In Friday's Globe and Mail, reporter Rod Mickleburgh asked why the province provides almost $250 million dollars of public money annually to subsidize private schools, while the public school system is facing serious financial shortfalls. Good question.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s private schools received no tax dollars from the government. The issue was raised frequently, and just as frequently the government of "Wacky" Bennett gave an emphatic thumbs down to the idea. Indeed, Bennett once promised that "only over my dead body" would private schools get public funding.
But during the '70s all the political parties gradually changed their policies and in 1977 the government of Bill Bennett brought in the Independent Schools Support Act providing for a 30% subsidy of the per student cost for private schools. That subsidy was later raised to 50%.
As of 2009 there were 319 private schools in the province and grants were going to service almost 70,000 private students. The government argues that the annual subsidy to these schools is less than it would cost to have the same students educated in the public system. But those arguing for an end to the subsidy will point out that not all the private students would return to the public system, that in fact most parents would continue to send their children to private schools because for one reason or another they believe in the superiority of a private education.
No one suggests that parents should not be able to send their children to properly accredited private schools if they wish. But the questions remains, why does the province fund these schools when the public system could use the money?
Expect the question to be asked more often as the public system contemplates teacher layoffs and cuts to services.