NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 9, 2006

Evidence suggests that tuition-free, state-run education has not yielded the universal educational outcomes promised by its advocates; private school students have significantly higher levels of achievement. In Canada, private schools are the unsung heroes of education for the country's poorest citizens, says the Fraser Forum's Claudia Hepburn.

  • Nearly a third of children who attend private schools are from low-income families, which suggests that many poor parents also value private education.
  • Compared to their public school counterparts, private school students perform better on mathematics tests.

In fact, private schools may offer lower-income families better value for money than public schools offer taxpayers, says Hepburn. For example, Children First: School Choice Trust -- a program in Ontario that offers grants to lower-income families -- pays nearly 50 percent of tuition at independent elementary schools for 800 children whose household income is less than twice the poverty line.

In the three years since it was launched, the program has received nearly 14,000 applications from lower-income families across the province. Families have used grants to attend 193 schools, including a broad cross section of religious and non-religious schools.

The average household income for a Children First family is less than $28,000. The average tuition of their schools is $4,400, just over 50 percent of what is spent per student in the public system.

So why are poor families choosing private schools when public schools are available free of charge? Some want relief from bullying or religious education, says Hepburn; some cite smaller schools with greater academic emphasis and respect for teachers while others help for a special education need.

Furthermore, each family agrees that the educational value offered by private schools is more than worth their financial sacrifices.

Source: Claudia R. Hepburn, "Public Goals and Private Initiative: The Ironic Truth behind Education for the Poor," Fraser Forum, October 2005.


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