Catholic schools popular with parents across Canada
With plenty of recent attention on the question of government funding of Roman Catholic schools, it’s critical to consider the popularity of such schools, as measured by enrolments.
A recent Fraser Institute analysis of student enrolment found that an increasing share of Alberta and Saskatchewan K-12 students are enrolled in separate schools. And in Ontario almost a third of students continue to be enrolled in an English or French separate school.
Consider Alberta first. Over the 15-year period from 2000/01 to 2014/15, the share of Alberta’s students in Roman Catholic separate schools increased from 21.8 per cent to 23.5 per cent while the share of students in the English public system declined from 73.1 per cent to 68.1 per cent of all students.
Saskatchewan saw the numbers enrolled in separate schools increase by 4.1 per cent while the number enrolled in English public schools declined. But even more remarkable, in terms of the proportion of students, English public school enrolments declined from enrolling 77.5 per cent of all students to 73.3 per cent while Roman Catholic separate schools increased from 19.9 per cent to 22.1 per cent of all students.
Clearly, Alberta and Saskatchewan parents are, at the margin, indicating a preference for separate Roman Catholic schools.
Analysis of Ontario’s enrolments show a slight decline in the share of students attending English separate Roman Catholic schools, from 26.8 per cent in 2000/01 down to 26.3 per cent 15 years later. The share of the province’s enrolments in French separate Roman Catholic schools moved from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent. Taken together, 29.7 per cent of Ontario students attended a separate school in 2014/15.
Thus, three of every 10 Ontario students, and more than one of every five in Alberta and Saskatchewan, attend a Roman Catholic separate school.
These are choices families are making, and preferences parents are showing for the education of their children in Canada today.
But even this doesn’t tell the entire story of Roman Catholic school enrolments in Canada. Every province (except Prince Edward Island) has independent Roman Catholic schools and five provinces (the four western provinces and Quebec) partially fund qualifying independent Roman Catholic schools. In three of those provinces—British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec—public Roman Catholic separate schools are not available and parents turn to the independent-school sector for Roman Catholic schooling.
In 2013/14, fully 28 per cent of B.C.’s independent school students, 33 per cent of Manitoba’s and 20 per cent of Quebec’s were enrolled in independent Roman Catholic schools, according to a recent analysis of independent school enrolment data. Those schools typically receive about 50 to 60 per cent of the funding amount allotted for operational expenses of a student in a local public school.
Surprisingly, even 12 per cent of Saskatchewan’s, 3 per cent of Ontario’s, and 2 per cent of Alberta’s independent school students were enrolled in independent Roman Catholic schools—schools that operate outside of the public systems despite there being fully-funded public Roman Catholic separate schools in those provinces.
All told, the data demonstrate that a sizeable share of parents in Canada choose Roman Catholic schools for their children. Almost 30 per cent of Ontario public school students, at least one of every five of Alberta and Saskatchewan public school students attend public Roman Catholic schools. In addition, between 20 and 33 per cent of independent school students in B.C., Manitoba and Quebec attend independent Roman Catholic schools.
Debates surrounding the funding and delivery of Roman Catholic education in Canada should not ignore the evidence of parental demand for this form of religiously-oriented schooling nor the variety of funding solutions possible to support such parental choice.