The private school debate

01.24.05

The Liberal government’s hastily-retracted plan to increase subsidies to Jewish schools has sparked somewhat of a debate on private schools in the blogosphere. Paul lists his reasons for opposing government funding of private schools.

I disagree. And I’d like to explain why, by addressing his arguments:

A/ This isn’t the US, private schooling is not something that should involve getting a second mortgage. If you are absolutely hell-bent on sending your offspring to private school yet can’t afford it right off the bat, make a few sacrifices if you value your child’s education that much.

Private Jewish school tuition, last I checked, runs in the neighbourhood of $6,000 a year or thereabouts. Per child. That may not force most families to get a second mortgage, but it’s not pocket change either. And when you factor in the fact that many families are paying this for two, three, four kids at a time, you can see how it quickly spirals out of reach for parents quickly.

B/ Wouldn’t a reduction in our overall level of taxation provide people with more than enough spare money to do this, rather than providing selective credits, vouchers, etc. from which only taxpayers with children could profit? (To coin a phrase, wouldn’t that be democracy in taxation?) Moreover, how many new civil servants would have to be hired to administer the granting of vouchers, or other things along those lines?

Of course it would, and that argument can be made about pretty much any government subsidy program. In general I believe in less government spending and greater tax cuts.

But education is something that is government-funded, at least in the public sector. Everyone pays school tax, whether they send their children to public schools or not. So parents who opt for private schools are in essence double-taxed, as they pay both for the private school and for a spot in a public school that their kids aren’t using.

C/ If parents want to send their children to fully-subsidised schools that won’t cost them much of anything, they already have that option in the form of public schools. Sure, they may not be all that they’re cracked up to be, so maybe some sort of public education reform might be in order (and one may argue that the creation of a public school curriculum that actually teaches something and is available to all might be a more equitable and responsible use of our money).

I think there’s some confusion about the Reid plan here. The intention was never to fully subsidize private schools (i.e. no tuition), it was to fully subsidize the secular portion of the private schools’ education. The religious portion – which is not available or offered in the public system – is subsidized at 0% and would continue to be. So essentially, parents would be paying only for the part of the program that isn’t available in the public system.

Quebec used to have religious schoolboards – Catholic or Protestant. If you were neither, you could either send your kids to one or the other (usually Protestant), or you could fork over the dough for private school. Now, we have linguistic schoolboards, which is a step in the right direction, but the public schools still offer Catholic or Protestant religious education courses. The Jewish option doesn’t exist in the public sector, so the private schools fill a void. And parents who select them usually aren’t doing so because they’re snobby or find the schools posh (a laughable thought, considering the state of disrepair of my high school), but because they want their kids to learn something about their background and culture that they can’t get in the public system. Ditto with the Greek schools, which are fully government-subsidized in their secular programs – students can’t learn Greek language or culture in the public system, so these schools fill that void.

So sure, parents have a choice of where to send their kids to learn the 3 Rs. But they don’t have a choice if they want their kids to have some cultural or moral education as well.

D/ If private education becomes financed entirely (or mostly) by the Government and available to all, who’s going to be left to go to public schools? Considering that private schools are located mainly in large urban areas and their surroundings, I don’t see how inhabitants of rural areas are supposed to benefit from your position on democracy in education.

There would still be plenty of people left in the public system, out of choice or convenience. If the Quebec government increased secular funding to the Jewish schools to 100%, thousands of Catholic kids wouldn’t suddenly enroll. In fact, it’s doubtful if the schools’ admission would go up at all, considering that parents who can’t afford the tuition currently receive financial aid. Anyone who wants to send their kids to Jewish school is probably already doing so.

But the broader issue is the underlying claim that if private schools are more accessible, they’ll steal students from the public system. But by creating a sort of “protectionism” for the public schools, it gives them a disincentive to improve or to hold themselves to higher standards. Give parents a choice and schools will have to shape up to compete. Many already have. It’s doable.

E/ Government funding of private schools only makes some sort of sense if public schools are privatised and forced to live up to the same standards as other private schools. I can’t quite see that happening, though. No matter what, it sort of negates the point of private schools, i.e., that they’re not public.

There’s no need to privatise public schools. There is a need to fund public schools better. And the one argument against the Reid plan that I think is valid is that of opportunity cost: the money going to the Jewish schools is needed more by the public schools. There’s something to be said for that. But that’s a problem of chronic underfunding, not one of an ideological impasse. In theory, the public school system should be able to meet the needs of most people to the greatest degree possible, with the private system filling in the holes where needed.

For the record, I’m not exactly a cheerleader for the Jewish school system. Grade school was fine, but by high school it was a bit much. But I do think that parents ought to have the option, which is why I was in favour of the Liberal plan.

Those asking me for clarifications ought to be satisfied now… hopefully.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ikram 01.31.05 at 6:29 PM

Those asking me for clarifications ought to be satisfied now… hopefully.

Not me. You answered all of the tedious, uncontroversial questions and touched on none of the interesting ones. But I think this may be a topic you are reluctant to discuss — too personal I suppose — and that’s fine. It’s your blog.

