Tuition subsidies for private schools could ease inclusion strain, consultant says

An education consultant says having tuition programs for private schools serving students with disabilities could reduce strain on public schools.

Paul Bennett, the director of Schoolhouse Consulting, said he’d like to see New Brunswick adopt a tuition support program similar to the one offered to students in Nova Scotia.

This would make private day schools for children with disabilities available when inclusion fails, said Bennett, who is also chair of the board of Churchill Academy, a private school for students with learning disabilities.

“Everyone can’t be in the all-inclusive classroom,” he told Information Morning Moncton.

A private school in Moncton that specializes in teaching children with learning disabilities has decided to end its day school program in September.

Rebecca Halliday, the director of Riverbend Community School, said after six years of trying to partner with government on a tuition support program, she had no choice.

“Families in our communities just really can’t afford the full tuition necessary to keep it going,” she said earlier.

Bennett wrote an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies report in 2015 that said there is an education “gap” in New Brunswick for students who are struggling.

Paul Bennett is the director of Schoolhouse Consulting, an independent educational consulting practice in Halifax, and he’d like to see New Brunswick adopt a tuition support program similar to the one offered to students in Nova Scotia. 12:25

He said that gap could be bridged by private schools that specialize in teaching students with learning disabilities. However, those schools cannot be sustained without a tuition support program from government.

“It’s heartbreaking because I worked with Rebecca in the early years to help her get started,” Bennett said of the Riverbend closure. “I thought that sheer determination, energy and the kind of spirit she brought to it would succeed.”

A different approach

Inclusion is not the be-all-end-all for educating children with disabilities, he said.

“I’d like New Brunswickers to consider a different approach. And as part of that approach you do need schools like the Riverbend Community School that can provide intensive support.”

He’s not suggesting day schools would replace the current school system.

“Every one of these schools is designed to transition kids back to the public school system,” he said.

Riverbend Community School in Moncton is closing because parents can’t afford the tuition, and the government is unwilling to help. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Bennett said Nova Scotia’s system started in the early 2000s, when people realized the regular classroom was not working.

“First the government said, “All right, we’ll allow support for one year,’” he said. “It was two years, and then you guess it, three years.”

Now the tuition support in Nova Scotia can cover up to 90 per cent of the cost and lasts for up to four years.

Bennett said that in practice, students are either going back to finish their high school education in the public system, or they finish in one of those day schools.

“We need to broaden the spectrum of services,” he said, “so that there’s some where to refer with confidence the kids that need it.”