February 27, 2014
VANCOUVER, BC—As parents in most provinces eye the annual Spring Break holiday, Alberta continues to offer parents the greatest degree of school choice in Canada, finds a new study by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.“School choice empowers parents, and a growing body of research confirms that students benefit when parents have educational choices and schools are forced to compete with one another,” said Jason Clemens, executive vice-president of the Fraser Institute and co-author of Measuring Choice and Competition in Canadian Education.The study analyzes the public system, independent schools and home schooling, to determine the degree of choice available to parents, and the level of school competition across Canada. Some provinces rely on choice and competition within the public system while others rely more on independent schools to provide choice.Public schoolsTotal enrolment in public schools in Canada ranges from a low of 87.5 per cent of students in British Columbia and Quebec to a high of 98.8 per cent in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. Too often, however, observers falsely equate high public school enrolment with lack of parental choice and competition.For instance, Alberta and Ontario offer a great deal of parental choice within the public school system. Both provinces provide four fully-funded public education systems: English public, French public, English Catholic, and French Catholic. Additionally, Alberta, unlike any other province, also fully funds charter schools.In contrast, British Columbia, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces offer only two choices within the public school system—English and French public schools, although second language schools are quite limited except in New Brunswick.Independent schoolsEnrolment in independent schools varies from a low of 0.9 per cent of students in New Brunswick to a high of 12.5 per cent in Quebec, while B.C. (12.1 per cent), Manitoba (7.4 per cent), Ontario (5.1 per cent) and Alberta (4.6 per cent) also have active independent school systems. Parents outside of Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (which all fully fund certain types of religious schools, mainly Catholic) must look to the independent school system for religious education.Financial support for independent schools varies by province and also contributes to enrolment disparity. All four western provinces and Quebec partially fund the operating costs of independent schools. Ontario and the Atlantic provinces provide no public funding for independent schools. And no province provides capital funding.Home schoolingWhile all 10 provinces permit home schooling, Alberta, which provides $1,641 per home school student, has the highest percentage of home school enrolment (1.6 per cent). In most other provinces, home school enrolment sits below 0.5 per cent.“Because provinces have autonomy over education, the degree of school choice and competition varies across Canada. Parents in Alberta enjoy choice in both the public and independent school systems, Ontario relies largely on the public system, while Quebec and B.C. rely more on independent schools. And unfortunately for parents in the Atlantic provinces, they’re afforded the least educational choice and competition in Canada,” Clemens said.