I was one of the kids who benefited from the annual $358-million “subsidy” for “private” schools you mentioned in your recent Globe and Mail column “Vancouver public schools face closure, yet we fund private school education”.
I come from Surrey, not West Vancouver or downtown for that matter. My parents, small business owners, saved to pay tuition and were often asked to give a little more where they could for maintenance or a new wing. No one drives a Mercedes in our neighborhood and, in fact, there were a lot of used cars in the school parking lot.
I noticed your column missed a few things. Today my school has 880 local full-time students with an additional 70 to 80 international students and 90 to 100 preschool students. The tuition per family is $6,480. Given that the average family in our school has 1.6 kids, that means the average per student cost is $4,050 for the year. This is hardly the ivy-walled elitism you suggest goes hand in hand with private education.
The CBC (the organization for which you work) reported earlier this year that public schools in Surrey are bursting. Might it not be that the government paying families less than half of what it costs per student in public schools is, in fact, a really good idea in Surrey? This looks like a win for all: public schools have more money and my parents were allowed to send me to a school of their choice.
Here is the other thing you don’t mention. After controlling for income and other socio-economic factors, it turns out that these independent (you say “private”) schools give kids a very strong education. Most recent Cardus Education Survey data shows that these kids, when compared to the publicly-funded schools as a benchmark, not only produce strong academic scores, but are more actively involved in the community.
In fact, these schools cultivate just the type of citizens we would like to see in such a diverse place as Canada, including, I imagine, Surrey.
One final thing: A little bit of competition to a large education monopoly might just make everyone perform a little better. Surely the 12 per cent who attend independent schools can provide a bit of healthy competition for the 88 per cent who do not? Surely there’s room – as countries in Europe indicate – for public and private schools to thrive together with the shared goal of forming individuals who live for the common good?
My wife and I now live in Ontario. We are a regular working Hamilton family. We have two children and hope to send them to independent school, something for which we’ve already started to save. In Ontario, we have what you want for B.C.: independent schools are not subsidized. But this “utopian” ideal you set up for B.C. has proven (like most utopias) to be largely illusory. B.C. scores are consistently higher.
Before we write off “private” schools as elitist silos of privilege, it bears reminding that private schools have a proven track record of being a public good.
So rather than pushing for an environment in which smaller, independent schools are left to fend for themselves, we might be better off imagining how in our increasingly complex and diverse society, we can find ways to best encourage the growth of local educational institutions that meet community needs and serve the larger society.
Brian Harskamp is senior director, Philanthropy and Finance, at Cardus.