Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Private schools, the strike/lockout and inequality

Not all parents are worried about school closures in the current teachers’ dispute.
Christy Clark and thousands of others have opted out of the public school system and pay large fees for children to go to private schools. They are not affected by the strike/lockout.
But they’re still a factor. About 76,000 children are enrolled in private schools, about 12 per cent of all students. Their parents tend to be affluent, educated, and highly concerned about their children’s education. 
If their sons and daughters were being kept from school, they would be cranky. And they have much greater ability to make life unpleasant for government. They have the money, time, energy and commitment to raise a mighty fuss about closed schools or even missed days.
Private schools place them above the fray, and offer another reason to shell out the fees - $6,000 to $20,000 per year, typically.
More and more parents have been choosing private schools, despite the cost. In the last four years, public school enrolment has dropped about four per cent, while private schools have attracted about 10 per cent more students.
A decade ago, 9.6 per cent of students were in private schools. Now it’s 12 per cent.
The Liberals pride themselves on a business-like approach to governing and good management. But a business that was losing more and more market share to competitors would decide something was wrong and fix it. 
The government, and the people in charge of the education ministry, haven’t done that.
Nor has their been any serious discussion about the impact of an expanding private school system.
We like to think that we’re an egalitarian society and people with intelligence, talent and drive have a relatively equal chance at success. 
Quality public education is one of the most important elements in creating that kind of society.
A two-tier education system undermines equality of opportunity. The income of parents, not talent and effort, becomes a critical factor in the kind of life children can achieve. 
That’s wasteful for society; the talent of a significant portion of the population isn’t fully utilized. 
And it entrenches and increases inequality. 
There’s a persistent fallacy that inequality just happens, or is the result of economic forces beyond our control. 
But inequality in Canada reflects policy choices that governments have made. Cutting unemployment benefits or freezing disability payments makes some people at the bottom of the income ladder poorer. Reducing income taxes makes people at the top end richer.
The choices that have led to an increase in private school enrolments will increase inequality in the future.
That’s not to say government should ban private schools. Parents have a right to choose.
But the government now subsidizes private education with per-pupil grants at 50 per cent of the grants to public school districts. The subsidy could be 40 per cent. It could be eliminated entirely. It could be increased. Those are policy choices, and some would slow the move to private schools and reduce future inequality.
Or the government could look harder at why parents are judging the public system inadequate and address those issues. It could do research parents are choosing private schools and address those concerns.
None of this has a direct relation to the current labour dispute. The teachers’ union is seeking to improve working conditions and income for members; the government is trying to save money. Both sides talk about the students, but their own interests come first. That’s the nature of union-management negotiations. (It might that the best thing for students would be a 10-per-cent pay reduction in teachers’ pay, with the money used to hire an additional 4,000 teachers. No one could reasonably expect the union to agree to such a change.)
Nor is it a partisan issue. Private school enrolment, as a percentage of all students, increased at virtually the same rate during the last NDP governments.
It should be a concern. We claim to believe it’s important that all children have a fair chance at making the most of their lives. 
The increasing emergence of a two-tier education system shows we don’t actually care about that principle. Or, for that matter, that we recognize the unfairness and corrosiveness of increasing inequality.
Footnote: Not all parents who send their children to private schools are rich, not all private schools are ritzy. The current per-pupil grant to public school districts is about $6,900; private schools get $3,450. 


Anonymous said...

76000 children enrolled in private schools (including CC's son) x $3,450 per child = $262,000,000 per year.

I think I know where to find some cash to fund the smaller class sizes.

Anonymous said...

Starting with the BC Liberal's bogus number that teachers get paid somewhere north of $70,000 per year - we'll say $76,000 to keep the math easy.

$262 million would pay for an additional 3,450 teachers.

If each new hire had 22 students...
There would be no need for private schools.

Of course we know that some parents HATE public schools so much - I'm looking at you CC - that they will keep their kids segregated from the great unwashed at any price...

I see a future of 20 student state-of-the-art classrooms and TAs for all!

