Catholic school funding decision could extend beyond Sask.: professor

The court decision that the province of Saskatchewan should not be funding non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools could have an inter-provincial effect, says one professor.

Donlevy says Catholic schools could see a reduction of 15% to 30% of students, creating funding deficit

Donlevy said reduction in Catholic school students would mean an increased burden on the public school system. (Submitted by Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools)

The decision of a Sask. judge which states the province must stop funding non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools could extend to Alberta and potentially Ontario, says one professor.

Kent Donlevy specializes in constitutional, human rights and education law at the University of Calgary's Werklund School of Education. He is also a former principal and teacher who worked for several years in Saskatchewan. 

Donlevy said if the decision goes to the Court of Appeal — and he expects it will be appealed — Catholic schools in Alberta and Sask. could see a reduction in student body of anywhere from 15 per cent to as much as 30 per cent, which would also create a significant funding deficit. 

"The funding of non-Catholic students is not a denominational right — that is, a religious right — of Catholic schools," Donlevy said. "It is the funding that is the issue."

The reduction in Catholic school students would mean an increased burden on the public school system, Donlevy said. 

"[The ruling] could actually shatter Catholic schools," Donlevy said. "It could close down Catholic school boards."

Kent Donlevy says Catholic schools cater to multiple faiths and religions and are not limited to Catholicism. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Donlevy referenced the ruling, which says there was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because by funding non-Catholic students, the province would be acting preferentially toward Catholic schooling. 

In a quick history lesson, Donlevy referenced the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces. As part of a compromise, Quebec and the federal government agreed to have these provinces come into Confederation if the protections of the Catholic religion in Quebec were the same in Sask. and Alta., section 17 in both acts. 

"What does that mean? It means any rights of the separate schools — whether they be Protestant or Catholic — at that time, really in particular, the ordinances of 1901, would be frozen forever, as being protected," he said. 

Donlevy said Catholic schools serve many more people than simply just Catholics, including Muslims, Protestants and Jews, among other groups.

"Many people of faith ... flood into the Catholic school system because it is only within that system that they feel they can have the belief in a deity and express it," Donlevy said. 

The ruling comes after a lawsuit was making its way through the courts for more than a decade, stemming from a Catholic school division being set up in Theodore, Sask. in 2003 after the community's public school was slated to be shut down. 

The Good Spirit School Division, in their 2005 lawsuit, argued the Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic School division was not entitled to receive funding for non-Catholic students.

The change is set to go into effect in June 2018. 

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition