New report suggests funding to private schools growing faster than public schools in B.C.

The private education system includes religious schools and elite prep schools. (Tobias Arhelger/Shutterstock - image credit)
The private education system includes religious schools and elite prep schools. (Tobias Arhelger/Shutterstock - image credit)

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) says new research shows almost half a billion dollars of public money and subsidies is going to private schools in B.C. and suggests public funding flowing to elite prep schools should be phased out.

The left-leaning think tank looked at taxpayer dollars, subsidies and tax credits that private schools benefit from, including religious and elite prep schools.

Senior CCPA economist Alex Hemmingway, who conducted the research, said the dollar amount going to private schools stands out.

"In terms of the current level of provincial subsidy to private schools ... $491 million [2022-2023] — nearly half a billion."

Hemmingway said the study showed an increase in funding going to private schools while funding to public schools did not increase at the same pace.

"In terms of funding flowing to private schools, that's been increasing quite rapidly over the past two decades, and when you look at it on an inflation-adjusted basis, it's actually increased faster than the funding flowing to our public school system."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

He explained the public subsidy is typically allocated using a formula that provides funding at either 50 per cent or 35 per cent of per-student funding in the public school system.

Hemmingway believes the first step is to stop public funds from going to elite prep schools used by wealthy parents and then to improve the public system.

"Immediately reallocate the subsidy to those private prep schools to special educational needs in the public system and look at a gradual approach to phasing out the subsidy to private schools altogether."

He pointed out that half of the provinces in Canada, including Ontario, do not give any funding or other financial support to private schools.

Parents, on average, pay approximately $30,000 a year per student to send a child to an elite prep school.

Public education 'underfunded,' according to report

The Ministry of Education and Child Care says funding is provided to independent schools according to the Independent School Act.

According to a formula that has been in place for 30 years, independent schools provide education programs to about 13 per cent of the K-12 population and receive approximately 6.6 per cent of the education budget.

The ministry also added that funding rates for special needs students are the same for independent and public schools.

"We are delivering record investments in operating funding and capital projects as we build and upgrade schools in support of an even more robust public education system that helps students thrive," said the ministry in a statement.

However, the CCPA report claims that public education in B.C. has suffered from "chronic underfunding" for over two decades which has led to school closures and larger class sizes.

According to the report, B.C. has some of the lowest starting salaries for teachers in the country, about $8,000 lower than in Alberta, leading to recruitment challenges and teacher shortages.