Quebec’s Subsidized Private Schools: The Elephant Lurking Inside the Student Movement

By Katharine Cukier,

The public commitment to egalitarianism alongside a private nurturing of elitism breeds a bizarre kind of schizophrenia’ ‘. Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion

Progressives everywhere are inspired by the commitment and passion of the red square movement.  The students have insisted that access to quality education is at the heart of any society that takes its democracy seriously.  A few of us, however, have been waiting impatiently for the movement to take on the fundamental cause of unequal access to quality education in Quebec;  it is the elephant in the room, so to speak whenever you talk about education here in Quebec.  Noboby talks about it much: that may be because 30% of the population is riding on top of the elephant all the way to the doors of university.

Many people who get to university in Quebec have   benefitted from   generous subsidies given to a large network of exclusive private primary and secondary .  33% of all Montreal high school students are enrolled in private secondary schools . In contrast, the Canadian  average is 6%. Many striking students, and probably the majority of all francophone university students in Quebec are graduates of this very unfair system. And no one in the student movement is talking about it.

Yet, in Quebec, access to quality education at the secondary level is a significant determinant of who gets access to university. My own young children are in the private primary system, and as I marched and banged pots I, knew that there was something paradoxical if not hypocritical about demanding lower university fees while not giving any prominence to the fact that more and more people are paying fees for primary and secondary schools.  Publically subsidized private schools; this oxymoron describes the financial incentive behind the exodus of the middleclass from public schooling in Quebec. And in Montreal,  it is an emerging societal disaster .

Will Hutton of the Guardian wrote last July, Born poor? Bad luck, you have won last prize in the lottery of life  about how  the growing inequality in many societies is fueled by the weakening of public institutions.  ‘’The rich, dealing themselves out of society’s institutions into ever stronger and sealed ghettoes of their own, become ever more ignorant of the world around them even while they ensure their off-spring scoop life’s prizes’’. He could be describing Quebec when he discusses a major study that singles out private schools as a significant engine of reduced social mobility.  ‘Private schools play a pivotal role in repressing mobility; however good state schools become, private schools’ well-understood job is to stay a step ahead and deliver economic and social advantage’’. The advantage that these subsidized schools offer to Quebeckers  is a classroom free of  ‘problems’ .  Excluding kids with learning and behaviour challenges, or the challenges associated with economic deprivation, allows the private classroom to focus on academics.  Students who don`t perform well in these schools are expelled.  Further, the students flourish with the multiple enrichment activities and a school culture that motivates them to pursue higher education.  Our celebrated student leaders, Gabriel Nadeau Dubois, Leo Bureua Blouin and Martine Desjardins are all graduates of these elite schools.

As stated above, one third of Montrealers, take advantage of the network of private secondary schools for their children and in other urban areas of the province it is 20-25%.  Parents of many striking students paid $20,000-$40,000 over five years of secondary education in exclusive schools. This gave them an advantage over everyone else in the climb to post-secondary education.  And remember, these schools get 50% -60% of their funding from the taxpayer.

 The systemic inequality entrenched in this privileged track to post-secondary education has to be part of any honest, progressive discussion and future reform of education in Quebec.  This is particularly urgent if you are claiming that increasing university fees is reducing access for the less privileged members of society. The more complete truth is that the ‘less privileged ‘ in Quebec are being culled out of the system, long before university.

The historical origins of this system are important to understand. The Catholic Church had long been the main provider of education to francophone Quebeckers.  When the public system was established in the 1950s, compromises included giving subsidies to church- run schools which in turn were allowed to charge a modest tuition.  Many of these ‘colleges ’ no longer have priests and nuns as teachers, but they have maintained their entitlement to subsidies and many other secular schools have been created within this specific category.  What was originally a modus vivendi with the Church, has expanded into a veritable marketplace of schools where education has become a private commodity rather than a public good.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that for over a decade, the Fraser Institute has been paying for an influential ranking of schools in Quebec .  It is in neoliberal heat over the predictable numbers: private schools that select their students for academic skill ‘win’ the top ranks.  A handful of enriched public school schools that select their students for academic skill (created to slow the exodus to the private sector)  come close  second. All other private schools come in third position, close enough to the top rankings to tempt middleclass parents.  And regular public schools are at the bottom, really far down at the bottom. Since these rankings have been published, enrollment in private schools has increased by another 7% in Montreal.  And there is more and more failure in the public school .  Although the connection is rarely made,  close to 95% of Quebec`s off the chart drop out numbers (35% of boys do not graduate) come from the public school system where the absence of the middleclass has damaged the culture of achievement.

The subsidy of $4000 per student  from the government to  a network of 290 private schools is more or less matched by a tuition of $3500-$5000. A small number of these schools serve a special needs clientele  and there is also a small unsubsidized network of posh schools like you find in all major Canadian cities serving the really wealthy 5%. They cost a $10,000 or more.   The schools that are doing damage  to the public system are the subsidized private schools with an academic vocation. They are skimming 30% of the population out of the public system in Montreal and up to 20% in other urban areas. They are very affordable to a middleclass family with a couple of kids.  As more and more ordinary francophone [i]middleclass families choose these schools, the public school weakens further, standards go down, pushing even more families to private schools.

