For the past few weeks, the question of the Quebec education system has returned to the center of the media radar.

The scientific literature has largely documented the clientelist dynamic governing our education system. Private schools select their clientele on the basis of their academic results or by excluding, by necessity, families who cannot afford school fees. In return, public schools are trying to compete with them by multiplying special selective programs.

The result: a three-tier education system where the most advantaged benefit from the best learning conditions, to the detriment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with learning difficulties. The latter are therefore over-represented in ordinary classes, which then accentuates the circumvention of these by teachers and families who can afford it.

To remedy this structural problem of inequity, the École ensemble collective proposed a new model in its Plan for a common school network. We wanted to quantify the budgetary impact of the Plan.

The Plan provides that current private schools would have the choice between two statuses. If they decide to become contracted private schools, they will no longer be able to select their students or charge them fees. They will be subsidized like public schools. We recognize here the model of Finnish private schools in force since the 1970s. If, on the other hand, they choose to become non-conventioned private schools, they will be able to charge fees and choose their students, but this will be done without a single dollar from the taxpayers. We recognize here the Ontario model.

The end of public funding for non-conventioned private schools would significantly change the amounts of tuition fees. Fewer Quebec families would send their children there following the increase in tuition fees.

This decrease in demand is the starting point for our calculations to determine the budgetary impact (the additional cost or benefit) of the Plan. To estimate how many Quebec students would attend private schools not under agreement, we chose to use Ontario figures as targets, a society comparable to ours where, as we have said, private schools are not subsidized. In 2018-2019, 6.3% of students in this province attended private schools, including 6.7% in secondary school and 6% in elementary school.

Subsidized private students currently represent a cost for the State. Consequently, ceasing to subsidize students outside the common network would therefore generate savings. It remains to be seen whether these savings linked to the non-convention compensate for the additional costs linked to the convention.

Our study indicates that 49.4% of the 119,932 primary and secondary school students in the current private sector would join the common network.

By ceasing to subsidize non-conventioned private schools in 2018-2019, the Quebec government would save $513 million.

On the other hand, the education expenditure relating to pupils moving from the current private network to the common network would generate additional costs of 414 million.

This sum would turn out to be even higher if a greater proportion of students remained in non-agreement private schools.

These results are interesting, since we usually think of economic issues as a trade-off between equity and efficiency. In other words, we expect the promotion of equality to rhyme with a budget deficit for the State. Yet our results suggest that this does not have to be the case.

As world-renowned economist Thomas Piketty recently recalled, “What really matters for economic prosperity is education and relative equality in education.”

This is a major opportunity for Quebec, since the proposed overhaul seems exempt from the compromise between promoting fairness and financial efficiency, which nevertheless escapes few decisions of an economic nature.


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