An increasing reality across K-12 in Ontario is school boards marketing themselves to potential students.
I've noticed it, not so subtly, in my own district where the public school board has ramped up its promotional budget and materials to tell potential students "they belong" in the public system. All social media accounts are being used to push out marketing statements to enroll more often than push out items to inform.
It's not seen too often for K-8 programs, but at the high school level the competition -- and yes, it's a plain-out competition for bums in seats -- is getting fierce.
Witness the two-step by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association on a promotional video for Catholic publicly funded schools featuring Mark Kielburger. He's a Catholic high school graduate, which is why the association had approached him in the first place. For some time now OCSTA has encouraged its member boards to highlight the Catholic graduate expectations, to differentiate its students from those who graduate from other schools. Highlighting Kielburger is a good example of that kind of promotion.
The association was called on the carpet by its public counterpart, whose spokesperson wasted no time in slamming OCSTA for crass marketing when they should be focused on working with their counterpart associations -- a pot/kettle sort of thing given many of the Ontario Public School Boards Association are engaging in the same sort of marketing. President Michael Barrett spoke of wasting time and public dollars on promoting one system over another, neglecting the fact his own members spend dollars doing the same things
The pitches are driven because parents and students can choose which school board to enroll in for grades 9-12 and each student brings with them per-pupil dollars. Post-1998, as per-pupil funding was implemented and Catholic school boards largely benefited from the formula (after, I would note, being forced to live off only residential property taxes from Catholic school supporters for decades) and the new school in most every community was the Catholic one.
In my own community, at one point, 25% of the incoming Grade 9 class at the local Catholic high school had come from public elementary schools. Why? Bigger school, newest facilities, better reputation academically. Despite what gets said in the midst of considering accommodation issues, parents and students tend to consistently vote with their feet to get the programs and facilities they want and need.
Declining enrolment -- and the largest cohort of students is now exiting high school -- has changed all this. Now Catholic school boards are more aggressively marketing themselves to maintain their student populations. Public school boards are responding in kind. It's an all-out battle, leading to another round of questioning the very existence of a publicly funded Catholic school system in Ontario.
For the record and in the interests of full disclosure as I've stated in the past, I am a graduate of a Catholic high school. That being said, I support a single publicly funded system administered according to language as has been successfully accomplished in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Critics are treating the Catholic-school marketing as another reason why the system shouldn't exist-- but if those critics come from public school boards, then they're the pot calling the kettle black. As mentioned above-- an increasing number of boards are marketing from both sides of the secular barrier.
If we're ready to have a mature conversation about a single publicly funded school system then let's have that conversation, not start throwing spitballs over marketing campaigns.