This capacity of the middle class to opt out of the public education system is a catastrophe for public education.  However,  I  do not expect to see 100,000 people  protesting against this two tiered system.  And  yet it is one never-addressed explanation for the highest dropout rates in Canada.[ii]   The public school needs the achieving children of the middle-classes in its classrooms as positive leaders. Research shows the importance of peer group motivation in school success. My fifteen years of experience as a public high school teacher demonstrated this to me every, single day.  And public schools also need the political capital of their middleclass parents who, as influential stakeholders, have the ear of teachers, principals and most importantly government.  They also contribute to the flourishing of school communities with their confident advocacy, their volunteering, their contacts in the arts, science and corporate sectors which circulate back into the enrichment and extra-curricular activities of a school.   Both this vital political influence and the cultural capital of the middle class are proportionately lower in the public school.

A very distinct feature of the road to university in Quebec begins when students are 11 years old, and I don`t need to explain the role of socio economics in determining outcomes at this age.  Right now, close to 50% of all 11 year olds in Montreal are preparing to write several 4 hour exams over the next few weekends. This competitive and anti-pedagogical ordeal is necessary to secure a spot in either a private school or an enriched public school for next year, Grade 7, when high school begins.  The children cram during the summer and some even pay to go to Cram Day camps to get an edge. It is more than a little ironic that in order for my daughter to pass an admission exam to a good public high school, I have paid $10,000 to send her for 3 years to a private primary.  These exams are essential to the selection of the most academically prepared students – and the exclusion of others.  They are incidentally also an important source of funds for schools which charge a non-refundable $50-$100 for each student who wants to write the entrance exam. Popular schools raise $50,000-$100,000 for their coffers during exam season.

Another important source of funding for private schools is their foundations which have charitable accreditation.  Parents get tax receipts for concentrating even more of their wealth into their children`s school. In a typical distortion of a ‘progressive’ taxation system,  foundations recirculate at least 50 million dollars [iii]a year into private schools every year.  And because these parents and also the loyal alma mater of these private schools  are often  the wealthiest 20-30% of the region, many will have ties to the corporate sector and can lobby for even more generous donations. [iv]

For private schools that work with special needs children like my son, foundation money pays for basic and vital services that are not available in the public sector.  These are not children who are being groomed for university.  For private schools  with an academic vocation however and even some elite public schools, this extra cash flow gives them a competitive edge allowing them to construct sports facilities and auditoriums, repair and renovate infrastructure. These advantages stand in grotesque contrast to the infrastructure in public schools.  Take the public primary school that closed last year because of mold forcing the chaotic relocation of all its students.  Or the public schools in poor neighbourhoods that have put up with portable classrooms for years.   I think of Amina Hass’s talking about the  ‘’disgusting violence’’ of any architecture that designates social inequalities.

 I admit that as I walked around one of Montreal’s best public French high schools  for which my daughter is writing an entrance exam, I had a spasm of doubt.  It is a desolate physical environment – paint and plaster chipping, boarded up windows,  poor  lighting, a  gymnasium from the 1950s, no music program, no theatre program, small computer lab in the dingy cramped basement.   Compare that to the private schools to which all my daughter`s classmates are applying – the glossy brochures reveal  abundant sports facilities,  or a renovated grand entrances, the state of the art technology and science labs, the just-so  lighting and beautiful libraries,  a cornucopia of extra-curricular programs– it`s all a little surreal, grossly unfair, and tuition is only  $3800. The taxpayer covers the rest. How could these massive discrepancies be allowed in a modern, just society like Quebec ? And after 6 months of mass demonstrations  for justice in education, why is no one is talking about it?

The silence suggests a taboo about acknowledging a class entitlement.  Ca arrange la classe moyenne, and it has given us an easy pass out of the complex challenges of public education particularly in urban areas.  The growing role of the private sector in education is cast as ‘a choice’ – as though education, the heart of our democracy and societal well-being, the most important equaliser of opportunity and the biggest expenditure after health in our budget, is a ‘choice’ that only concerns the ‘consumer’.

Everyone noticed the anarcho-panda and the banana man at our demonstrations. And of course the good looking naked peoploe. It seems there are very few who saw the huge elephant lumbering at our side.  In spite of the mobilising and success of the Carré Rouge movement, there is no  printemps érable   for our public schools in sight.

[i] Most English private schools are unsubsidized and are for the wealthy.  It is one of the reasons the public system is in much better shape.  75% of English public school graduates go to CEGEP.
[ii] 35% of boys in Montreal   95% of whom come from public schools, do not graduate from grade 11, the end of highschool. The drop out rate is lower in public  English schools (22%) there are also fewer English students enrolled in private schools. 75% of English students go to CEGEP.
[iii] Le financement public des écoles privée : Mettre fin aux mythes, Jean-Paul Landry, 2009

[iv] The CEO of Hydro was criticized for faciliating a gift of a $250,000 to his alma mater, Notre Dame in 2009

Katharine Cukier is a teacher at Royal West Academy in Montreal

40 Responses to “Quebec’s Subsidized Private Schools: The Elephant Lurking Inside the Student Movement”

  1. Katherine as a fellow Montreal parent I fully appreciate your concerns. But I think it’s really important in this very crucial debate, which involves the welfare of children, that we are very accurate with the facts.

