, our history, is built on each generation learning, then growing to build a better life for themselves. Education is the key to lifting people out of income insecurity. While the Ford government would likely slash the education budget to take the financial savings, I would not.

Instead those found savings would go into new teaching resources, hiring teachers and educational assistants, integrating technology in schools, and providing proper supports for special education students. Found savings would be reinvested into the schools and into the students.

This plan, like I said above, may sound simplistic. It will not appeal to everyone. In fact, there are many who will think they are getting a bad deal out of this. While the adjustment period is going to be tough for a couple of years, I believe that adopting a single school system in Ontario will, in the end, lead to better education for students.