- The MAEE
- A Historical Injustice
- The Beginnings of MFIS
- From 1990 to the present
The ‘birth” of the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools Inc. was preceded by the organization known as the Manitoba Association for Equality in Education (MAEE). The MAEE was founded on March 15, 1964. It was composed of parents who believed in parental rights in education. Its aim was to promote equal educational opportunities for all children in the Province, whether they attended a public or private school. The group held the firm conviction that parental rights in education have primacy over those of the state and that parents have the right to choose the school they wish their child(ren) to attend.
Joe C. Stangl became involved with the organization in 1968 as its president, and actively lobbied other independent schools to support the goals and objectives of MAEE. The MAEE was successful in securing the commitment of the majority of independent schools to the extent that they became co-signers to a brief to the Government seeking financial assistance for only the academic costs of educating students.
A HISTORICAL INJUSTICE
Denominational schools, primarily the Roman Catholic schools, were funded by the provincial government until 1890. In that year the legislature passed the Public Schools Act and established the Department of Education. A non denominational public school system was enacted and public funding to all but public schools was terminated.
The injustice imposed on Roman Catholic schools by the Provincial government of the day was actively pursued in the courts, in Parliament, and in the Privy Council. The end result was The Order of Council No. 834 of the Governor General in Council under Section 22(2) of the Manitoba Act, which compelled the Province of Manitoba to restore to the Catholics the rights lost as a result of the Public Schools Act and Department of Education Act of 1890. But the Province of Manitoba ignored it. Instead the Laurier-Greenway compromise was worked out. It allowed religious exercises in schools, but no financial support.
THE BEGINNINGS OF MFIS
To its credit the MAEE recognized that for any one group to pursue the matter of equitable funding it was necessary to join forces with other like minded independent schools. Thus the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools Inc. (MFIS) was officially founded on December 11, 1974, when Frank Cvitkovitch, Q. C. informed those present at the final MAEE meeting. “…that the incorporation of this Federation is now completed….” MFIS was a reality, and an exciting adventure was about to begin. “Justice” and “equity” were two key words in the Federation’s quest to secure fair funding for the students who attended schools other than the public schools.
Under the leadership of Joe C. Stangl the discussions with the politicians continued. Letters were written, meetings were arranged and attended, strategy was discussed at the MFIS Board of Directors meetings, reports and briefs were prepared and presented. The devoted efforts of Alan Judd, the Federation’s Executive Director, for the first thirteen years were invaluable during these “growing up years” of MFIS.
Of note, too, is the Bilingual Agreement that was negotiated with the Office of the Secretary of State in 1974, to receive applications for French instruction and for the distribution of the bilingual Basic French Grants and Special Project Grants to the qualifying independent schools in Manitoba via MFIS.
Although inroads had been made by MAEE for financial support and Shared Service Agreements were signed between school divisions and independent schools, the ultimate goal of MFIS was the adequate funding of the independent schools students’ education from the educational tax dollars paid by the parents to the Province.
The political climate of the 1970′s and 1980′s was not overtly hostile to the ever-growing numbers of independent schools in Manitoba. However, none of the political parties had official positions or policy statements on independent schools and their place in society. Many individuals as well as political parties lacked basic information regarding independent schools, or their mission. It was incumbent on the MFIS then to educate the public and the politicians. A letter to the editor was one avenue to bring the case of independent schools to the readers of the press. Meetings with caucuses was another way to share with the politicians the legitimacy of independent schools and their request for some political solution to right the wrong of 1890.
During the 1970′s the Schreyer and Lyon governments listened respectfully to the numerous appeals urging the government to implement the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Education Report. The Commission recommended support to independent schools at 80% of the total provincial grant to public schools as shown in the public accounts, plus two additional sources of funds as part of the calculations. However, neither the NDP nor the Conservative government acted on the recommendation. In the early 1980′s a poll commissioned by MFIS found that 6 out of 10 Manitobans supported some reasonable funding to students attending independent schools. In 1984, the Federation undertook the project to retain a lawyer with constitutional background to research “the legal right to public funding of independent schools or the students attending them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” The legal opinion was presented to the MFIS Board of Directors in 1985. The conclusion arrived at was that the Catholics had, and still have, substantial rights to public funding by virtue of the Remedial Order of 1895. The end result was that the Catholic community proceeded to pursue their legal rights with a petition to the Federal Government for legislation to provide relief under the Remedial Order of 1895. In the meantime, the desire for a political “Made in Manitoba,” solution was high on the MFIS agenda and actively pursued.