    So, for the record:

    Quebec does not subsidize 60% of private school tuition. It gives a per head subsidy, roughly equivalent to 60% of the cost of the public school per child allotment.

    It is a myth that English private schools do not take subsidies at the highschool level. Every single elite English private boys and girls school in Montreal, with the exception of Kell’s academy takes these same per head subsidies. They don’t take them at the elementary school level because they have, since the implementation of Bill 101, been able to develop seed schools of wealthy Francophones and Americans. They start collecting subsidies at the high school level, now able to offer them to their freshly certified parents, while continuing to collect high tution fees of about 11 to 20 thousand a year. They use the subsidies as financial aid to Westmount parents who can’t afford to pay the ten to twenty times more tuition their parents once paid. You want to get more kids back into the system? Start there.

    The exodus of middle class parents out of the public system into to the French private system did not begin with The Fraser Report. It began with the creation of selective public schools like Royal West, Vincent Massey, and the new selective Royal Vale in the 80s and 90s, It got a bit of a bump in 2000 with the first Fraser Report, which increased the shame associated with going to one of the “inferior’ public schools.

    Meanwhile 4 out of 5 of the kids who pass entrance exams at French private schools are accepted. 89% don’t have waiting lists. Many of these schools have grouped together so that students only have to take one exam. Many of the private schools don’t even have admission criteria. All of them charge between 3 and 4 thousand a year in tuition. They provide an alternative.

    These systems used to thrive side by side. There was no Fraser Report. We played each other on Reach For The Top. Half the time the public school kicked our asses. There was mutual respect. I’m pretty sure this could happen again. But I think the EMSB would have to do a better job of promoting its mixed schools, instead of using highly selective schools as proof of progress.

    The drop out rate problem is a very difficult statistic to use as a representation of our system. We know that the average Quebec students perform equally to average Ontario student on international tests. We know that this 30% statistic is complicated by the fact that our graduation age is much lower. We know that most of these kids eventually return into high school equivalency programs and the high school graduation rate by age 20-24 is only 5% less than Ontario. But because high school attendance is mandatory in Ontario until age 18, it’s hard to say whether this is because of school systems, or legal systems.

    But I think we can all agree that there is a poverty problem in Montreal that is contributing to the drop out rate. I’m not convinced this is addressed by specialty highschools. My personal belief is that it is better addressed by focusing on making sure that the many, many single mothers in Montreal get the education and support they need to keep their kids in school. And no specialized hockey, dance, elite program is going to help them with that. Neither is shifting funds back and forth from one system to the other. I would like to see a return to high schools where parents of differing education, and economic means mixed more. I would like to see more schools like Saint Luc with its gifted program, musical theatre program, and special needs program, and average normal kid program all in one roof. That’s what English schools used to be like. I hear that Westmount High is becoming more like the public schools of yore. I hope that West End schools continue to thrive.

    But ultimately what’s important here is not which schools, or which system, or which statistics are better. It’s that the schools become places with the diversity that kids, and parents need. And also a place where teachers are happier. This subsidy debate is not an elephant in the room. It’s a dead horse we’ve been kicking for thirty years. Time to let it die and get back to the spirit of change that united all students, from both sectors last spring.

