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Abolishing school boards: The government’s missed opportunity

Montreal, August 25, 2016 – With classes starting up again across Quebec, students and schools continue to have to deal with school boards, a bureaucratic structure that prevents them from reaching their full potential, shows a Viewpoint published today by the MEI.

The new Education Minister, Sébastien Proulx, is missing an opportunity to abolish this structure, even though the government has already opened the door to such a reform and the Minister himself is a long-time defender of the idea, explains Youri Chassin, Economist at the MEI and author of the Viewpoint.

“The Minister decided to drop the structural modifications to focus instead on academic success. Yet abolishing school boards and entrusting schools with more autonomy and accountability would in fact promote the success of students, as many studies have shown,” says the author.

Recall that in the 2014 school board elections, only 5.5% of Quebecers voted, while over 40% of “elected” school board representatives are appointed unopposed and without an election. Such a participation level illustrates this institution’s lack of legitimacy and relevance.

The publication shows that the services provided by school boards, like managing school staff, pedagogical support, and school transportation, can be handled by autonomous schools. Indeed, Quebec’s 342 private schools have no school board and take care of these tasks themselves.

“In the absence of school boards, schools are free to use the teaching materials they consider most appropriate for their students, to manage their own resources to meet their pupils’ needs, and to associate with other schools if they like, for purchases or external contracts,” explains Youri Chassin. “Ideally, parents should also be able to move their children to a neighbouring school if they want to, with public funding ‘following’ the child.”

Giving both schools and parents freedom of choice leads to better academic results for students, as documented by a vast scientific literature. School boards, by restricting this autonomy, can prevent the full materialization of these benefits, the publication points out.

“Certain school board expenditures make headlines because they are frivolous, but the real scandal is not financial,” points out the author. “It resides in the fact that schools and students are being kept from realizing their full potential. The government is currently missing a golden opportunity to help schools by giving them more autonomy and accountability.”

The Viewpoint entitled “Abolishing School Boards to Promote Student Success” was prepared by Youri Chassin, Economist and Research Director at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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Interview requests: Pascale Déry, Senior Advisor, Communications and Development, MEI / Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2233 / Cell.: 514-502-6757 / Email: pdery@iedm.org

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