THE CROWNING MOMENT
In 1986, Martin Buchwald assumed the Presidency of the Federation for two years and was then succeeded by Don C. Brock in 1988. Both men worked tirelessly on behalf of the Federation. During the 1986 election the Conservative Party of Manitoba and the Liberal Party of Manitoba went on record, that if elected, either party would negotiate a funding formula with the Federation. This was re-iterated in 1988, when an election was called as a result of a non-confidence vote. The Conservatives were elected and made good on their promise. Negotiations commenced in the spring of 1989 with Joe C. Stangl, Martin Buchwald, and John Doornbos representing the interests of the Federation. The negotiations moved along well and were concluded a year later. The Letter of Comfort (the Funding Agreement) dated June 12, 1990 officially concluded the long sought-after solution to the Manitoba School Question of 1890. The crowning moment of success occurred one hundred years later (1890 – 1990) when the signatures were affixed to the Letter of Comfort. For Joe C. Stangl it was “mission accomplished,” and his resignation as director was accepted with thanks for all his dedicated work on behalf of MFIS.
FROM 1990 TO THE PRESENT
It soon become apparent that the so-called 80% negotiated funding formula was a political liability to both the government and the Federation. When monetary restraints in the early 1990′s forced the government to freeze education funding to the public schools, it also froze the funding to the independent schools, and by doing so violated the conditions of the agreement. The MFIS Board of Directors discussed the possibility of a court challenge, but a commitment of the government to renegotiate the agreement to a less politically volatile 50% funding formula (with no reduction in actual funding) was agreed to by the Federation and achieved in January, 1996, with the signing of the Amended Funding Agreement.
A positive working relationship developed between the MFIS Office and the Office of Independent Education (OISE). In January 2003 the combined efforts by MFIS and the OISE resulted in the first Coordinated Independent Schools In-service Day attended by over 400 educators. The organizing and coordination of Workshops and/or In-service Days for the administrators and teachers in independent schools became a new direction for MFIS. MFIS will also coordinate opportunities for independent schools with different government agencies in order to provide our member schools with opportunities that are not always available to individual schools. Today MFIS continues to work closely with the Independent Education Unit of Manitoba Education and Training to better meet the needs of funded independent schools in Manitoba.
MFIS is now recognized and respected as a significant stakeholder in education in Manitoba. Led by its volunteer Board of Directors and served by its Executive Director and Administrative Assistant, MFIS continues to safeguard independent education in the Province of Manitoba. The Governance Committee meets regularly to ensure the continuance of an appropriate and effective governance framework for the Federation. The Liaison Committee meets regularly with the Minister of Education to keep communication open between the provincial government and independent schools. The education committee meets regularly to review educational issues that affect independent schools and plan professional development opportunities. Conferences and workshops are held on a regular basis for administrators, teachers, and support staff. The Public Relations Committee keeps member schools, politicians, and the public informed about independent education in the province. The Audit and Risk Committee maintains the financial operations of the organization. They also meet on an annual basis with officials from the Schools Finance Department to review the funding process of independent schools. The Board of Directors meets bi-monthly to receive reports and to provide overall direction to the Federation and reports to membership.
In the forty plus years of its existence MFIS has grown from less than 20 member schools in 1974, to 50 member schools in 2016, representing almost 14,000 independent school students. MFIS continues to be the only significant and credible voice in Manitoba for independent schools. Certainly, the MFIS has, over these many years of existence, demonstrated that it has been true to its mission “…to represent the interests and concerns of member independent schools in Manitoba.” The Federation has been well served by its volunteer directors and executive.