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Published in Print: February 5, 2003, as Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange

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International Page Ontario families who want an independent school education for their children now have somewhere to turn for tuition help.

Ontario families who want an independent school education for their children now have somewhere to turn for tuition help.

"Children First: School Choice Trust" is the first privately subsidized program to offer tuition-assistance grants to Ontario parents who can't afford to send their children to independent schools.

Starting next fall, 150 students through 8th grade will be eligible for yearly grants of up to $3,500. The program will provide aid to an additional 150 students in 2004 and 2005. Students will receive the grants until they finish 8th grade.

Only children from low- income families will be considered for the grants, which are worth up to 50 percent of a student's tuition. In Ontario, the average private school tuition is $7,000 annually. (One Canadian dollar is worth 65 cents in U.S. currency.)

The program will be run by the Fraser Institute, a conservative policy- research group in Vancouver, British Columbia. The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, a philanthropy in Toronto that focuses its charitable efforts on education and the environment, is financing Children First.

Since the program was introduced last month, the Fraser Institute has been overwhelmed by calls from parents, said Claudia R. Hepburn, the institute's director of education policy.

She said 95.5 percent of the grants would be given to children now enrolled in public schools, with the remaining awards going to independent school students. About 4.5 percent of Ontario's 2 million students attend independent schoolssecular private schools and non-Catholic religious schools.

"We're not trying to take children out of the public school system," Ms. Hepburn said last week. "We're trying to give children opportunities they might not have had otherwise."

She also noted that Ontario is the only major Canadian province that does not offer publicly financed school choice. Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba, for example, provide direct government grants to their independent schools.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Vol. 22, Issue 21, Page 8

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