American private-education lobbying group sets up shop in Ontario

TeachON will "follow a similar model" to U.S.-based Teach Coalition, the organization says. TeachON / Facebook

An American lobbying organization that advocates for directing government towards supporting private schools has opened an Ontario division.

In a news release announcing the creation of TeachON, the organization said: “The Ontario-based group will follow a similar model to the broader Teach Coalition, working with MPPs to secure proper funding for independent school.”

“Through our partnership with Teach Coalition, we’re able to learn from their best practices in order to work with our politicians to secure the necessary funding for children who attend an academic institution best suited to their unique educational needs,” TeachON executive director Sam Eskenasi said in the release.

The American-based Teach Coalition was founded in 2013 and touts itself as a “network invested in the quality, safety and accessibility of non-public schools.” The coalition currently operates in many U.S. states, including Florida, California, New York and New Jersey.

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Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has not indicated any desire to divert government funding to private schools, and a spokesperson for Lecce’s office on Wednesday expressed the ministry’s commitment to public school education.

“We remain firmly committed to strengthening and defending our publicly funded education system. That is why we have increased investment to the highest level in Ontario history,” ministry spokesperson Alexandra Adamo told Global News.

“While our government is making historic investments in public education, including in mental health, the government does not provide and has no intention of providing funding for private school education.”

In 2017, during his leadership campaign, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer discussed a $4,000 personal income tax deduction for parents who decided to send their children to private schools. It’s unclear if this will be included in the Conservative platform for the 2019 federal election.

When pressed on that point, Ontario education critic Marit Stiles told Global News: “Andrew Scheer’s talk of providing federal funding to people sending their kids to private schools, and the Ford government talk about ‘parental choice,’ I think there’s good cause for concern.”

Stiles added: “It’s no surprise these for-profit companies are circling Ontario’s public education sector just as Doug Ford is weakening our public schools with damaging cuts.”

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The government’s decisions on class size increases, mandatory e-learning and other “bad decisions,” according to Stiles, are indicators Ontario Premier Doug Ford is not committed to a strong public education system, she said.

A Toronto District School Board teacher, who declined to give their name as they were not authorized to speak publicly, agrees with Stiles’ assessment, telling Global News on Wednesday that the policy changes “make it more difficult for educators to meet the needs of all students, seem to be designed to hamper the public education system and make it less palatable to parents.”

The teacher says many in Ontario’s education system are concerned about the formation of TeachON.

“When kids leave the public school system for private schools, public education receives less funding as funding is calculated and provided based on enrolment. When public education receives less funding, it becomes more difficult to provide for the needs of all students.”

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