MONTREAL — Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, under fire from the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), affirmed that any school in the province that does not conform to the law will face sanctions and possible legal action.
She was defending herself against the CAQ’s charge that her department is lax in enforcing the law, and she insisted that the opposition party is spreading false information about the funding of certain private religious schools, including a number of Jewish ones.
On June 7, in the National Assembly, CAQ education critic Eric Caire demanded that she explain why the government continues to fund and, in some cases, has increased subsidies to certain chassidic and other Orthodox Jewish schools that are allegedly not abiding by the law.
He took Courchesne to task for not cracking down on these private schools, which he charged have been delinquent for many years.
Caire reminded her that in 2009, during her first time serving as education minister, Courchesne had served notice to six Jewish schools that they must take steps to conform to the law. The ultimatum came after several years of warnings.
Among the measures she took was to extend the school year in order to give these schools more time to teach the compulsory curriculum in addition to religious studies.
Courchesne returned to the education portfolio last month after a two-year absence, following minister Line Beauchamp’s resignation amid unrest over university tuition increases. Courchesne also continues to serve as Treasury Board president and vice-premier.
Caire cited the 2010-2011 annual report of the Commission consultative de l’enseignement privé to support his claims.
That report, he said, shows that Académie Beth Tziril, a Tasher chassidic girls’ school in Boisbriand, saw its yearly grant increase from $521,000 to $685,000 between 2007 and 2011, despite the commission’s finding that 20 of its 22 teachers are not certified.
He also raised the case of the Montreal school First Mesifta of Canada, which education department officials cut funding to in 2009 because its teachers were not qualified, but the minister’s office intervened to cancel that decision.
Caire said nothing has changed at the school, yet it receives $474,000 a year in public money.
Caire also stated that a Muslim school in Laval has received more government money over the 2007 to 2011 period, despite infractions found by the commission.
He demanded that the government cut funding to any private school that does not follow the law after years of being told that it must.
Courchesne replied in the national assembly that “if these schools do not respect the régime pédagogique [the compulsory curriculum and conditions of instruction], it is obvious that procedures and sanctions are taken… The régime pédagogique, for all schools in Quebec, must be respected.”
She admitted, though, that having been back in the education post for only three weeks, she had not had time to review the facts.
Courchesne later issued a “clarification” that called Caire’s information “erroneous.”
“Contrary to the assertions of [Caire], the government is acting with diligence in this file,” she stated.
Concerning First Mesifta, Courchesne said the education department is following up in order to have it comply with the law.
Courchesne said the amount the school received actually decreased between 2007-2008 and the current year, because funding is tied to the number of students enrolled.
She also noted that in 2011, the Commission consultative recommended renewing the school’s permit for one year.
In the case of the Académie Beth Tziril, Courchesne said this school was notified last July of her predecessor’s decision to withhold its subsidy for the elementary school because of “a considerable number” of legal and regulatory violations.
As for the Académie culturelle de Laval, Courchesne said this Muslim school has never received any funding from her ministry.
She said a committee set up in 2009-2010 is in regular contact with five Jewish schools to see that they meet the legal requirements.
She also noted in her statement that in April 2010 the attorney general, acting on behalf of the education ministry, sought the closure of Académie Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Quebec Superior Court.
The ministry said this Satmar elementary school was not sufficiently teaching secular studies, its teachers were unlicensed and it was operating without a permit.
Last September, Superior Court judge Gérard Dugré ruled in favour of the 60-year-old school, which has never sought nor received government funding.