Tory vows to study public funding for Ont. faith-based schools

A Conservative government would move to provide public funding for Ontario's private Islamic, Jewish, Christian and Hindu schools if elected this fall, says party leader John Tory.

Pilot program would start in fall 2008

A Conservative government would move toprovide public fundingfor Ontario's private Islamic, Jewish, Christian and Hinduschools ifelected this fall, says party leader John Tory.

Torypromised Monday that a Conservative government would set up a commission headed by former premier Bill Davis todetermine how to makereligious schools fit intothe public system.

"This is a plan that will bring faith-based schools which currently exist outside of the public system inside that system instead, subject to clear, reasonable conditions," he announced.

Includingthe province's private religious schools in the public system would cost an extra $400 million each year, he estimated.

The commissionwouldconsider details such as whether the schools would be attached to a school board or whether they would be run independently.

Tory added that a pilot project would start in the fall of 2008, based on the commission's recommendations.

In order to receive public funding, faith-based schools would have to agree to teach the Ontario curriculum, participate in standardized testing and hire accredited teachers, Tory said, adding that public funding would not be extended to the schools without extensive consultation and thought.

About 53,000 Ontario students attend private religious schools, and they deserve the same support as students in the province's publicly funded Catholic schools, Tory said.

Tory's announcement was welcomed by Howard English, spokesman for the United Jewish Appeal Foundation of Greater Toronto.

"This something for which we have been fighting for nearly four decades," said English, whose group provides services to the city's Jewish community and runs the Board of Jewish Education, comprising more than 70 private day and supplementary schools.

When Davis was premier, his government passed legislation extending public funding to Catholic schools at the Grade 11, 12 and 13 levels. Ontario later eliminated Grade 13 throughout the province.

A CBC survey conducted in May found that 58 per cent of Ontario residents polled want the province's public and Catholic school boards to merge into a single system.

With files from the Canadian Press