The Current

Should taxpayers fund private schools?

Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, says this funding model needs to be revised as his province's public schools are being underfunded.
Five provinces — B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec — subsidize private schools with public funding. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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Next month, Osoyoos, B.C.'s only high school is slated to close. While the reason being reported for the closure is low enrolment, the B.C. Teachers' Federation is questioning issues of funding behind the decision.

In B.C., as in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, private and independent schools are subsidized by taxpayers. Jim Iker, the president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, says this funding model needs to be revised as his province's public schools are being underfunded.

We believe that all taxpayer-raised money should be going to public schools.- Jim Iker

However, there are some who would like to see this model extended to Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

Deani Van Pelt, director of the Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education at the Fraser Institute, points to the ability for independent schools to offer targeted approaches for students with varying needs — something she says the government is unable to offer with public schools.

We know that parents continue to choose [private] schools. We have surveyed parents, we know that they've tried government schools in many cases, and they haven't been well served and they've had to move to the independent school communities.- Deani Van Pelt

But how do public and private schools actually stack up against one another? Charles Ungerleider, professor emeritus at UBC, specializing in educational policy, says when it comes down to academics, there's no difference between the two.

I think they want private education, in many cases, for other reasons ... social capital, rubbing shoulders with people who can help you in your career along the way or, for the majority of parents, for religious reasons.- Charles Ungerleider

In fact, Ungerleider says the public system offers a greater variety of opportunities when it comes to academic programs, but the issue comes back to enrolment. Should the minimum number of students not be reached, the full range of programs won't be offered. 

Should public money be used to fund private schools? 

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This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien, Willow Smith and Hamutal Dotan.