Members of Ontario’s Christian and Jewish communities want the Ford government to implement school choice amid a number of families in the province losing faith in the province’s public education system.

Ontario is currently the only major Canadian province that does not offer school choice.

Dr. Aaron Rock, an evangelical Christian pastor from Windsor and Larry Zeifman, a Toronto accountant and member of the Orthodox Jewish community, both say they would like to see the implementation of a school voucher system allowing families to direct their tax dollars to the school of their choice.

Both Rock and Zeifman sent their kids to independent schools. Rock is also the Chancellor of Harvest Classical Academy, an independent Christian school he recently founded.

In an interview with True North, Rock explained that he and his wife chose to send their kids to an independent Christian school because “we wanted to make sure they’re being taught by people that shared our worldview, but also got a good education.”

He added that he and his wife initially only sent their kids to a Christian school for elementary, but opted to also send their fifth child to an Christian high school amid them having lost faith in the public Catholic system.

“I appreciated the fact that (in Catholic schools) there was some heightened commitment to acknowledging God and his laws in the classroom. But like our fifth child, we pulled her out of the Catholic school system after grade 10 because they bowed down to the exact same agenda.”

“The public education system is not a neutral space for people of various faiths to flourish. It’s a space that has been hijacked by a very specific group of ideologues who are absolutely committed to indoctrinating children to one particular worldview.”

Zeifman told True North that for his family, “it really wasn’t a question that we would put our kids into (Jewish) day school.” He noted that “the values in a religious school, in a Orthodox Jewish day school compared to the values in a public school are just night and day.”

Zeifman said that in addition to having values that are contrary to modern woke ideology, Orthodox Jewish families face differences in terms of lifestyle. 

“As an Orthodox Jew, our religious practice is a way of life. So, for example, the Shabbat Friday night, Saturday, we don’t drive, we don’t watch TV, we’re not on our phones, we’re not on computers. It’s a very different lifestyle, and if you’re in a public school, and you’re the only kid who’s keeping Shabbat, it becomes very, very difficult to maintain that religious lifestyle.”

For both Rock and Zeifman, providing their children with an independent school education did come at a cost, something that not all Ontario families are able to afford.

According to Cardus, the average independent school tuition in Ontario is $11,910 per year. Though some religious schools charge less than that and offer sliding scale tuition.

“If the government were to step up with a $12,000 or so voucher, it would make huge differences,” said Zeifman. For Rock, implementing a voucher system would also be “the honourable thing to do.”

The two men also pointed out that families who pay to send their kids to independent schools must also pay taxes to fund public schools. That money should instead be redirected to the school of their choice.

“The fact that we all pay our taxes the same as everybody else, and we don’t get the benefit of our taxes to educate our children, it’s like we’re paying our kids’ tuition twice,” said Zeifman. “We pay it once in the tax system to educate the kids in public school, and then we pay for our own kids’ tuition.”

Rock believes “the government shouldn’t be taking school tax dollars from families that conscientiously object to the public system.”

Since taking office in 2018, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has been reluctant to consider school choice policies, something Zeifman finds extremely disappointing.

“The Jewish community has tried to work and has worked with other faith communities to advance the cause of day school funding, unfortunately we just hit a brick wall,” he said. “We hit a brick wall with the liberals, as you wouldn’t be surprised because they were ideologically opposed to it. And then we haven’t gotten anywhere with Ford in five years,”

“I’m a conservative and I know that school choice is a conservative value.”

Rock believes school choice would improve Ontario’s public education system, as it would require it to compete with independent schools. “There’s always something healthy about some competition.”

In the past two years, Ontario’s public schools have been the subject of several woke controversies, leading multiple families to consider alternative education options.

Notable controversies have included a transgender teacher being allowed to wear massive prosthetic breasts, a high school student being suspended and arrested after saying there were only two genders, a teacher caught on tape publicly berating Muslim students who abstained from LGBTQ pride activities and the recent suicide of principal Richard Bilkzo, which came after he was allegedly bullied at a TDSB Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) session hosted by the KOJO Institute.