More Canadian parents are choosing alternatives to public education, a new study has found.

According to the think tank Cardus, the number of independent schools in Ontario has grown by 52% since 2013. 

The report, titled Naturally Diverse: The Landscape of Independent Schools in Ontario found that there are at least 1,445 independent schools throughout Ontario.

In total, independent schools saw a surge of 29,531 new students from 2013 to 2020. According to the latest available data, there are over 154,000 students enrolled in an independent school throughout the province. 

“Unlike Quebec and every Western province, Ontario offers zero taxpayer funding for independent schools, yet many parents value them enough to pay for tuition over and above the taxes they contribute towards district schools,” said Cardus education director David Hunt in a press release. 

“Ontario’s Ministry of Education, political leaders, researchers, the media, and the public should seek to understand why our neighbours, friends, and family members are making these choices. We hope our report sheds new light.”

As per the Education Act, private or independent schools in Ontario “do not receive any funding or other financial support from” the provincial government. 

According to OurKids, a directory of private and independent schools in Canada, average tuition costs range from $6,000 to $12,000 a year. More prestigious schools can cost up to $50,000 a year or more. Many schools also offer financial aid for pupils. 

When broken down further, 40% of independent schools have a special focus like special education or Montessori. Nearly the same amount are classified as religious schools, with one in four being Jewish or Muslim. Cardus has found 21 different types of schools in the independent system. 

“There is extraordinary diversity among Ontario’s independent schools,” writes Hunt. “Each school serves unique and specific student needs that district schools either don’t or can’t meet.”

Cardus has also called for direct funding for families when it comes to child care. In March, the Ontario government announced a $10.2 billion child-care deal, but according to the think tank many families will be left behind as they do not have children who attend a government-licensed day care. 

Amid constant labour disputes between education unions and the provincial government, calls for alternative school choices have grown in Ontario. 

School choice advocate and former executive director of the Society for Quality Education, Doretta Wilson, recently told True North that alternative schooling options can help alleviate the damage caused by teacher strikes.

“We’ve got to get around all of this constant labour strife. The way to do that is to offer some competition in the system and school choice is that competition,” said Wilson.

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