By Russ Walsh,
Bradner BC - Given the uproar caused by Abbotsford School District's ill-advised, seemingly unilateral decision to tear the upper grades from Bradner Elementary and five (5) others (Mt Lehman, Aberdeen, Ross, Barrowtown & Upper Sumas) and transplant them to a distant, foreign school across town, called a 'Middle School', not of parents' choosing, it's time to uncover the flaw inherent in the current school system that allows travesties such as this to occur in the first place. Take this time to read on and find out for yourself what your child's school funding from the government actually gets spent on... it's shocking.
There are three (3) school systems in British Columbia. The 'public' system, the independent system and the home school program. There are currently 2,100 home school students in BC....
Two of my grandchildren are in the homeschool program. A report called Home Schooling in Canada: The CURRENT PICTURE – 2015 EDITION released says that between 2007 and 2012, enrolment in Canadian home schools went up by 29%. For the same period,
enrolments in public schools declined by 2.5%. There are currently about 80,000 students enrolled in BC's independent school system and independent schools have seen huge increases in enrolment in the past few years. In Vancouver, independent school enrolment increased by 4.25%, in Northern and Central BC, it increased by 12%. In the Okanagan and Kootenay regions, independent school enrolment is up by 31%. In the Lower Fraser Valley, independent school enrolment has increased by 8%. And on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, independent school enrolment increased by 5%. This, at a time when public school enrolment has declined 2.5%, or 70,000 students.
All schools – public, independent, or home school, must adhere to the same government mandated curriculum and teacher training standards. So we are comparing apples to apples here. The big difference between the three school systems is in the efficiency of their operations as well as the philosophy each represents. Public schools lately have begun to do a number of things abhorrent to parents such as allowing boys who profess to 'feel' that they are really girls to use girls' changing rooms and toilets. The banning of the Bible. Parents may indeed want their children to be introduced to broad concepts, lifestyles, ideas and ideologies. So with matters of such profound importance to a child's future health, well-being and possibly even survival, parents have a choice with respect to the values their children are taught on a day-to-day basis.
The public system is operated on a 'school district' basis. Abbotsford School District is one of 60 such public school districts in the Province. The BC government pays school districts $7,158, $9,500, $18,850, and $37,700 for each FTE, or full-time equivalent student enrolled. These four different numbers reflect the category of students enrolled. Regular students, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 students, respectively. These 'Levels' reflect varying degrees of special needs and handicaps. School districts receive 100% of these funds from the government for public schools. Private schools are only given a maximum of 50% of that by the BC Government. And some private schools receive nothing at all. Unlike our neighbour, the Province of Alberta, whose government gives equally - their private schools receive the same funding as their public schools.
Bradner Elementary's estimated total government funding is $1,559,105. I say 'estimated' because at the time of writing this article I was unable to obtain the specific school's Levels 1 – 3 enrolment numbers. So I used numbers typical of elementary schools. For public schools the government pays 100% of the capital cost of building the schools in the first place. For independent schools they pay 0%.
If Bradner Elementary were a private school it would receive a maximum of $1,559,105 divided by 2 = $779,500. Parents of private school students are expected to make up the missing 50%. Is this a penalty for school choice?
At this point, philosophy intrudes. The central planning model versus the freedom of choice. My objective in writing this article is not to praise or condemn either model but rather to present the facts and examine what would be possible were there not a centralist stranglehold on the delivery of education in BC. It is up to the reader to determine which model would serve them best. There are those who adhere strongly to the central planning model and they raise a terrible fuss whenever that model is threatened with competition. Or even talked about. Others relish competition and feel that parents should be able to select educational services much as they choose where to shop for groceries. Applying the current BC schools model to shopping there would be just one store in Abbotsford that sold things, with various branches of that one store scattered throughout the community. But the prices would all be the same and so would the merchandise.
Let's step outside BC for a moment and take a look at how others are handling the centralist versus competitive issue. In Canada, just one province – Alberta – allows schools to operate independently and receive full funding. Parents or others wishing to operate a school apply to the government for a 'charter.' If they meet the requirements they are given a charter. Charter schools are self-governing, generally by the parents themselves or a volunteer board elected by the parents to oversee the school's operation. And by the school's staff. All decisions pertaining to the school's operation are made on-site. Often, these charter schools offer a particular emphasis. Athletics, academics, dramatic arts or practical skills training. Parents are then free to select the school which best meets their childrens' aspirations.
Teachers themselves are also instrumental in establishing charter schools. The key here is that parents get to choose which school they wish to enrol their children in. Just as we shop these days. Under the charter system parents examine the success rate of the various schools and enrol their children accordingly. BC's Fraser Institute publishes an annual ranking of all schools in the Province. Independent schools are usually way ahead of public ones, much to the chagrin of the public school establishment. The government pays a charter school directly for each student it enrols. And it pays at the 100%, so parents do not need to 'kick in' the missing 50% as they currently do with BC's private school system.
So what about the success rate of charter schools? How have parents responded to the opportunity for choice in education? At the Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Alberta 3,300 are students enrolled in classes – but they have a waiting list of 9,300 children. Currently, there are about 9,000 children enrolled in charter schools across Alberta but the demand greatly exceeds capacity.
Alberta is the only province with legislation making charter schools a publicly funded school alternative. One Alberta charter school reports that “Our kindergarten for 2019 was filled some months ago.” Read that last bit again! That's right. The year is 2019. The kindergarten for 2019 was fully booked as of August 2015! They're taking bookings for 2020 and beyond!
In the US, the number of charter schools has grown from an initial 500 in 16 states and the District of Columbia to an estimated 6,400 in 2013-14. Over 600 new public charter schools (A 7% annual rate of increase) opened in 2015, serving a total of 2.5 million students.
So let's take a step back and look at the recent Middle School debacle. And what if Bradner Elementary were operated as a Charter School.
At the moment Bradner Elementary's annual FTE grants are $1.6 million. But that money doesn't go to Bradner Elementary. It goes to the Abbotsford School Board which then syphons off funds needed by 'the district', reducing Bradner Elementary's net to about $1,040,000. Just under $.6 million is left at the Abbotsford School Board Office to pay for its staff and operations - just from ONE out of 46 schools in the Abbotsford School District. So assume... $.6 x 46 = $27.6 million (the number is MUCH higher of course - Bradner school has about 160 children, inner city schools have higher capacity and enrolment). This is a classic illustration of the inefficiency of the current public school model.
If Bradner Elementary was a Charter School...
For demonstration purposes, let's look at what Bradner Elementary's cashflow could look like if it operated on the charter school model. If you examine the following example budget, you'll see that for no additional money from the government Bradner Elementary could offer high class service that would include things like a free lunch program, a $1,000 annual discretionary fund for each teacher, an education assistant, EA (formerly known as Teacher Assistant, TA) in each classroom, a $600 annual field trip fund for each classroom, $7,500 a year for upgrading computers and software AND a $100,000 annual budget surplus.
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