School age children appear to be disappearing from our provincial schools. Provincially the decline is very evident and has led to school closures and funding shortfalls. Even as a common sense understanding might lead one to believe that declining enrollments equal declining costs, that isn’t the case. According to a Vancouver School Board senior administrator, even taking into account the likely reduction of teaching staff for the 2007-2008 year will currently leave Vancouver School Board in the red by 6-8 million dollars. Ultimately Vancouver is likely to be forced to decide between paying to keep schools of 35, 45, 55 students open or closing these schools to reallocate the funds to where there are schools spilling over the edges with enrollments of 350, 450, 550 students in buildings that weren’t designed for these large numbers.
In addition to budgetary problems recent news coverage raises claims that students are being bled from one part of the city to feed other areas. And, that parents are doing so using problematic data sources such as the Fraser Institute school ranking publications. To further complicate the picture there is a wide spread belief that the private school system is also taking students out of the public system to the ultimate detriment of an accessible, quality education for all students.
This posting takes up the details of the de-enrollment problems and looks at three BC school districts, Vancouver, Prince George, and Prince Rupert in an attempt to see what is actually going on in terms of the public/private split.
I downloaded the data from the ministry web page in excel spreadsheets school by school for the private schools and for the entire Vancouver, Prince George, and Prince Rupert School Districts for comparative purposes. A summary table for comparison of the three districts can be downloaded here.
Non-resident students (ministry term for students who’s families do not normally reside in BC) and adult students were subtracted from the over all totals to reflect school age resident enrollments. In the Case of one Vancouver-based private school, Columbia, students enrolled in post-secondary placement courses were also excluded (this was about 30 students in each year).
Over the five years reported private school enrollment in Vancouver has increased by 847. The public school enrollment has decreased. However, if one assumes that each increase in the private school can be equated to a decrease in the public school this only accounts for 847 and 1,449 students are unaccounted for.
The Vancouver private school numbers do not reveal how many of their enrollments come from outside the VSB area. It is also important to note that in both of the other two districts compared private school enrollments have been decreasing at the same or similar rates as their neighbouring public school system. Vancouver dos stand out as having a large contingent of ‘elite’ private schools that use economic mechanisms of exclusion to structure their student populations and thus attract a segment of the student population that may not ever have really been part of the public school population. Outside of Vancouver religious private schools, particularly conservative Christian and Catholic, are the primary form of private education.
Based upon the BC Ministry of Education data we can infer that private schools in Vancouver have been able to pick up some students from the public system but the growth in the private sector can not be seen to have occurred totally at the expense of the public system.
It is also interesting to note that non-resident enrollment has dropped significantly in the private system (~25%)while it has only modestly dropped in the public system (1%).
Not noted in this data are enrollment data for the Francophone system in Vancouver that, according to some anecdotal evidence, has been increasing.
Additional background Information.