  2. Thanks for your response. There are no myths or inaccuracies in my piece. I urge you to read more thoroughly reports on public financing of private schools such as the FAE: Financement des écoles privées; La fin des myths. The lead editorial in The Devoir yesterday agrees with my assessment that criticizing the subsidized private school is a tabou that needs to be challenged in Quebec. I guess the minister of education does too: she`s started waving the ax. That 35% of Montrealers are in private secondary schools compared to the Canadian average of 5% means it’s hardly a dead horse. It`s a subsidized thorough-bred that `s racing ahead of everyone else.
    Our political and philosophical starting points are diametrically opposed. Your principal argument is that the English Schools system (and you put public and private schools in the same pot) does not offer the same competitive marketplace of products for the English consumer of education. That one can get a much better deal in the French system. I think very differently. I don`t think education should be a marketplace at all. I don`t think there is any room for subsidized private (Academic) schools in a democracy. It is destroying the public system. I am not concerned with getting a steal for my kid, I am concerned with what is being stolen from 65% of kids in Quebec`s public schools.
    If you did the open house circuit, going from the excellent public school, Academie De Robervale to Regina Assumpta was a sickening culture shock. Why are public school kids learning in delapitated dumps and Regina and Jean Eude have public funds to ensure a country club feel so their graduates can take to the streets and demand free university tuition? It is embarrassing that such discrepancies exist. For all intents and purposes, Regina and Jean Eude are public schools that costs an arm and a leg from the public body of schools.
    The commodification of education at the ‘secondary school level in Montreal is a neo-liberal distortion of the historical compromise with the church. I don`t know why you would claim that exclusive public schools like Royal West and Vincent Massy and all the international programs came first. They were established in the 1980s, most private schools are 80-150 years old. The hegemony of the private school , the entrance exam, the uniform, the traditional program and discipline, predates the elite public schools by a century. You got it backwards. To quote Lorraine Pagé, the private school has become the model that the public school has been obliged to follow. That being said, I don`t think RWA and Vincent Massy were the right (well they were the right response, not the left response) response to the problem. There are better models, such as West mount with certain enriched courses but a unified general school community. That is far more typical of North America as a whole and far more democratic. It allows for heterogenity in the school population. It also helps raise the bar for the middle. It lets our diverse kids get to know each other. It allows for mobiliity within a school over the 5 years rather than the barbaric culling that takes place with the entrance exams to exclusive schools when are kids are 11 years old.
    I make it clear that I am analylsing the impact of 35% of Montrealers going to private schools, (20% across the province) 80% which are Etablissment Agréés, which means they receive a subsidy that is 60% of their running cost, not just 60% of the per head to public. The official MELS figure is that 60% of the ‘Etablisement agréée ‘’ total costs are publically financed, this is a combination of three different kinds of subsidies and and tax credits for donations and federal tax credits for religious education. For example, Regina Assumpta gives out 3 million dollars of tax receipts for religious education every year to catholics, jews and pentacostals alike who go to Mass: that is a deductible receipt of $1500 of the $3000 tuition. That credit in turn means about $300-$500. Less for the public pot at tax time.
    The majority of Quebec private schools, les establissement agrées are not allowed to charge tuition that exceeds the value of the per head subsidy, which is $4100. Or they lose the subsidy. Most of them charge around $3500. There are other public funds going to these schools : allocation locative(Building fund from govt), allocation special (for special ed, technology, music sports etc) tax credits for donations. It makes their financing 60% public funds. No inaccuracy there. (146 of 180 schools are Etablissement aggregées). English private schools may get some of the smaller subsidies, but not the allocation de base. Or their other fees are designated as special program fees and not frais scolaires. Private schools can charge lots of various fees.
    The population I focus on is Francophone Quebec, the majority, because of the impact that their significant exodus from the public school has on the health of the whole network as well as on our society and because they were the principal participants in the Carré Rouge movement. I wanted a link to be made between the progressive demands for accessible quality post=secondary, and the impediments to such accessibility at the secondary level because of the private schools here that are affordable to a large proportion of the middle class, but nonetheless are too expensive for those of modest means. With $3500 in fees, building funds, enrollement, exams, textbooks, uniforms, and speical programs, the cost easily climbst to ate least $4500.
    I am not concerned about the choices of the very rich,( who like taxes will always be with us) and who can afford $10,000+. They are part of the 5-10% % of Canadians who chose private school. Indeed, I am glad that the middle class English community has no financial incentive to leave the public system. It is why our public system is generally healthier and sends 75% of its kids to CEGEP. In the English public schools 65% of boys graduate high school in five years. In the french board of Montreal ,the CSDM it is 35%. Quebec has the highest drop out rate in Canada. It also has the highest middle class opt-out from public school rate in the OECD. I think these things are linked.
    These schools have huge charitable status foundations that cover 5%-%15 of operating costs. Because they are the wealthiest and most successful members of society, many of their alumni are generous and nostalgic and have access to corporate money. Tax receipts and a tax credit is by definition public money. AS I wrote above, private schools also have lots of fees: fees for registration, fees for exams, fees for special programs. They sell lots of tshirts and backpacks too. Some ask for a 5 year loan from parents, and they collect the interest . On average in the Etablissment Agree (146 private schools of the 180), there is $1800, more per student in the schools total revenue. That is a huge amount of money. Especially when you consider the crumbling infrastructure of our public schools who have to have bake sales to replace windows. The cultural and social reproduction of a sense of entitlement is another side-effect of this system. Kids are brought up to think public schools are bad. ‘’Oh my god’’ said one of my daughter`s friend looking through a brochure to a low end private school. ‘’It looks like a public school’’.
    I don`t conclude with ‘Why can`t we all just get along’’ like in the past. I want to live in a democracy where the public school is valued and supported. And that only way to ensure that is if we invest our kids in the public schools.

  3. You wrote that English private schools are not subdized. I was right to correct that. It is a myth.

    What about the schools in between Roberval and Regina? What about Lucien Paget, Sophie Barat, Pierre Marquette. All good schools with great programs and facilities? There’s not nearly as much difference between Sophie Barat Defi, which is a lovely school in one of the oldest school buildings in Montreal and Mont Saint Louis, or even Regina. They all have great facilities and programs. There’s a huge diversity in schools in Montreal.

    Yes there’s a difference between Roberval, an overrated in my opinion, “elite” school and Regina. One is that Roberval is much, much harder to get into. Regina accepts about 40% of the students who apply, which means they get actually get more average students. And yet they produce significantly better results than the wonderful model we should all aspire to, Royal West which grills its students in interviews, and still manages to produce respectable, but not outstanding results. Why is that?

    And anyways these elite schools represent a small fraction of private schools in Quebec.

    All these pubic schools get the same amount per child, roughly 10,000 as their Ontario counterparts. So it doesn’t matter how many tax deductions the other schools get. The return of those students would not bring much money to the schools.

    What about the problem of the teaching of English in the French private schools? You know so much, so I won’t bother to develop that. It’s the leading reason why middle class French parents don’t send their kids to public schools, because the 3.5 classes a week of English, taught by francophones, is not adequate. Pulling half the funding from 30% of schools is not going to solve that problem.