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the StatsCan data there is probably a way to correlate family income to children in pryskol...

Which makes one wonder how much Harper's asinine income splitting for the riches is going to end up subsidizing pryskol fees.

Anonymous said...

Is kiddie tuition a tax deduction for the parents?

paul said...

Private school tuition is not tax deductible, with a few special exceptions.
It's wrong to look particularly at Christy Clark in terms of making the choice. I certainly know public school teachers whose kids are in private school.

paul said...

Anon 4:37:
Closing all private schools would save a lot of money, but shifting all students to public schools would cost more. Teachers have good benefit plans; if wages were $76,000, the real cost would be $95,000. And there are all the other costs - support staff and the rest.

Anonymous said...

This guy adds some historical perspective to the private / public school debate.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Paul for your insightful article. A couple of additional things which I thought of when reading this. Private schools to do not have to fundraise to get extra photocopy paper if they run out befor the year is over. There are very few, if any special needs kids in private schools. There is also very few ESL students in the private system. And I can guarantee you that the Private school library has a fulltime librarian so the kids can access books anytime during school hours - not like most public schools today.

e.a.f. said...

What private schools offer is a class room with very few problems. You see if your kid has problems he/she doesn't get into the private school. Private schools ought to have their subsidy reduced dramatically because they do not take kids with physical and mental handicaps. They don't take kids, unless the specialize, with learning disabilities. They don't take kids with criminal records. They don't take kids who can't read and speak English when they start school.

Public schools have to take everyone. Private schools get to skim the top layer and that is it. Therefore private schools ought not to be given the grants they are. The money ought to be directed to the public schools where it is certainly and dramatically needed.

Its a choice the government makes to not spend money on education. They spend money on giving tax rebates to the film, mining, gas, oil industry, so there ought to be a little change left for schools. The provincial government still have to pay out almost a billion to the gas industry in rebates. Perhaps they ought to just tell them, sorry, we need the money for the kids' education.

The lieberals aren't interested in that. Their key supporters and themselves have their kids in private schools and that is all that counts for them.

Anjan Tamang said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sandra Farrell said...

Thank you for posting this. I'm so surprised that most parents are finding this new information. The government has been funding private schools since before I started teaching over 20 years ago. Clearly a 2 tiered system is the goal. Unfortunately, the kids in the public system will continue to lose until the parents start to contact the government directly and tell them that they won't stand for this any more. The teachers are doing all that they can.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I have no problem with the private system, I'd even fund them 100% but... I would make a few changes to address the issues being discussed.
1) No tuition or fees of any kind could be charged to attend and PAC funding could not exceed their district average from the public schools.
2) Admission would be by random lottery of applicants.
3) Student body must be representative of the district in terms of class composition (needs of the students).

They would be free to offer a different ideology under the same constraints as the rest of us. The public would still have every opportunity to participate in it. Every parent province would notice the problems with the deficit in funding.

I find it strange that we are outraged by the thought of a two-tiered medical system but have now qualms with a two-tiered education system.

A friend taught at Southridge, routinely touted as the best school in BC. He said that extracurricular is mandatory (in their contract) but they teach 5/8 blocks vs 7/8 in public school. I can only imagine the kind of inspiring lessons being taught with that much prep time and a highly selective and capable student body. It's like comparing the NHL to the local beer league and then pointing out all the faults.

Anonymous said...

Since the latter part of the 20th century until now, public school has served the very important purpose of providing day care for the masses, with after school extracurricular activities providing even more extended day care. That's the biggest issue the mainstream media have discussed when teacher disputes have happened over the last decade or so: where are working parents going to take their kids and what will happen to their kids' basketball team?

The late Knowlton Nash used to lament that current news and journalism made the trivial important and the important trivial. I see the same thing with what are viewed as the priorities of education. Too many parents would rather have the Grade 7 teacher spent all of her time planning and organizing the end of the year week long class trip to Camp OkeeDokey as well as drilling her girls' basketball team three days a week for the school district championships rather than spending extra time with the growing number of kids in classroom whose literacy skills lag further and further behind each year.