MERTA: Canada Needs More School Choice

Over nine in 10 Canadian students go to a public school, but is this because they want to, or because the system makes it difficult for parents to do anything else?

A new report from the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) on “Education Diversity”  shines a light on the one area in Canada in which diversity isn’t our strength – the education system.

“In the 2018-19 school year, 91.8% of all elementary and secondary students were enrolled in a public school…Only 7.4% of students were enrolled in an independent school and 0.6% were homeschooled, although those percentages have steadily increased over the past two decades,” the report says.

What is school choice? Essentially, it is funding students instead of systems. This means education dollars – collected by the government through taxes – that are assigned to a public school system when a child enrols should instead follow that child wherever they choose to go to school, be that a private, public, religious, or charter school. And if parents decide to homeschool their child, those dollars could also be used to cover any educational costs.

Many provincial governments have a monopoly on our children’s education. Some justify this by stressing the significance education has on a child’s future, but this argument doesn’t necessarily have all that much weight behind it. The ARPA report states “Food is even more essential to life than education, yet the government does not produce and distribute all food to its citizens. The government does not run grocery stores or require citizens to shop at the grocery store nearest their residence”.

School choice is not only beneficial for parents and their children, but for teachers as well. Funding students instead of systems opens the door to more accountability, provides a more tailored choice for students, and helps strengthen communities. 

“While there might be a diversity of people within one big education system… there’s not a diversity in approaches to education, in different institutions providing education for our kids,” ARPA Canada Director of Law and Policy Andre Shutten said on True North’s The Andrew Lawton Show.

There was already a slight downward shift in the number of children in public schools over the last few years. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this, with Schutten suggesting it “has provided us with an opportunity to re-evaluate if this is really the best way to do education for our kids.”

Many independent schools in Canada were established to fill a gap in education for parents seeking to have their children learn in a faith-based environment instead of a secular public school. School choice means these children should receive the same financial allocation as the children in public educational systems do. The same principle applies for children in more classical, liberal arts-focused schools or those being homeschooled.

Article 18 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states “Parents have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child… [the state] shall render appropriate assistance to parents.” 

The Reason Foundation’s school choice director, Corey De’Angelis, says, “If a private school underperforms, it shuts down. If a charter school underperforms, it shuts down. If a district-run school underperforms, it gets more money.”

The primary argument against school choice is that it “defunds the public schools” when the reality is that public schools actually defund families. School choice just places the money back into the hands of its rightful owners – families.

Children need to be at the center of the educational funding discussion. Educational funds should not merely be used to fortify a government monopoly. Canada is a diverse nation and our educational options should reflect that.

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