Head of BC’s independent schools responds to demands to cut private school funding

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – School district budget woes are very much in the news these days with Surrey’s overcrowded schools, a high school in Osoyoos closing down, and Vancouver having to issue layoff notices.

In light of the funding crunch, critics are questioning the value of spending millions of dollars supporting BC’s independent schools.

But the head of Federation of Independent Schools Association says it’s no time to blame private schools for funding problems.

Peter Froese says any time there are financial challenges, the funding issue is raised, but that there are many misconceptions about the alternate school system.

For one, he says, the funding formula for private schools hasn’t changed, despite cries that their budget has increased while public school districts are struggling.

He points out as funding increases for public school students, so it also goes up for private school students. He adds that enrolment over the last ten years has increased by 18 per cent. Roughly 81,500 BC students now attend a private school, or 14 per cent of all kindergarten to Grade 12 students.

He stresses students in private schools get way less funding by the government.

“We get roughly 50 per cent of what a public student gets for operating expenses. We get nothing for buildings, land or equipment. Those costs have to be borne by the supporters of independent schools.”

Froese says there’s an assumption that eliminating the $340 million-per-year in grants to private schools would help public school funding, but the problem is, he says, only university-prep schools, which charge high tuition, would survive.

“The other schools would likely have to close their doors because if they lost that money, they definitely would not be able to operate.”

As a result, he points out all of those kids would need to go to public schools, and the costs to the government would soar.

He says a misconception about private schools is that they have smaller class sizes. In fact, he says, most classrooms have the same number of kids or more, because the more students they can accommodate, the more tuition they can generate to pay for school costs.

As for why taxpayers need to support elite schools, Froese says 80 percent of private schools have classes with similar compositions, with the same number of special needs kids, as public schools.

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