May 11, 2021

Education Options: School Choice Challenged by Funding

Public funding per student equals or exceeds that of private schools, yet public school pupils continually under perform private and homeschooled students.

In Ontario, school boards receive over $10,000 per student in provincial funding. For students on an Individual Education Plan (IEP), the school board and schools receive additional funding. In addition, there is an allotment for personnel, transportation, utilities and more. With all this money being poured into the system you would think that these publicly funded schools would be graduating well-prepared students.

While the Ministry of Education brags that the percentage of students graduating grade 12 has risen 12% in seven years, it makes you question why it has ever been so low in the first place. And while 12% is an extraordinary increase, it also means the rate is still now only 72%.

We have other options for educating our children in Ontario including private schools and homeschooling, students from both of which are exceeding publicly educated students in academic achievement. These options, however, are not always feasible for families.

 

Private education can cost as little as $2,000 for some smaller religious programs, but is more often between $7,000 and $15,000 per year. While these costs are high, it is interesting to note that the school boards do receive on average a similar amount per child. Why is it they have not been able to provide the same quality of education? With the smaller class sizes, diversity in programming and attention to individual student needs in private schools the students succeed. Unfortunately, since there is no public funding for a choice of schools in Ontario, it is at the parents’ cost. School boards, desperate to maintain their “per seat” funding, are resistant to changes.

Home education costs vary, but the average is $700 per year for curriculum, with the larger financial impact being the loss of a second income. Homeschoolers pay education taxes, yet the expenses cannot be claimed, nor do they receive any financial reimbursement for costs.

In our family we made a great sacrifice when I left the paid work force and stayed home to school our first child. We chose this route when we realized that public education was lacking in resources and options for our oldest child. When the other children came along, we were aware of the benefits of homeschooling, and it became our chosen lifestyle. Not only do homeschooling children do as well as, or better than public schooled children on standardized tests, their future outcomes are better. While many argue that homeschooled children will not be socialized, a survey comparing homeschooled and public schooled adults shows that not only are they more likely to have a post-secondary degree and better incomes, but they show increased civic involvement and report greater happiness.

With our teenage son, who returned to public education after I had a lengthy illness, the gaps in our education system have become glaringly obvious. With months of unsuccessfully advocating for an IEP and continually having to follow up, we finally completed our planning meetings and had a document in hand. To ensure this document is followed, however, requires great diligence on our part, and unfortunately to date we receive little cooperation and school support. We will have to seriously assess whether we would ever consider the same route for our two young children. While our teen is now excited about his upcoming high school year, his grade eight year has seen some serious decline.

With $10,000 plus dollars for a student, and vast resources and expertise, special needs children are achieving more poorly in public education than in a homeschooling environment. The school boards continually blame declining enrolment and the associated funding for the struggles in programming, when the real issue is over-inflated administrative costs and under-utilized buildings. Parents have to stop thinking with their emotions and tying the community’s sense of belonging to a building, and start fighting for equity and quality in education. The goal for the school boards should be preparing our children for the future. Much like our homeschooling family, this means sacrifices.

In Alberta they offer a voucher system for education that has in turn improved quality in education. With choice in education schools offer a variety in programs and have improved their quality to compete for students. This also eliminates the trend of poor areas having poorer schools.

With so many other options proving to be more successful in education, merely throwing money into a system is not the answer. Parents have the option to choose public education, private or homeschooling, but should come to each educated and prepared to be involved. Join parent associations, attend school board meetings and voice your opinions during public input. Ultimately the responsibility of educating a child is with the parent, with resources and organizations available to help us along the way.