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Prayer against bill held in tax-funded school

Steinbach Christian got $1M in 2010-11

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The private faith-based school that has been a flashpoint in the furor over Bill 18 receives more than $1 million a year in public funding.

Steinbach Christian High School uses public money to cover 50.1 per cent of its operating budget.

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Government reports show that in 2010-2011, the last year for which province-wide financial data on independent schools are available, SCHS received $1,066,775 from the provincial government.

The school was the site of a prayer meeting Feb. 24 at which 1,200 people gathered to oppose Bill 18 in the first known open defiance of the Selinger government's anti-bullying legislation.

Opponents claim Education Minister Nancy Allan is violating their religious freedom through the bill's provision that any public school or any private school receiving public funding must accommodate a student who asks to start a gay-straight alliance in his or her school.

Allan has been careful not to say what the government could potentially do to a funded private school that does not comply with Bill 18. She has yet to spell that out in the legislation, expected to be ready for implementation when schools open in September.

"SCHS will not be making any comment to the Free Press at this time. I wish you all the best as you continue to cover the story," SCHS principal Scott Wiebe said in an email message.

SCHS is directly overseen by the Chortitzer Mennonite Conference, The Evangelical Mennonite Conference, The Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church and Southland Community Church.

The middle school and senior high school is on the same campus as Steinbach Bible College.

Southland Pastor Ray Duerksen has been an outspoken opponent of Bill 18, telling his congregation Feb. 24 God can replace key public figures -- including local municipal councillors and public school trustees -- if they do not publicly oppose Bill 18.

SCHS charges $3,975 annual tuition. A second child is 20 per cent less, a third child 30 per cent less, and there is no charge for additional children enrolled from one family.

In 2010-11, SCHS spent $9,221 per student, below the provincial public school average that year of $10,794. On the other hand, Steinbach Christian spent more than Hanover School Division, which averaged $8,435 per child.

Steinbach Christian has 235 students enrolled in the 2012-13 school year, in grades 5 to 12.

The school website declares: "All teachers are Christians; courses are taught from a Christian perspective; teachers are willing to pray with you and for you."

Provincial officials said they only require privately funded schools to have certified teachers: "Other hiring practices are at the discretion of independent schools."

Robert Praznik, board chairman of the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools, said provincially funded faith-based schools are allowed to hire teachers on the basis of their religious beliefs.

"Teachers who teach in faith-based schools teach the faith to the children. This is the reason that parents choose to send their children to faith-based independent schools. This is the reason faith-based schools exist.

"It would be part of the requirements, the ability to teach the faith of the school when teachers are hired. This is allowed under the Manitoba Human (Rights) code as a requirement of the position," Praznik said.

"There is only one main reference to private schools in the Public Schools Act," he said. 'Section 60 (5) lists the requirements we have to follow to receive our funding. Section 'b' requires us to use certified teachers.

"Section 'g' is the section that requires us to be in compliance with requirements from the minister. This is the clause that is being used for us to follow the requirements coming out of Bill 18," Praznik said.

The province said it has not withdrawn funding from a private school any time in recent memory, except for a brief interruption until a fire inspection report was received.


Criteria for grants

Independent schools can request provincial operating funds after they have been in operation for three years.

If they meet provincial curriculum and teacher-certification requirements, the private schools receive operating grants based on their full-time enrolment. The grants amount to half the per-student spending of the public school division in which the independent school is geographically located. Independent schools do not receive capital funding.

In 2010-11, the most recent year for which province-wide data are available, independent schools received $60,253,665 in provincial funding, slightly less than half their overall operating budgets.

Some independent schools rely on public funding for most of their operating costs; some, such as Balmoral Hall School and St. John's-Ravenscourt School, have less than 20 per cent funding from the province due to tuition fees and contributions from private supporters. An additional 35 non-funded independent schools with seven to 88 students choose not to accept government money.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2013 A9

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