03/15/2013 12:14 EDT | Updated 05/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Ontario's Education System Needs Innovation Now

Flickr: bonnie-brown

I want our kids to have access to the best possible public education. I want them to be happy and safe. And I want to provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

Unfortunately, our education system is under threat. Ontario has had an education crisis under successive NDP, PC and Liberal governments. We're still feeling the effects of the Liberals' decision last fall to undermine the democratic bargaining rights of teachers, and the Liberals' rapid implementation of full-day kindergarten is still proving to be problematic.

It's a given that Ontario is in a tough economic spot. With a deficit of $12 billion, our services are under pressure. We can't afford to waste money, yet the legacy parties at Queen's Park refuse to address the unnecessary and costly duplication in our education system.

When businesses are in financial trouble, they find ways to innovate, reduce costs, and come out more competitive than they were before the trouble started. Can we apply that thinking to Ontario's Education system? Can we be innovative, eliminate costly duplication, and create a better school system in the process?

You bet we can. Have we? No. Instead, the Liberals have attacked teachers and refused to talk about merging the separate and public school systems.

Ontario has four school systems, covering public English, public French, Catholic English and Catholic French. Ending this duplication could save between $1.3 and $1.6 billion every year. By merging the best of the Catholic and public school boards, we'll find immediate and ongoing savings that we can reinvest in the classroom and provide great education for our kids.

And we shouldn't stop there.

Ontario must remove bureaucratic silos and allow schools to become community hubs. We can get the most out of our assets by expanding the use of school buildings outside regular hours to create learning centres that benefit everyone. And instead of closing schools, we must develop a rural school strategy that recognizes the important role that schools play in small towns.

Without a doubt, the education system in Ontario needs change. We'll need to make some tough calls in today's tough fiscal environment. Given that our fundamental goal should be to ensure the best, brightest future for our kids, we need to put all the options on the table -- including merging the school boards and fully utilizing our schools as community hubs.

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