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For parents who want to send their children to private school, it's important to start early on researching costs and financing opportunities.ST. MILDRED’S-LIGHTBOURN SCHOOL

When it comes to paying for private school education in Canada, it is important for parents to do their research on prospective schools and to start planning early how to fund that education.

Costs for private schools can vary across the country from about $5,000 a year to more than $50,000, with the average tuition across Canada at about $21,000. What is included in those annual tuition fees will vary from school to school. Most schools have a consistent tuition fee from kindergarten to high school but some have a different costing structure depending on the grade level.

Parents should research all the potential bursaries, scholarships and sibling ‘discounts’ that are available at each private schools in Canada that they are interested in. Also, some schools will offer a reduction in fees for parents who volunteer at the school.

Patti MacDonald, executive director of Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS), says parents should also know that independent schools are funded in some provinces but not in others.

“That creates a situation where the tuitions are quite variable. In a province like British Columbia, where independent schools that belong to CAIS receive significant financial assistance, the tuition would be much lower than it would be for example in independent schools in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area],” she says.

"Most of our schools ... are incredibly committed to the amount of financial aid that they are able to offer.

Patti MacDonald
Executive Director, Canadian Accredited Independent Schools

The organization is an association of 92 independent schools across Canada. It accredits independent schools and also provides professional learning and research for member schools.

Because these schools are independent, they determine for themselves what their tuition fees cover. “So it’s really important for parents to be asking exactly that question: What does the tuition cover?” MacDonald says.

“In some schools, they have what they call one cost of tuition, so essentially all of the costs associated with schooling are included in that tuition cost. In other schools, there’s quite a variety of extra charges.”

These extra charges could be for such things as laptops, field trips, uniforms or other additional resources the students will need for school.

Even within the same region, two schools could have different approaches to their tuition costs.

James McCreath, portfolio manager and senior investment advisor at BMO Private Wealth, says the first thing he would say to any family considering private education is that it’s never too early to start planning.

"It doesn’t matter if your child is a newborn ... or if your child is in Grade 2 ... that early planning can really pay off.

James McCreath
Portfolio Manager & Senior Investment Advisor, BMO Private Wealth

“It doesn’t matter whether your child is a newborn and you’re considering this or your child is in Grade 2 and you’re considering whether they should go to private school for junior high or high school. All that early planning can really pay off,” says McCreath. “That early planning involves considering your options. And there have never been more options for private schools.”

The selection can be dizzying as there almost 2,000 private and independent schools in Canada.

Another crucial step is budgeting. It’s best for parents to start integrating the costs of future private schooling into a budget well in advance of their child attending school.

McCreath says the Canada child benefit, which is a tax-free monthly payment for families to help with the costs of raising children, is one option to help fund children’s education. Parents can put it away in a savings account or money market fund. He says saving money as well for children’s post-secondary education through Registered Education Savings Plans is important to keep in mind as well.

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There can be some tax implications as well, although national personal finance expert Romana King says understanding how government tax credits would work to a parent’s benefit is not that easy.

“On the whole, there really are no tax deductions. However, there are ways to find other tax deductions or cost savings. The first one I would say is find out whether or not your school is registered as a charitable organization. Typically, not always, you’ll find that schools that offer religious teaching will also be registered as a charity as well as a school,” King says.

“In those circumstances, as a registered charity, you can donate and receive a tax credit.”

King says there can be tax advantages if students qualify for medical reasons. For instance, if parents select a particular private school that specializes in language-based learning disorders, they can write off the entire tuition or get a tax deduction for medical costs if their child qualifies.

“That can be a great benefit for parents that really do need the extra tutelage because their child is really struggling with reading and writing because of dyslexia or a language base,” King says.

"Find out whether or not your school is registered as a charitable organization. ... You can donate and receive a tax credit.

Romana King
Personal finance expert

King says parents have also become creative and look for schools that offer child care as well as tuition for education, which is a tax deduction that can be sizeable enough to help defray a large portion of the cost for the tuition of the year.

Some parents will look for schools that offer not just before- and after-school care but also offer lunches. Many schools also offer payment plans in installments, which can make paying for private education a little easier. As well, many parents qualify for financial aid.

“Most CAIS schools offer financial aid, financial assistance. There’s sort of a misconception that financial aid is hard to come by. Most of our schools have financial aid and I would say are incredibly committed to the amount of financial aid that they are able to offer,” MacDonald says.

She says that, in 2019-2020, a total of almost $85-million in financial aid was distributed to students across CAIS schools, representing a 20 per cent increase since 2016. The average amount awarded to students was about $12,500.

“I would say to any family considering this, once you’ve done your initial research and you’ve zeroed in on a short list of schools, make an appointment with the admissions officer,” McCreath says. “They can give you the advice on all the programs specific to that school that parents can access.”


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