    I don’t find your arguments that English schools are better, ergo they have lower drop out rates, and/or go to CEGEP convincing. I don’t believe they are better. They have more middle class kids, pure and simple, and they don’t have the same intractable poverty problems as the East End neighborhoods in Montreal. So it’s disingenous for you to claim some kind of credit for that sociological fact.

    I keep talking about the English system. You keep talking about the French system. This seems to me a problem for the French system teachers, who actually teach there, and the parents who actually go there. If I were enrolled in one of your schools, I would like to see my teachers focusing more on the politics of my own system. But I understand that it’s a lot harder to fight their own schoolboards, or the corrupt excesses of their own private schools.

    So good luck with your project. It still seems to me more ideologically driven than fact driven. So I’m not going to make much headway in arguing my side.

  4. BTW it’s a huge inference to say that my principal argument is that it does not provide a marketplace. My argument is that it does not provide the kind of diversity in its schools that one used to find. If Westmount high is getting better at that, then great. I would like to see a good affordable private school. I think both types of schools have things to offer. That’s part of our educational culture, and no editorializing, or Marie Malevoy brainstorming in public is going to change that. I don’t believe we are “politically opposed.” I think you are cherry picking your facts and coming up with huge theories that aren’t very supportable.

  5. And since Quebec pays more than 10,000 a head per student, even with the agree benefit, my figure of 60% of what it would cost to send a child to public schools is right.

  6. For your fact file: The MELS document which states that the subsidy is 60% of the cost of a public education:

  7. I don’t mean to keep pestering you with comments, but I’m having a hard time coming up with documentation for your facts. The law on subsidies to private educations clearly states that the schools cannot charge more than the base subsidy to students who are NOT residents of Quebec. It says nothing, that I can find, that prevents them from charging more to residents of Quebec Where are you getting your facts on the English private schools? Sorry. I just really want to know.

      AGRÉMENT AUX FINS DE SUBVENTIONS, from the Loi sur le financement des écoles privées.

      10. Le montant maximal de la contribution financière qui peut être exigée d’un élève pour les services éducatifs, y compris les droits d’admission ou d’inscription et autres de même nature, en application du premier alinéa de l’article 93 de la Loi sur l’enseignement privé (c. E-9.1) est égal au montant de base alloué pour cet élève.

      I said the majority of private schools in the Énglish section are not subsidized,and what is central to my main arguemtn, they are not affordable enough to create the same stampede out of the public system that has happened on the french side. 5% in Toronto, 35% in Montreal. Pretty juicy cherries as far as facts go.
      But I am just wrong I guess.

      you can consult further the report and bibliographie below where they argue that the actual public financing of Etablissment agrée is greater than 60% (of total cost) because we don`t have the total value of tax credits.

      mettre fin aux mythes !
      Réalisé à la demande de la
      Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE)
      Chercheur : Jean-François Landry

  8. Juliet my question to you is this: would you be willing to look a parent of a special needs student whose income does not allow them to choose between the public and private system and tell them that their child is not worthy of the same services your child has benefitted from? Because by defending the status quo that is what you are doing. You are defending a system that denies children from low income families the same educational opportunities as those from families with more means. Not only that, you are defending a perverse system that asks low income families to contribute taxes to support elite schools that they have no hope of ever attending.

    You claimed in your op-ed that Quebec’s private sector is meeting the needs of the “lower middle class”. I’d be interested in knowing how you define ‘lower middle class’ because, as I wrote in my letter to the Gazette, according to the Quebec government’s most recent stats the amount of disposable income enjoyed by the average Quebec household is $53,000; for single income households that number drops to $28,400. Do you really think that families with such incomes could realistically afford $3000 per child per year? While it might be possible, with some major sacrifices, for one child, what about families with 2 or 3? Are they then supposed to chose which of their children is most worthy? I’m reminded of the opening scene in Michael Moore’s film Sicko where a man who has lost 2 fingers in an accident is told by his private healthcare insurer that they will cover the cost to replace one finger but not both and that he would have to choose. This is what two tiered public services do: they force people to make horrifying decisions …and not just any people, those who are already the society’s most vulnerable and who face the most barriers. Just as Canadians will never have to choose between keeping one severed finger or the other, Finnish families will never have to face the kind of horrifying decisions that the system you defend forces on many Quebec families.

    Your assertion that we spend the same on public education as other provinces is contested by all of the unions representing education workers in Quebec. The amount they regularly mention in the media is $700 million in additional funding annually that would be needed just to catch up with the Canadian average in government spending on kindergarten, elementary and secondary.

  9. Okay, I found it. There is a maximum fee that the MELS determines can be charged by a private highschool, which is determined each year. On average private schools charge about 70% of that fee, because competition for students is much higher than competition for spaces. I still find it strange that Westmount schools can retain subsidies. If their subsidies are so small, why bother? It doesn’t seem worth it to require an eligibility certificate if the subsidies are so minor. Hmm.

    • Katherine,

      Every single English private school, except Stanstead and Bishops and Kells accepts subsidies. Enough that they demand eligibility certificates. Check the websites of LCC, Selwyn House, The Study, ECC. They all state that they require eligibility certificates, because they take subsidies. If you have facts that explain how they can do that while collecting astronomical fees, I’d love to find out.

