Spending on government-run schools has reached record highs, yet performance has worsened. Photo credit: Pexels/RDNE Stock Project
Here’s something Ontario’s education establishment doesn’t want you to hear: improving school choice would improve students’ outcomes and the province’s bottom line.
Ontario students get to pick what post-secondary schools to apply for, tutors to hire and clubs to join. But because of the one-size-fits-all K-12 government-run education system, Ontario families that don’t have exceedingly deep pockets have no real choice when it comes to where to send their kids to primary and secondary school.
Enrollment levels in independent schools in Ontario are far below those in other large Canadian provinces. In British Columbia, 13 per cent of students go to independent schools. In Quebec, the number is 12 per cent. Yet here in Ontario, less than seven per cent of all students go to schools outside of the government-run education system.
The reason is obvious: unlike in other provinces, the government of Ontario funds schools instead of students. In Canada’s four most western provinces and Quebec, provincial governments fund 35 to 80 per cent of the cost of sending students to independent schools.
Other provinces help with those costs because students consistently achieve better education outcomes.
The traditional K-12 government-run education system is a problem for taxpayers too. This year, Ontario will spend a record $34.7 billion on government schools. Yet statistics show taxpayers aren’t getting the value we should expect.
In the 2021-22 school year, less than half of all grade six students in government-run schools met the provincial standard for math, a noticeable decline from previous years.
And among grade nine students, test scores fell even more rapidly. In the same 2021-22 school year, only 52 per cent of students met the provincial standard for math, down from 75 per cent just three years prior.
Spending on government-run schools has reached record highs, yet performance has worsened.
With these kinds of declines, it’s time to push for change.
Ontario should help parents with the cost of sending their children to a school outside of the government-run education system. If the government is willing to spend $13,500 to send Ontario students to government-run schools, why not be willing to contribute $10,000 toward helping a child go to an independent school? Such an approach would both give families more choice and actually save taxpayer dollars.
It’s also time for Ontario to buy into charter schools.
In the 1990s, it was becoming clear to the government of Alberta that performance at traditional government-run schools was falling short. So, the Klein government passed legislation that allowed for the creation of publicly-funded charter schools. These schools still exist within the public system. They don’t charge tuition and they’re government funded. But each individual school is given more autonomy when it comes to its approach to education and unions are kept out of classrooms.
Fast forward a few decades and Alberta’s charter schools are outperforming typical government-run schools by a wide margin. A C.D. Howe Institute report shows that students that went through standardized tests in grades three, six and nine at charter schools all outperformed their counterparts in traditional public schools by at least 14 per cent.
They also save taxpayer dollars. Statistics show that it costs 32 per cent less to send a kid to a charter school in Alberta than it does to send a student to a typical government-run school.
The key to getting costs down is choice. Without competition, Ontario’s government-run school system has gotten more bloated while test scores have rapidly declined.
Improving education outcomes and saving taxpayer dollars is a win-win situation. First, our children would have better test scores and be more prepared for post-secondary education. And second, Ontario taxpayers could save money by restraining ballooning spending on government-run schools and sending less money to the province’s all-powerful education unions.
Considering serious changes to Ontario’s approach to education is long overdue. It’s time to shake up the system by funding more school choice and ending the province’s one-size-fits-all government-run education system.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He previously served as a policy fellow at the Munk School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. Jay holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto.