Canadians do not need to consult the history books or look off to foreign lands to find the problems central planning brings. Canadians need not look farther than the public education system our civic religion so terribly praises. This understandably runs contrary to popular belief because after all, Canada is a leader in the world in education. We are well above OECD average. At a cost of 7% of our GDP, spending per student at primary/secondary averages at $10,439 (according to the Fraser Institute). Most reasonable people would think this is a fair price to pay for the results we receive however when analyzed more critically, the cracks of the Canadian education system begin to show.
The first and most immediate problem is the very nature of it. It is a system in which students are fed through an assembly line mode of production. Increasing effectiveness is a dream as reforms ignore the central issue, the system itself. In the market place, freedom of choice brings competition and innovation. Our centrally planned education system has remained unchanged from any substantial innovations for generations. Students are lumped together to receive a standardized education where teachers work on the product as it moves through. It does not matter what kind of learners they are, what they are more interested in or what activities bore them, their curriculum is determined largely by bureaucrats. Many of them have no school choice and are held prisoner to their district which is especially damaging to students belonging to low-income communities. Powerful teachers unions serve the interests of the teachers, not the students. I have yet to meet a single one of my peers who has no horror stories of incompetent teachers. At the end of the day, people vote with their feet. In a Fraser Institute survey of independent schools in Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley, 57.3% of schools reported a waitlist for enrolment in 2011/2012. Of these schools, 80% waitlists have been the norm for the past 3 years. The incentives of public education in Canada are perverse.
There have been attempts and reforms aimed at giving parents and communities more say in how schools ought to be run. In some provinces, such as Alberta, parents can come together and decide what type of school program they desire and then approach the board for approval. This does seem like an improvement but in the absence of a market system, catering to the individual preferences of consumers will always remain subpar. Do we want bigger and more cost efficient schools or smaller schools? Should we leave decision making to bureaucrats or town hall meetings? What curriculum is best suited for students who are themselves all unique in how they learn, what interests them, and what bores them. A trending solution offered by the Right has been school vouchers and more school choice for parents. Without a voucher system, private schools by default become more expensive than public schools. A voucher system aims at giving parents more choice and incentivizes competition. Currently Ontario offers a tax credit program of up to a maximum of $3500. Unfortunately, a voucher system alone guarantees no improvement. When the State of Florida implemented a voucher system, there was no improvement of overall grade scores or increased efficiency in the school system. Spending on education had in fact increased by $1.2 billion while current debates are aimed at throwing more money at the problem. Vouchers are a subsidy and since the State always controls what it subsidizes, private schools that accept voucher payments will be subject to increased regulation. These schools will be responsible to the State instead of to parents. Parents can choose any school they want as long as the school teaches the government approved curriculum so the students can pass the government approved test. Independent schools that refuse to reform to the regulations lose out on a competitive edge as parents have an incentive to spend their voucher. What we need is a complete separation of education from the State because only then can we truly move away from a rigid centrally planned system to a model based on freedom, innovation, and competition.