      Again, there are many reasons to explain the exodus. Primarily the inadequate teaching of English in the French highschools, also the creation of segregated elite elementary schools in the CSDM, which send most of their students to these very same private schools that their unions complain of . I’m not saying you are wrong. I’m saying that you need more evidence before yous start pulling subsidies that pay half the tuition at 30% of schools in the city. You are making unfounded correlations to justify the closing of schools. Schools that are performing well and are well attended, and I don’t understand how teachers could advocate for that.


      I would tell them to go to Lucien Paget, which has an excellent program for special needs students, devoted teachers, all kinds of great resources, right next to Parc Ex. Lots of great schools in Quebec, well enough funded. People aren’t going because the reputation of the teachers and administrators is horrible. That may be unfair. The fact that they don’t teach enough English is not disputable.

      My information on funding is from statistics Canada. Yours is from a teachers union.

      • So you would look that parent in the eye and tell them they shouldn’t have the same opportunities or choices as those whose families have $3000 to spare? That they should be happy to go to one of the schools with an “excellent program” and “great resources” but a “horrible reputation”? I am well aware that a few of the private schools have grant programs that allow them to admit a handful of students whose backgrounds might be described as lower midddle class, but this is a far cry from these schools being accessible to the lower middle class in general.

        As for your government statistics, all provincial comparisons I have been able to find refer to “depense global” as opposed to ” la depense du gouvernement”. In other words these stats include all the private tuition being paid in their comparisons. With such a huge private sector, if Quebec’s public spending was equivalent to other provinces then its total expenditures would have to be significantly higher (due to all that private tuition in the mix), and as you point out, they’re not. If you have a source comparing just government expenditures I’d love to see it!

        And by the way my stat which has been cited many times in le Devoir is not from “a teachers union”. I first came across it in a manifesto to make education a national priority in Quebec published by a coalition of over 11 organizations representing a half million of Quebec’s education workers:

        Click to access manifeste.pdf

  10. And also they don’t spend as much because more and more parents are assuming a huge chunk of the cost. How much they spend is not an indicator. How much they spend per child is an indicator, and they spend the same.

    Listen, I don’t want to argue with you guys, really.

    The point I was trying to make in my Gazette article was not that the market should rule. That’s a complete misreading, maybe created by the headline that I didn’t write.

    The headline I proposed was “Why are English schools excluding English children from their own schools.”

    I don’t understand why any child is being excluded from a public school in a dying, middle class community.

    And I don’t understand why only children who are extremely wealthy, and only children who are extremely good at taking tests, are worthy of a structured, rigorous environment.

    If you think the Finnish or Ontario model is going to work, then great, advocate for it in your largely middle class English school districts.

    • Juliet I don’t really think you understand what the Finnish model is if you think that it can be applied only to one corner of the education system. If you “don’t understand why only children who are extremely wealthy, and only children who are extremely good at taking tests, are worthy of a structured, rigorous environment” then you shouldn’t publicly defend a system that creates that very situation. Again I completely understand the choices you have made for your child. If I was in your shoes I might very well do the same. But lets not conflate endoursing an imperfect system with the choices individuals make within it. When I advocate for a truly public system I am advocating a system where your child receives the same high quality services but without having to pay for it with user fees that hinder accessibility. You seem to be reacting as if Katherine and I want to take something away from you or your child. The only thing I would like to see taken away is the bill you receive for your child’s education!

  11. Sorry, just need to correct something. The reputation of teachers a Lucien Page is not horrible. It’s the reputation of too many teachers at schools in the rest of the East End.

  12. I’ve told many of my friends to go to Lucien Page.

    Here are the satistics on expenditures per child in the public system by province: If we have less total it’s because private schools actually spend less per student because they are in competition for students. You were the one that said the figure quoted in the media by teacher unions. And Quebec’s “education workers” aren’t a unions?

  13. The basic amount of a subsidy is determined by a formula taking into account what was spent in the public system. There are add ons, which according to MELS average out to 60%. of a cost of sending a child to public school. As I mentioned earlier there is a maximum amount that a school is allowed to charge. On average the private schools charge 70% of this amount, again according to MELS figures. So your argument has some ideological merit. Not much economic merit.

    So what I want to know is whether you would look a child in eye, with learning disabilities, or even without learning disabilities, and tell him that he’s going to be pulled out of his school, because his tuition doubled, because a teacher’s union pressured a government into withdrawing subsidies that would bring no more money into the system than existed before. Just cuz they had a theory and wanted to try it out.

  14. Actually, Robert I don’t think you understand the Finnish model. It entirely depends on teachers who all have masters. When that happens in Quebec, then maybe you can start pulling financing. But the educational level of high school teachers does not justify it.

    • That is one element of the Finnish model, but interestingly not the one that most are crediting as most significant to Findland’s success:

      • I sent my son to three public schools in the CSDM. We moved once, and then when he was in grade two he was offered a place in one of the elite CSDM schools, where he`d been waitlisted since kindergarten. They were all very well maintained and equipped. The elite school had whiteboards. This morning in La Presse, Patrick Legace writes about his experience as a parent and journalist. He went to public school, fully intended to send his daughter there. She wasn`t selected for the local, highly competitive, alternative school. But when he walked into the local elementary school it was in such a terrible state of disrepair he could not send his daughter there in good conscience. So he sent her to a good local private school. Later on he interviewed Diane de Courcy, the former head of the CSDM, who this year ran for the PQ. He asked about the local school. She rolled her eyes and said, oh yes, we`ve been having problem with that school for ten years.

