VIDEO: [ReasonTV] Interview with New York City Charter School champion Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy for poor urban children. Public schools in her area get almost US$ 20,000 per student while her school gets $14,500 and delivers vastly better results. [Jan. 23, 2018]
As it happens, Alberta already has such a model, and while the variety of school choice may be known to many, the money taxpayers save is less well-known: $1.9 billion over eight years.
We will break down that figure below but first, an overview of Alberta’s choice-based education system.
In Alberta, families have multiple options or how to educate their children: They range from the public system which includes separate/Catholic, francophone and charter schools, to independent schools and home education. On the latter two choices, out of nearly 720,000 students in 2017/18, 11,766 students were enrolled in home education (but officially enrolled in the public and independent systems) with another 30,552 students enrolled in independent schools.
It is in those two choices—independent and home education—where the vast majority of savings are found. To grasp why, consider that in 2017-18, a conservative estimate of the public school system’s cost to taxpayers (including instruction, operations and transportation, but excluding governance, program support and basic education program costs) amounted to $10,801 per student.
Independent/private schools receive less funding per student, and charge school enrollment fees to parents. As a result, the cost to taxpayers of students in independent schools was $5,404 per student — or about half the public-school cost. The cost to taxpayers for every home-schooled student was just $1,671. Alberta taxpayers save money because of the funding available for a diverse range of school options.
In 2017-18, if all students enrolled in independent schools and home education instead attended government public schools, the extra cost to taxpayers — and the provincial education budget — would have been $272 million ($165 million for students now in independent schools and $107 million in home education). That’s up from $199 million annually in 2010/11. In total, between 2010-11 to 2017-18 inclusive, the existence of independent and home education has saved taxpayers over $1.9 billion.
To put that $1.9 billion in context, Alberta’s four major school districts (Edmonton Public, Edmonton Catholic, Calgary Public, and Calgary Catholic) plan to spend just over amount to $1.8 billion on new schools, and renovations and repairs over the next three years. The $1.9 billion already saved because of the existence of independent schools and home education helps make such funding possible, a rather critical point in an era of tight budgets.
Still, some will argue that even if there was no provincial funding for independent schools and home education, parents would still enroll their children in independent schools albeit with higher fees.
That claim ignores a few facts: Provincial funding makes it affordable for lower- and middle-income families who make the financial sacrifice to pay independent school fees. Without it, their children wouldn’t have this option and would end up in the public system, increasing its cost. Also, funding all school options means all schools are available to a diverse range of families. It eliminates so-called two-tier education.
As the Fraser Institute found in 2017, only 18 per cent of Alberta’s 96 independent schools are “elite” (the ones that charge more than 10 per cent of the average after-tax family income in Alberta). The remaining 82 per cent of independent schools charge tuition rates within reach of the average family. This is why Alberta families who enroll their children in non-elite independent schools have nearly the same average after-tax family income when compared with those in public schools.
Beyond the numbers, children are not one-size-fits-all. The local public school simply isn’t where every kid is going to achieve their maximum potential or love school the most.
Instead, educational diversity allows parents to find the best fit for their children and maximize their educational experience. Kids who excel in music may thrive at a music-focused charter school just as severely learning-disabled students may benefit from an independent school with individualized education tailored to their needs.
Educational choice is a proven way to deliver better outcomes. A 2013 OECD analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment math performance scores found that Canadian 15-year-olds from private schools significantly outperformed their peers from public schools, after controlling for economic, social and cultural status. A 2018 report from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies also showed Alberta independent schools outperformed government schools.
School choice provides flexibility, boosts student achievement and saves taxpayers $1.9 billion. Allowing tax dollars to follow students to the educational option of their choice is a sensible. The province is right to support this policy that supports Alberta kids.
~Mark Milke and Paige MacPherson are authors of How educational choice saved Alberta taxpayers $1.9 billion and supports student success, a new report for Parents for Choice in Education and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.