By Angela MacLeod
and Deani Van Pelt
The Fraser Institute
Funding for independent schools may well be reviewed by a new NDP government in British Columbia despite a growing preference for independent schools by B.C. families.
But the enrolment numbers bear scrutiny before any major changes in policy are made by the New Democrats, if they form the government.
A recent study analyzed changes in enrolment from 2000-01 to 2014-15 in the various options for kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education – public schools (English public and French public), independent schools and homeschooling. Independent schools are non-government schools that charge tuition.
The study found that not only had the total number of students enrolled in public schools declined but the proportion of students attending public schools had also decreased.
The overall population of school-aged children (ages of five to 17) has fallen in every province except Alberta over the same period. Obviously, a falling school-aged population leads to declining enrolments.
But when numbers are considered as a share of total enrolment, a different picture emerges. A smaller share of students (and their families) are choosing public schools and a larger share are choosing independent schools.
In B.C., the number of students attending a public school, measured as a share of total enrolment, declined from 90.6 percent in 2000-01 to 86.8 percent in 2014-15. An even more marked decline is observed in English public school attendance, where the share of total enrolment decreased from 90.2 percent to 85.9 percent. Over the same period, French public schools increased from 0.4 percent to 0.9 percent of total enrolment.
When a family in B.C. decides that a public school is not their preferred choice for the education of their children, they most frequently turn to an independent school.
Those schools – independently owned and operated, and often affiliated with a particular religion or offering a unique pedagogical approach – saw enrolment rise 35 percent (59,734 students to 80,636) between 2000-01 and 2014-15.
As a share of total enrolment, independent school students increased from 8.7 percent to 12.9 percent.
In fact, B.C. surpassed Quebec with the highest rate of independent school enrolment.
What the data shows is clear: more and more B.C. families are choosing an education for their children outside of government-run public schools.
Policy-makers would be wise to take note.
Angela MacLeod and Deani Van Pelt are analysts at the Fraser Institute.