The Case Against Independent Schools in BC

With some upcoming elections in Vancouver I figure now is as good as time as any to discuss indepenedent schools in BC.  For those that aren’t clear, “independent” is synomomus with “private.”  There’s my first beef with the idea.  Everyone knows that people don’t like the term “private school” so they changed the name. It reminds me of how fundamentalist Christians weren’t allowed to teach Creationism in public schools anymore so they changed the name to “Intelligent Design.”

Fraser Ballantyne is running for a position as VSB Board Trustee, and he’s on the record for supporting independent schools.

I could have sworn he had another tweet recently about independent schools but I couldn’t find it.

So what is the problem with independent schools?  Probably lots of things that I’m not too concerned with because my kids don’t go to one.  But there are clear and obvious problems with publicly funding them, which I will outline below.

  1. In general, close to $4150 is given per student for religious schools and $2900 for “elite” independent schools.  Religious schools get 50% of the provincial per student grant (which is around $8300) and elite schools get 35%.  This comes from the education budget and is money that could and should be spent on public education.
  2. Independent schools typically offer no benefit to the public or society over and above what is already provided and paid for in the public school system.  The education is not better than what public schools have to offer. There can be exceptions to this because there are a small number of independent schools that offer very specific services that are important to the public, such as a school for the deaf.
  3. The public system would be better funded if the money that was directed towards independent schools was put into public schools.
  4. The public system is more efficiently funded if more students are in the system because fixed costs are spread over more students.
  5. People argue that independent schools save money for the province.  The thinking is that if a student goes to an elite private school it only costs the province $2900, which saves the province about $5500.  There is a major flaw with this argument. I’m not aware of any evidence that shows that if funding was removed for independent schools that enough students would return to the public system to actually prevent saving money.

Current student enrollment:  # students in public school: 530,630,    # students in independent schools 83,497 (from

Around 86% of students in BC are in the public system. Of the 14% in independent schools, about 70% of these students attend religious independent schools.  So the cost to educate BC’s students is something like:

(0.7)(0.14)4150 + (0.3)(0.14)2900 + (0.86)(8300) = $7667

Now lets suppose funding is stopped for independent schools. First of all let’s consider the elite independent schools. I would argue that probably not much more than 10% of students would actually leave their system if funding stopped.  If you’re already paying something like $18,000, money is not the thing stopping you.

(0.7)(0.14)4150 + (0.3)(0.14)(0.9)0 + (0.86)(8300) + (0.3)(0.14)(0.1)8300 = $7580.

So that one is kind of a no-brainer.  Drop all funding for elite private schools and the province will save money and the public schools will be run more efficient.

Some may argue that more than 10% of students will shift from elite private schools to public schools.  Perhaps.  How many will it take before this breaks even?

(0.7)(0.14)4150 + (0.3)(0.14)(1-x)0 + (0.86)8300 + (0.3)(0.14)(x)8300 = $7667

That’s 35%.   You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a third of elite private school students will move to the public system because of $2800 a year.

It gets even worse for the elite private school funding model.  Public schools have been hit with cutbacks, clawbacks and funding shortages for years.  Wouldn’t it be reasonable for independent schools, as part of the free enterprise and libertarian tradition, to also bend to market forces?  Exactly why would the elite private schools actually have to increase tuition by $2800? Surely they could make some of their own cutbacks?  I think I’m being very generous to the elite private school position by saying 10% will move to the public system. It would probably be less if the schools took it upon themselves to retain their populations.

What about religious independent schools?  Families are paying $4150 per year per student.  What if this grant was dropped and 50% of students couldn’t afford to pay?

(0.7)(0.14)(0.5)0 + (0.3)(0.14)(0.9)0+ (0.86)(8300) + (0.3)(0.14)(0.1)8300 + (0.7)(0.14)(0.5)8300 = $7580

Same as before, no surprise given that you double the cost and reduce the number by a half.  How many students could transfer from religious independent schools before it starts costing more?

(0.7)(0.14)(1-x)0 + (0.3)(0.14)(0.9)0+ (0.86)(8300) + (0.7)(0.14)(x)8300 + (0.3)(0.14)(0.1)8300 = $7667

That’s 61%.  This means that as long as 90% of elite independent school kids stay in their schools and 39% of religious independent school kids stay in theirs, the overall cost for public education will not change and will run more efficiently.

I have two more points with respect to religious independent schools.

  1. What is more important to BC, an equitable funding model for public education or saving $XX per student?  This is a loaded question because I threw in the word “equitable”.  Surely a 1-tier education system is more equitable than 2-tier, and there’s little question that it is not the public’s job to provide religion education.
  2. What is it worth to religious communities to have students in religious independent schools? Should they not shoulder more of the financial burden, since the endeavor is soley to their benefit and no one else? Why can’t they pay for their religion education?

I strongly support the removal of all government funding of independent schools in BC.  The above calculated scenarios demonstrate ways how stopping funding, particularly of elite private schools, would save the province money.  In a broader point of view, I oppose funding of elite and religious independent schools on the basis that public money should not be put towards 2-tier education systems and religion education.  The argument that independent schools save money is ingenious at best and at worst is a deliberate deception.