        So there you go. The success of a school in our system depends on the director of the school. And maybe the director of the schoolboard.

        Ideally, parents would be invested in the public system as a whole. In reality they are invested only in the schools in their neighborhood. So the equal access for all theory only works if it`s really equal. If teacher`s are seriously vetted, as they are in Finland. If the curriculum is highly thought out and implemented. If there is not huge economic disparity between neighborhoods.

        Finland did that, from what I know, because they were in an economic crisis and they pretty much needed an entire country of engineers, fast. So they created an excellent educational system where anyone with talent would thrive, and those without talent would at least have the strongest skills possible.

        What`s going to happen to them when the mobile bubble crashes? Time will tell. Because of the quality of the teachers they will probably be able to adapt fast to whatever the market dictates.

        We have a mixed economy, and that`s what tends to drive educational systems. Like it or not.

        But it’s really the quality of the teachers, in my opinion, that determine its success, because they are the ones that will always be the most invested. Parents pass in and out of schools. Teachers and administrators are there for a career.

  15. They don’t include private spending. They only include public spending.

    • Seems to contradict the comparison of schoolboard spending in Quebec’s latest indicators, showing Quebec’s spending well behind other provinces:

      Click to access IndicateurEducationEdition2011_f.pdf

      • Where are you seeing that? On page 23, it says they spend 11,140 per child to Ontario’s 11, 480. It’s a difference, but not really enough to warrant changing the entire system.

      • With the exception of the table showing spending as a percentage of GDP each of the tables on schoolboard spending show Quebec behind the Canadian average (see page 21 as well).

        But even if we spent exactly the same, this debate is about how can we improve Quebec’s education system. There’s an interesting article from PISA’s website (which as a branch of the OECD is not exactly a bastion of progressive thought) entitled “Looking for equity in education? Follow the (public) money“. The article considers two models of public subsidies for private schools, one universal (like Quebec’s) and the other targeted to students from low socio-economic background. It finds “An analysis of PISA data shows that the difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly managed schools and privately managed schools is twice as large in education systems that use universal vouchers as in systems that use targeted vouchers”. It concludes “What is crucial to take away from this analysis is that countries that manage to have small differences between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools also tend to achieve better overall performance. That means that policy makers – and ultimately parents and students – do not have to choose between equity and strong performance in their school systems: the two are not mutually exclusive.”
        This suggests that there would be two ways we could improve our system: one is to defund and shrink the private system while limiting its ability to exclude and reinvesting in the public system. The other would be to transform the public subsidy into one that is exclusively targetted to students from low income families. Given that all of the experimenting with voucher systems in the US has not improved results and is in fact leading to the resegration of the US education system (targetted vouchers seem like a good idea until government deficits grow and then they tend to be first on the chopping block …not as easy for neoliberal governmnents to defund a system that serves all), I very much favour the former. That said, the latter would be an improvement over our current system.
        More importantly this article is yet more evidence that the way to improve an education system is by focusing on greater equity of educational opportunity. Although Quebec’s own achievement results are, in an international context, quite good, we as teachers and as parents should always be looking for ways to make them better. This does not mean we should be making more rash changes that aren’t supported by evidence (like the cursed curriculum reform …which does seem to be negatively affecting Quebec’s achievement). But the evidence that more equitable education systems do better for their citizens is significant. And it cannot be denied that there is MUCH more we could be doing in Quebec to ensure that ALL students, regardless of socio-economic status, have the same high quality educational opportunities.

      • Here we’re pretty much on agreement. I want to see educational equity. I don’t want to see children getting an inferior education. And I don’t want to live in a society where someone without means can’t get a quality education, or the adaptation services they need. I do believe that some people need and want a more rigorous education than others. I don’t think its fair to force kids or parents into that, or deny it to them because they aren’t smart enough, or wealthy enough. So the question is how do we make sure that kids and parents who want that kind of education can get it. And how to we make sure that kids and parents who want a different, more relaxed, or more independent education get that. And then how do we help those parents and kids who, for whatever reason, don’t value education, to change their minds, and to see that they can change their minds at any point. Whether it’s during highschool, or after they’ve dropped out. Quebec is pretty good at that. But of course there is always room for improvement.

        If I’ve been arguing with you so much, it’s because I believe if we’re going to move forward on this agenda, it’s really important to be Quebec specific, and that we understand the system and the society exactly as it is. I wouldn’t call it a voucher system exactly, because the private schools are still overseen by the state. They have to conform to curriculum, apparently they have certain budget restrictions (still need to research that bizarro westmount thing) . they all have to take the same provincial exams. So there’s a lot of room to work. Maybe more kids from the public system, who could benefit from smaller schools with more individualized attention, could be moved into those private schools that aren’t as structured and more open to independent learning. And maybe the state could fund them with the same funds they would have used in the public system. Maybe we need to make improvements, or changes, on the public side, to bring more parents back into the system. Maybe if there were more “international” schools for average students, or ways that third language students could bring their language into a school. Those are the kind of schools might integrate the middle class. Because nobody really wants to pay $3000. They just want to know that they have the good choices available to them in the public system.

