As students return to schools across the province today, so will the nearly half a billion dollars that continue to flow to private schools in BC.
The Province of British Columbia currently provides private schools (also called independent schools) with public funding equivalent to up to 50% of the funding per-student that a neighbouring public school receives. The total handout to private schools in British Columbia for the 2018-19 school year is budgeted to be over $425 million.
The BC Humanist Association supports the principle of public funds for public education and has called for the phase out of public funding to all independent schools. Through the summer we have been looking into independent schools and over the coming weeks, we will be releasing our findings from looking into these schools.
Private schools have operated in BC since 1858 and first began to receive partial public funding in 1977. In 1989, the Independent Schools Act brought all private schools under government regulation and set out classifications for funding. Today the provincial government has four classifications of independent schools.
Group 1 schools receive 50% of the per-student funding of a neighbouring public school. They must employ BC certified teachers, meet BC curriculum requirements and provide facilities that meet specified regulations. The costs of running a Group 1 school cannot exceed that of a local public school (on a per-student basis).
Group 2 schools receive 35% of the per-student funding of a neighbouring public school and have the same requirements as Group 1 schools except these schools can have operating costs that exceed those of public schools. These are typically elite schools and often charge tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, despite their public subsidy.
Group 3 and 4 schools do not receive public funding. At least 50% of the students at a Group 3 school must be school age and have parents who live in BC for the school; otherwise, the school is Group 4. Group 4 schools primarily serve international or overseas students.
All independent schools must not have programs “that would, in theory or in practice, promote or foster doctrines of racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, religious intolerance or persecution, social change through violent action, or sedition.”
In hiring staff or admitting students, faith-based independent schools are able to preference teachers and students whose religious beliefs match those of the school. This includes firing teachers who remarry after a divorce or even excluding students whose parents are in a same-sex relationship.
While public-funded independent schools do have to meet provincial curriculum and instructional time requirements, they are all free to add onto the curriculum whatever content they please. This can include teaching Biblical creationism in science class.
Following our Secular Schools campaign, there are no more public schools districts in British Columbia that distribute Gideon Bibles. Now, we’re turning our attention to the funding that goes to BC’s independent schools.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll quantify how much money is being doled out to independent schools and which religious groups are the biggest winners. We'll talk about how other provinces and the courts treat these private schools. We’ll highlight publicly funded independent schools that undermine science and LGBTQ+ rights. Finally, we’ll show how religious fundamentalists have been put in charge of the oversight of these schools for decades.
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