Monday, 24 August 2009

Shedding a Little Light on the Subject: Hydro Québec Gifts to Private Schools Reopens Financing Debate

Teachers here are going back to school today, and the kids will be coming in for half days beginning next Thursday. The temperature is always hot for the rentrée, and this year it’s a bit hotter than usual because of renewed debate over private school financing.

The public school system was greatly expanded here in the 1960s: previously in the French sector, the only instruction offered after 15 was in private institutions run usually by teaching orders of the Catholic church which led to a baccalaureate in the French tradition, followed by university. Nominally Protestant Anglophones had their own publicly-funded system which had a university- preparatory stream, but both systems were badly in need of an overhaul. The result was a complicated compromise—six years of primary school, five years of secondary school, two or three years of what might be called college and is in French (collèges d’enseignement général et professionel or cègep) and then three years of university for a bachelor’s degree.

The revamp left much room for private schools, and gives them public funding of up to 60 per cent of the average public contribution to public schools. The result is two-tier education system that I’ve been fighting ever since my kids were born. They both went to public schools, and have done well in life, but most of our friends (Anglophone and francophone) sent their kids to private secondary school.

The latest furor concerning this system is the disclosure over the last two weeks of three large gifts—all about $200,000—by the public utility Hydro Québec to elite private high schools. They’ve been forced to give back the money, but the question is raised again: how can you build a good society when the rich can opt out of a public system, and send their (presumably easier-to-educate kids) to private, but partially public supported schools?

Time to debate the question again, time to opt for excellent public schools.

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