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Vancouver School Trustee Urges Board to Support Defunding ‘Elite’ Private Schools

Carrie Bercic says ending subsidies to pricier independent schools would redirect focus to public education.

By Katie Hyslop 13 Apr 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter. Find her previous stories here.

Both the New Democratic Party and the Green Party told B.C. voters last spring that if they formed government, private or independent schools in the province would keep their government subsidies. It’s a stance they have maintained since the NDP took power last summer after a deal with the Greens.

But Vancouver School Board trustee Carrie Bercic doesn’t accept the government’s position as the final word. At the April 3 board meeting, Bercic, the only One City party trustee on the board, introduced a motion that would see the board take a stand against public funding for Group 2 or “elite private schools.”

The motion reads: “The Vancouver Board of Education urgently call on the Provincial Government to discontinue funding elite private schools (not including Designated Special Education Schools, as listed by the Ministry) and redirect those funds to the public school system.”

Group 1 schools, whose per student costs are similar to public schools, receive 50 per cent of per student funding of the school district in which they reside. Group 2 schools spend more per student than public schools and receive 35 per cent of the district’s per student funds. Group 3 and 4 schools, which encompass approximately three dozen of the 363 independent schools in the province, do not receive government funding.

None of the groups receive funding for capital costs, but private schools are exempt from paying property taxes.

“As a trustee, right now I am focused on getting our public system to a point where every student has the resources they actually need to succeed, and I really feel this motion is a step in the right direction towards putting the focus back onto public schools,” Bercic said.

With class size and composition rules reinstated into teachers’ contracts after a 2016 Supreme Court ruling, Bercic noted more reasonable class sizes and the limits on the number of students with special needs per class would have an even greater impact on improving education quality if there was more funding.

Bercic said she’s also motivated by her campaign promise to end government subsidies for private schools, which can exclude children, as compared to public schools which are required by law to accept all students — although that does not always happen in practice.

"The Group 2 schools are a really great place to start,” she said.

Bercic received a lot of support for the idea of defunding private schools prior to last fall’s school board byelection. But she’s also met people who don’t support the idea, including parents who have left the public system for private schools with better special needs supports. She said their concerns are why she’s excluding private special education schools from her motion.

Bercic admits it’s been difficult to determine just how much money cancelling the subsidies to Group 2 schools would bring into the public system.

“Given that this is tax dollars that are being spent, you would think that this would be really easy information to find,” she said.

The Tyee asked the Ministry of Education how the money breaks down for independent schools. They provided data from the 2016/17 school year where Group 2 schools received about 13 per cent of funding for private schools that year: $45.3 million in operations funds and another $3.4 million for special education students.

In total independent schools — including Groups 1 and 2, distributed learning, and home schools — received $381.6 million in 2016/17 for educating 83,680 students.

The province has budgeted $426.3 million for private schools in 2018/19. In comparison public schools will receive $5.7 billion next year, approximately $229 million more than the 2017/18 school year, for educating over 550,000 students. That’s in addition to the $483.2 million budgeted for capital expenditures in 2018/19.

But there are tax breaks parents of students at independent schools can receive on tuition at schools that offer both a religious and academic education or provide special needs equipment or accommodations. Parents can also apply for a tax break on “childcare” when students are monitored by staff during non-class hours like recess and lunch. These benefits are not available to parents of public school students.

The Vancouver School Board referred Bercic’s motion to the board’s management coordinating committee, which includes non-voting members of the BC Teachers’ Federation, Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association and the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association, as well as parents and district senior management. The committee will discuss the motion at its May 9 meeting before sending it back to council with recommendations May 28.

Bercic says there hasn’t been time to talk to other trustees about how they will vote, but she’s hopeful the board will pass her motion.

“We have an opportunity to right a wrong and move forward in a positive direction,” she said. “I think Vancouver can really show leadership here.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Education

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