Ontarians want public, Catholic schools to merge: poll

More than half of all Ontario residents want the province to merge its two publicly funded school systems, suggests a new poll commissioned by the CBC.

More than half of all Ontario residents want the province to merge its two publicly funded school systems, suggests a new poll commissioned by the CBC.

Oraclepoll Research randomly phoned 600 Ontario adults in May and asked: "Do you support or oppose the creation of one publicly funded education system in Ontario by merging the Catholic and public school boards across the province?"

Source: Oraclepoll Research survey of 600 Ontario adults
Question 1: Do you support or oppose the creation of one publicly funded education system in Ontario by merging the Catholic and public school boards across the province?
Support58.2%
Oppose29.1%
Don't know12.7%

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents said they supported the idea, 29 per cent saidthey opposed it,and the rest said they did not know.

When asked why they felt that way,many respondentswho favoured a single school systemsaid there should not be separate boards (17.7 per cent), having a single board would save money (16.7 per cent) and it would create equality (9.4 per cent).

Of those who supported separate schools, many said they think religion is important (10.4 per cent) and separate schools offer better education (8.3 per cent).

The poll conducted between May 20 and May 28 is considered accurate within plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Dena Morrison, chair of the public school board in the Sudbury area, said she is not surprised by the results.

Her school board is among thosethat have passed motions in recent months calling for a single secular school system in Ontario, which they say would be more efficient and fairer to other religions.

Source: Oraclepoll research survey of 600 Ontario adults
Question 2: Why do you feel this way?
Should not be separate/different boards17.7%
Cost savings16.7%
Don't know11.5%
Religion is important10.4%
One system would create equality 9.4%
Separate schools have better education 8.3%
Discriminates against other religions 6.3%
One would improve education 6.3%
No need for change, system isworking well 4.2%
Religion should not play a part in education 3.1%
Public system is better 3.1%
Need alternatives 2.1%
It's the same curriculum anyway 1.0%

"There are increasing pressures from several other faith-based groups to extend education funding to them," she said.

Bernard Murray, president of the Catholic School Trustees Association, said eliminating Ontario's Catholic schools would infringe on a constitutional right that has been in place for about 160 years, but the association is not opposed to extending the right to other groups.

"We have always supported in principle the funding of education for faith-based groups," he said, adding that it's not the association's place to be saying how it could be done.

Unlikely election issue: pollster

InFebruary 2006,Ontario Conservatives said that if they were elected, they would look at some sort of financial assistance to parents who pay tuition for faith-based private schools.

But their current platform states that the party is "committed to creating an opportunity for non-Catholic, faith-based schools to choose to join our publicly funded education system the same way Catholic schools have already done" and providing direct funding for those schools.

However, none of the province's three major political parties has expressed support for merging the school systems.

Oraclepoll CEO Paul Seccaspina said it's unlikely any party will broach the controversial issue so close to the fall election.

"No matter what you do on this issue, it's not going to get you new votes. So looking at it from that point of view and a cold political standpoint: why touch it?" he asked.

Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that still have religious school boards with full public funding that are separate from their fully-funded public school boards.

In 1999, the United Nations human rights committee ruled that Ontario's policy of fully funding Catholic schools while denying full funding to other religious schools, is discriminatory.