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School enrolment in Canada, Part 1: Fewer Canadian parents choosing public schools

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School enrolment in Canada, Part 1: Fewer Canadian parents choosing public schools

This is the first in a three-part series examining the current nature of school enrolment across Canada as well as recent trends. This blog post focuses on enrolment (K-12) in public schools across the country.

Simply put, an increasing number of Canadian parents are choosing schools for their children outside the public school system, meaning that public schools have fewer students as a share of total enrolment.

The table below summarizes public school enrolment for 2006-07 and 2018-19, the most recent year of available comparable data. The chart further down illustrates the same data.


 Total Enrolment% Change% of Total Enrolment
 2006-072018-19(2006-07 to 2018-19)2006-072018-19

Source: Statistics Canada, Number of students in elementary and secondary schools, by school type and program type, 2006-07 and 2018-19

For Canada as a whole, public school enrolment (K-12) comprised 91.8 per cent of total student enrolment in 2018-19—a decline of 1.3 percentage points since 2006-07. In other words, the share of parents choosing public schools for their children declined from 93.0 per cent to 91.8 per cent over this time period.

Eight of the 10 provinces experienced a decline in the share of students attending public schools. Of all provinces, British Columbia had the lowest proportion of students enrolled in public schools at 86.6 per cent. This is a change from 2006-07 when Quebec had the lowest proportion (89.0 per cent).

Public School Enrolment as a Share of Total Enrolment

Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest proportion of students enrolled in public schools at 98.2 per cent in 2018-19. Every Atlantic province is above the national (weighted) average for the share of public school enrolment relative to total student enrolment. It’s worth noting that unlike Quebec and the western provinces, no Atlantic province provides support to parents in the form of vouchers, subsidies or tax credits for schools outside the public system (with the small exception of Nova Scotia’s Tuition Support Program, which is only available to a select number of students with severe learning challenges).

Still, every Atlantic province saw a decrease in the share of public school enrolment relative to total student enrolment from 2006-07 and 2018-19. Only Alberta and Quebec experienced an increase in the share of student enrolment in public schools during this period. Specifically, Quebec’s public school enrolment increased from 89.0 per cent to 90.0 per cent while Alberta’s increased from 93.5 percent to 93.9 per cent.

It’s important to note that Alberta, more so than any other province, provides parents with education choice in the public system. For instance, like Saskatchewan and Ontario, Alberta offers fully-funded Catholic (separate) education in both English and French within the public system. Moreover, Alberta is the only province to offer tuition-free charter schools, which are autonomous schools operating within the public system.

Clearly, more Canadian parents and students are choosing educational options outside their local public schools. The next instalment in this series will examine independent school enrolment.

Read Part 2: More Canadian parents choosing independent schools
Read Part 3: Homeschooling on the rise in every province

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