Terry Curley had some comments regarding my letter in your May 20th edition, which I would like to respond to. The issue is government funding of private schools, which Mr. Curley is opposed to (Letter to the Editor, June 10th Pioneer).Mr. Curley stated that he knows as well as anybody else that the incremental cost of adding those 81,000 students back into the public school system will not cost the full amount of $6,400 per student since schools, buses, teachers, and administrators are already in place. In actual fact, I dont know that, and Mr. Curley doesnt either, nor does anyone else, because nobody would know it until the 81,000 private school students were actually absorbed into the public school system in the communities in which they live.
Some school districts would have an easier time of it than others, but still, with B.C.s current student population of 553,000 and 30,140 teachers (full-time equivalents), giving us an average class size of 18.35 students, it would mean an extra 4,414 classes. To think that this number of students and classes could be added to the public system at little or no extra cost is naive at best. Can you imagine that the B.C. Teachers Federation would agree to take on 81,000 extra students without adding many hundreds of extra teachers? And they would be right not to!
Mr. Curley also brings up the point of some schools being under-used or shut down, perhaps suggesting that parts or all of them could be re-opened. He is correct that some schools are standing closed, such as in Wilmer and Parson, but they are of little use when the extra students may live in Surrey and Coquitlam. Other schools, such as Edelweiss in Golden, have been torn down and the property used for other purposes.
Mr. Curley also says that looking at it another way, if 81,000 students were added to the public system at the full funding rate of $6,400 per student, the schools would have more money per student He is very correct with that point, but that other $3,200 per student (government funds private schools up to half of the public school rate), which amounts to $260 million, has to come from somewhere. There are only two places it can come from, the taxpayers or other government programs, all to provide money, which is presently being voluntarily funded by the supporters of independent schools. Those independent school supporters, rather than all being wealthy citizens, are often parents, grandparents and other family and friends who personally sacrifice because of educational preferences, and while doing so, they pay the same property taxes that all the rest of us pay, fully supporting public education.
Universal public education is certainly a great benefit for Canadian citizens, but so is freedom of choice in education. The headline on Mr. Curleys letter, Abolish private schools, was probably not his writing, but regardless of that, the point it makes is rather scary, because if a government removed freedom of choice in education, it would certainly make many wonder what other freedoms it might take away.
Also, and in conclusion, Mr. Curley suggested that the current Liberal government could be persuaded to abolish the funding of private schools if enough people demanded a change. Perhaps it would, but if I were Mr. Curley I wouldnt bet the farm on it, since even the NDP government from 1991 to 2001 didnt change the funding formula. I suspect that the members of that government, unlike Mr. Curley, knew a good deal when they saw one.
MLA, Columbia River,1986-1991