Investment in and the cost of education

Education is vital to the well-being of a civil democratic community, and such a community wants every child to have a good education.  Education is sometimes an investment and sometimes a cost.

In North America the public education system replicates the economies of a single payer system with the effectiveness of differentiation by combining provincial or state level direction and oversight with local self-government that is responsive to local realities and aspirations.

In a mixed system that includes public schools, separate schools, private schools, charter schools, and home schooling, the public school system represents the benchmark, the investment.

Investments include:

• a system that is accessible to all and inclusive of all, without a pre-condition of any kind – a system that is respectful of every child and student;

• a system that is a deliberate model of a civil democratic community;

• a system that is governed by the community as a whole and accountable to the community as a whole – a system that assures a good education for every child;

• a system that can achieve economies of scale, a system in which the marginal cost of educating one more child is very low, regardless of the child’s circumstances.

The costs associated with outlier systems include:

• the financial cost of fragmentation, competition, and duplication of background services (administration, transportation, under-utilized facilities, etc.);

• some loss of economies of scale;

• the cost of monitoring performance by special interests;

• the cost of enforcing compliance; and,

• the social cost of promoting withdrawal, exclusivity, and fragmentation.

Generally speaking the costs to the public of outlier systems are not acknowledged or quantified.  The argument is most often made that choice or competition are ideals to be pursured and, being ideals, they should not be costed.

Choice and competition do have limits.  The limits are philosophical and psychological.  They are also financial.

For example, in early 2017 the Superintendent of the Edmonton Catholic Separate School District is the most highly paid superintendent in Alberta, earning more than $405,000, which works out to about $10.00/pupil.  This compares to the salary of the Superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools, which works out to about $3.00/pupil.

Should Alberta continue to have two parallel systems?  Should the province continue to fund private and charter schools as generously as it does?  Cost alone is not the only consideration, and perhaps not even the most important consideration, but it is a consideration that should be quantified.  The cost should be part of the conversation.

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  • David King