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.