Education in Quebec | For a leveling that is win-win

In recent weeks, the issue of Quebec’s education system has returned to the center of the media radar.

Posted at 11:00am

Francois Delorme

Francois Delorme
Department of Economics, University of Sherbrooke

The academic literature has largely documented the clientelist dynamics that govern our education system. Private schools select their clients based on their academic results or by excluding families who cannot afford school fees. In return, public schools try to compete with them by multiplying special selective programs.

Result: a three-tiered education system in which the most privileged benefit from the best learning conditions, to the detriment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with learning difficulties. The latter are therefore overrepresented in mainstream classrooms, which in turn accentuates their evasion by teachers and families who can afford it.

To overcome this structural problem of inequality, the collective École-ensemble proposed a new model in its Plan for a Community School Network. We wanted to quantify the budgetary impact of the plan.

The plan stipulates that current private schools would have a choice between two statuses. If they decide to become a contracted private school, they will no longer be able to select or charge their students. They will be subsidized like public schools. We recognize here the model of Finnish private schools that has been in effect since the 1970s. In contrast, if they choose to become non-conventional private schools, they will be able to charge and choose their students, but this will happen without one dollar from the taxpayers. We recognize the Ontario model here.

The end of public funding for non-conventional private schools would significantly alter tuition amounts. Fewer families in Quebec would send their children there due to the increase in tuition fees.

This decrease in demand is the starting point for our calculations to determine the budgetary impact (the additional costs or benefits) of the Plan. To estimate how many Quebec students would attend private schools that were not agreed upon, we chose to use Ontario’s figures as a target, a society similar to our own where, as we mentioned, private schools are not subsidized. In 2018-2019, 6.3% of the students in this province attended private schools, of which 6.7% were in secondary and 6% in primary.

Subsidized private students are currently a cost to the state. Stopping subsidizing students outside the common network would therefore save money. It remains to be seen whether these non-treaty savings outweigh the additional costs associated with the treaty.

Our research shows that 49.4% of the 119,932 primary and secondary school students in the current private sector would join the common network.

Stopping subsidizing non-agreed private schools in 2018-2019 would save the Quebec government $513 million.

On the other hand, education expenditure related to pupils moving from the current private network to the common network would lead to additional costs of EUR 414 million.

These results suggest that the common network would net nearly $100 million a year for Quebec’s treasury in the long run.

This amount would be even higher if a larger proportion of pupils remained in the non-conventional private school.

These results are interesting because we usually view economic issues as a trade-off between fairness and efficiency. In other words, we expect the promotion of equality to rhyme with a budget deficit for the State. However, our results suggest that this need not be the case.

Moreover, our analysis does not take into account the long-term social as well as economic benefits of a more equitable society, of which a school system that promotes equal opportunities is an essential pillar.

As the world-renowned economist Thomas Piketty recently reminded us, “What really matters for economic prosperity is education and relative equality in education.”

This is a great opportunity for Québec, as the proposed revision appears to be free from the trade-off between promoting fairness and financial efficiency, which nevertheless escapes few decisions of an economic nature.

Leave a Comment