        I think where our argument really started was what I read as your assertions that Quebec needed deep structural changes in its system, that it was impossibly mediocre, and that it was severely underfunded because of the subsidies. But to me there’s a big difference between trying to cure an ailing public system with vouchers, and looking at how to improve a mixed system that has always been mixed. It’s the system that we have, and people are very emotionally attached to the system they were educated in. And everybody seems to believe their system was the best system. And they will often fight to death to defend it.

        So trying to take away the subsidized schools is going to meet with such massive resistance. Is it really worth it? Whereas trying to re-integrate the two, is something that is so much more possible.

      • If the focus is on equity than we are in agreement! And I’m not arguing that change will be easy or that it should all happen over night. There was plenty of resistence to the equity agenda when it was introduced in Finland, but they’ve been working on it since the 80’s and gradually they have made changes that have made them into a world leader in educational outcomes. This has to start with public debates such as the one we’re having now. On that note, I’d like to thank you for your participation here! While this debate has not caused me to change my views, it has certainly caused me to refine them in certain ways! Thanks!!

      • And one more crucial point. Some of the problem in the drop out rate is parents, Quebecois and immigrants who don’t never felt entitled to an education, sometimes pressure their kids into dropping out to work. Ontario has mandatory education until 18, which makes it illegal to do that. Quebec doesn’t. I’m not sure mandatory education is the solution, but it needs to be taken into account when we compare the drop out rates.

      • A more serious problem surrounding drop-out rates is the fact that governments in both Quebec and Ontario have been monkeying with the formula for how this rate is determined in order to claim that it has been reduced. There is no way then to accurately compare rates before and after these changes were made. We therefore have no way of knowing what the real impact of the Ontario mandatory policy is. I write more about this issue in my election post on the topic:

    • I too want to thank you for the debate. It’s a really important one, and even if I don’t agree with you, I’m glad you’re creating this forum. Because it is important we find a place to work out all the issues that people spend so much time talking about, especially around this time of the year.

      As for the drop out rate. The question for me isn’t how big it is, but how much of it is attributable to the schooling system. And how it can be soved by schooling system. Because of Bill 101, you guys over there on the English don’t get newly arrived immigrants. So you don’t face the common problem that is happening on this side of the city. A child arrives who doesn’t speak French or English. He doesn’t have much support at home from a family who may never have been educated themselves. So he fails grade, finds himself slipping behind, finds himself in grade nine, sixteen years old with the right to leave school. If the parents are supportive of his plan to deliver Pizza Pizza for the next few years, there’s not much the schools or the government can do. There are a lot of jobs in the crappy service industry. They’re dead ends, but they don’t seem that way to a sixteen year old immigrant.

      Ontario has two more years to work with a kid like this and integrate him into a system. But a sixteen year old in grade nine with the right to leave school is a hard problem. I’m not just pulling this out of a hat. The recent conference of Hooked on School heard a report by three senior researchers who said exactly the same thing.

      This problem needs a particular kind of specialized social-worker/educator and a lot of political will. Forcing middle class kids back into the system by taking away subsidies that don’t substantially impact the funds in the public system, if it’s a waste of energy, is taking away energy that could be going to this very specific problem and cause of the problem.

      Quebec is interesting. It can change very fast, and sometimes that can happen as a result of a lot of little changes. And that’s because the basic structure of this society is a good heart, and good values, and people that really do want to create a workable, peaceful well educated society.

      But people have to be able to narrow in on where the actual problem is and why it’s happening. If we could find a way to really reach these kids early and make sure they get the kind of steady intervention that they need, people will feel better about the schools, and they’ll feel better about coming back.

      • Actually you’d be surprised at the number of students in our classrooms with little to no English skills. I’m sure its worse in the French system, but it is a major problem in English public schools as well. And to be clear my argument for eliminating the public subsidies to private schools is not economic. This would definitely require a massive investment from government. However when you look at the strengths of education systems that are well funded and don’t allow exclusion, I’m convinced this would be an investment that is well worth it. We should also be investing in more support services and smaller class size, particularly in the lower grades. More than one tier in education should be as unacceptible as more than one tier in health care, for the same reasons. When the upper and middle classes are not invested in public services, they lobby for tax cuts that erode them, often with great success. However when they are invested in public services they use their influence to demand high quality.

        Going back to our discussion about whether our public schools are underfunded, I’ve been talking to a lot of teachers at my school that have taught in other provinces. They all say without exception that public schools in the ROC are not as visibly run-down and under-resourced. They speak of smart boards and well functioning computer labs; lockers that are actually cleaned from year to year; new paint jobs every decade or so; massive budgets to bus kids to feild trips and sporting events. How would you explain these differences, particularly when Quebec’s teachers are the lowest paid in Canada?

  16. BTW, interesting fact about Finland. If you want to open a private school they will give you a 90% subsidy. Unfortunately, there’s not much of a market for private schools there.

  17. And anyways. The real test these days is lipdub, and while I won’t argue that white girls from Laval aren’t over represented at Regina (about what you’d expect from a form Catholic Girls school) the differeces between it and Westmount High aren’t THAT big.

  18. Familycoding, how can I get in touch with you? I am moving back to Montreal with mt daughter and I am looking for good English high school . Thanks. Behnaz


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