Fury over tax breaks for private schools

25th May 2001 at 01:00

A major row has developed over the Ontario government's decision to introduce tax allowances for the parents of private-school pupils.

The changes will apply to parents sending children to both non-profit and profit-making private schools, and will reduce their income tax by up to $3,500 (pound;1,600) a child per year.

Aware that these changes would be perceived as benefiting the province's wealthiest taxpayers, revenue minister Jim Flaherty used part of his 2001 budget speech to stress that students who attended these schools were "from working-class families, middle-class and lower-class families".

Supporters of private religious schools have long argued - including at the United Nations - that it is unfair for Ontario to fund a separate Caholic education system, under rules enshrined in the Canadian constitution of 1867, but not other private religious schools.

They applauded the minister's statement that "this is about more money for children, it's about more money for choice for their parents".

But Earl Manners, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, described the tax allowances as a "theft of at least $300 million (pound;138m) from public schools".

Education minister Janet Ecker rejected this claim, saying that her ministry had been given an extra $360m. But Liz Sandles, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association which represents the provinces' elected school trustees, said: "This is a voucher system for private education in disguise."

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