Saskatchewan’s education minister says a recent decision out of Yorkton Court of Queen’s Bench could mean chaos for both the province’s separate and public school systems.
Thursday saw Justice Donald Layh rule on a long-running lawsuit between Catholic and public school boards in the area around Theodore, Sask.
Layh’s decision deemed it unconstitutional for the province to continue paying for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools.
Education Minister Don Morgan said the decision would likely have the practical effect of driving thousands of students from the Catholic to the public system.
“If the decision is applied, a student would have to have a baptismal certificate from the Catholic church if they’re going to stay in the Catholic school system, or be funded in the Catholic school system,” he said.
Morgan agreed that technically, the decision does leave room for families to pay out-of-pocket for their non-Catholic children to keep attending Catholic schools, but he doubted many parents would choose to do so.
“That would be an option, but certainly for most families in our province, the idea of paying eight or 10 or 12 thousand dollars a year per student is something that’s not a workable option,” he said.
Morgan said the decision wouldn’t necessarily have a huge impact on the province’s finances directly, as the money paid out for each student wouldn’t change.
He said school boards would feel the brunt of the impacts.
“It would put an enormous strain on the school divisions. The separate school divisions would see a large portion, or a significant portion of their funding drop,” he said.
Public schools would also suffer, according to Morgan.
“Those students, when they went into the public system, the public school system probably would have an incredibly difficult time managing that influx. Physically, they likely wouldn’t have room for it,” he said.
Given the province’s investments in both school systems over the last century, Morgan said it was difficult to accept the idea that some Catholic schools could be left sitting half-empty while public schools were struggling to find space for thousands of kids.
With only one day since the over 230-page long decision was released, Morgan said it’s still too early to know exactly what will come of it. He said the province’s Ministry of Justice has been asked to see what options are available, including a potential appeal or drafting new legislation.
Layh gave the province until June 30, 2018 to cease its payments to Catholic school boards for non-Catholic students.
Proposed bill would limit future lawsuits
Morgan expressed disappointment that funding for both sides in the lengthy and expensive court process came from Saskatchewan taxpayers.
“I would much rather have that money put into a classroom paying a teacher, paying an (educational assistant) or paying for supports for students,” he said.
Morgan said Bill 63, an education bill currently moving through the Legislature, would limit the ability of boards to sue each other.