Reply

2 segacs 01.31.05 at 7:57 PM

What topics did I fail to address?

Reply

3 segacs 01.31.05 at 8:13 PM

Apart from how this whole shebang is evidence of Mitsou’s deep-seated anti-semitism, is full gvt funding of Jewish schools a good idea?

Mitsou… there’s a name I haven’t heard in years.

In theory, I think full funding of schools that fill a void left by the public system is a good idea. But only – as in this proposal – of their secular programs, i.e. the part of the program that teaches the government-imposed curriculum. The religious side of the school is funded by the parents and should continue to be. So your use of “full funding” is a bit misleading.

Yes, the community takes care of its own, and a lack of government funding is and will continue to be covered by private fundraising. But that doesn’t mean the plan was a bad idea. The public system offers moral education if you happen to be Protestant or Catholic, but no other cultural or religious options. Parents willing to pay for these options in private schools shouldn’t have to also pay for the public part of the education – the part that their kids would be getting free if they were only a different religion or ethnicity.

And could it be that the popular distaste of the Ried proposal is not motivated solely by a personal hatred of Sari, but also by Quebeckers feelings of non-sectarianism? Or is it majoritarianism?

I never said it was a personal hatred of me. Antisemitism is rarely personal.

Anyway, “non-sectarianism” is a nice ideal except that it doesn’t exist; most public schools still have religion courses. “Majoriatarianism” is perhaps a more apt description, but even that falls short; people in Quebec are happy to welcome minorities who (a) speak French and (b) don’t fall into the “hated” categories. Jews in Quebec have the double-sin of being perceived as Anglo and rich (neither is really accurate; nearly half the community is now Sephardic and Francophone, and 20% of the Jewish population is living below the poverty line). But we’re perceived as the old “money and the ethnic vote” category. It’s not merely being a minority, as the Greek schools who currently enjoy full funding of their secular program with almost no objectins can attest to. It’s being a hated minority.

Would Quebeckers’ reaction have been similar if only Muslims schools had been offerred full funding? (Quebec is peculiarly the only province where a majority of the pop thinks headscarves should be banned in schools).

Quebec is a lot like France in this issue, of course. To answer your question, yes, I think there would have been an outcry if the proposal was to fund Muslim schools… but the Liberal government would have forged ahead because the PQ politicos get a lot of support from the unions, which are anti-Jewish and pro-Muslim. There wouldn’t have been as much pressure on Charest to withdraw the plan. I think all of that’s moot, though; Muslim schools should qualify for this sort of funding too, as long as they’re willing to respect the government curriculum and participate in the proposed cultural exchange program.

Is there any resemblance between this kerfuffle and Ontarians’ reaction to binding Islamic (sharia) tribunals? Are your views on those tribunals different now?

No, no link at all, IMHO. The justice system should be the same for all. It has nothing to do with education funding whatsoever.

Reply

4 Ikram 02.04.05 at 4:19 PM

Thank you for continuing the discussion on this issue. Despite by occasionally obnoxious attitude, I’m quite honestly uncertain about the merits of segregated schools and public funding.

In Canada, the Edmonton Public Board runs a Hebrew immersion program, which, in practice, only Jewish-Canadians can attend (to attend, children are required to participate in the privately financed religious program).

To me, whether the religious parts of the schooling are funded on not is irrelevant — either way, the gvt is facilitating religiously segregated schools. The biggest impact on the kid is the segregation, not the God-talk. Are segregated schools good for Canadian children?

I think the argument you make is:

And parents who select [Jewish Schools] usually [do so] … because they want their kids to learn something about their background and culture that they can’t get in the public system … they want their kids to have some cultural or moral education as well.

There’s the rub. I think you’ll agree that the state has a responsibility to young Canadians (future citizens) to ensure their parents don’t abuse them. I think that also includes a responsibility to ensure, while respecting parental rights to transmit ‘culture and morals’, that the children grow up as well-adjusted Canadians well-equipped to live in Canada.

Does permitting and funding exclusive Jewish and Greek schools (taught in whatever language) violate the State’s responsibility to future little Saris? Does the cultural and moral education go too far and inculcate a group mentality among students? Can’t culture and morals be adequately taught at home?

Are people from integrated schools more comfortable in general society and less likely to think that “outsider’s” dislike their group? Would you, Sari, have been better equipped to live in Quebec if you had gone to school with a cross-section of your fellow Quebeckers? Would Christian-Quebeckers be less bigoted (and therefore mentally healthier) if they went to school with Jewish-Quebeckers?

And if ‘moral’ education mst be taught in the classroom, wouldn’t it be healthier to have it taught in the integrated public system aftershool? That way a kids are exposed to normal society as well as to in-group sectarian moral education.

Of course, my views are influence by my own background as a member of a religious minority who went to an integrated public school. I really can’t see how segregated schools can be good for you.

(See also this Brighouse article supporting state funding of religious schools and this CT thread.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: