Thanks to the efforts of Canadiana.org, the Journal of the House of Assembly of Prince Edward Island from 1852 has been digitized and is freely available online. The Free Education Act was passed that year, and the Journal records the discussion leading up to Royal Assent on Saturday, April 3 (thanks to the Public Archives for filling in that detail), including the report, on February 18, of the Special Committee:
Your Committee appointed, last Session, to enquire into the expediency of establishing a system of Free Education throughout the Island, have to report — that they find the present system of Education, although liberally supported by Legislative grants in aid of the salaries of Teachers, does not stimulate the inhabitants to that increased solicitude, and consequent efforts to educate their children, a measure which is of such vital importance to the well-being of every country, and particularly so to the inhabitants of this Colony.
Your Committee find, that during a series of years, different modes have been adopted to encourage good and efficient Teachers to locate themselves in the several Districts, but they are of opinion that unless School Masters’ salaries are wholly paid by the Government, and a system of Free Education established, many settlements will not be able to reap the benefits of Education for the rising generation, under the present system; for they find that in the year 1844 there were 126 Public Seminaries imparting instruction to 5,040 pupils, while, in 1850, there were only 130 Schools, including Primary and Infant Schools, and 4,547 pupils; showing a decrease of pupils, while during that period, the increase of children, under 16 years of age, was about 7,000; although the Legislative allowance had been increased from the year 1843 to 1850, from £1,349 18s. to £2,068 7s. 1-1/2d.; but as the present law allows two-thirds of the Districts to assess the remainder for the support of the Teacher, in addition to the public grant, litigation in many instances, has been the result; and in many cases parties have paid the assessment and kept their children at home, and frequently many are summoned to the Small Debt Court for the amount assessed, — Your Committee likewise find, that on an average, there ought to be from 8,000 to 10,000 children attending School, yet it is lamentable to reflect, that not more than half that number are receiving regular instruction.
In view of the foregoing data, your Committee would, therefore, recommend that a Bill be passed, providing means to establish Schools on the free system throughout the Island, and that a tax of one half-penny per acre, be imposed on all Lands in addition to the present Land Assessment, and eight-pence each on the pasture Lots in Georgetown Royalty; and 2s. each on Pasture Lots in Charlottetown and Royalty; and that a rateable tax be assessed on all property in Charlottetown, and Common, and Georgetown„ as Well as on all Shops, Dwelling Houses’, &c., throughout the Island, where there is not a certain number of acres of Land attached thereto, and the remainder to be taken out of the General Revenue of the Island; that one Visitor be appointed to superintend the Schools, who shall not have any other occupation; and that one Member be added to the Board of Education from Prince and King’s Counties; and that an extra allowance be given to Masters of the higher class, for every Pupil whom the School Visitor will certify has been taught, not exceeding Ten Shillings per Scholar, until his salary amounts to £60 per annum; and encouragement be given to Female Teachers for such Districts as would prefer them.
Your Committee have examined 50 Petitions in favour of the free system, bearing upwards of 1,700 signatures; two conditional, signed by 139 individuals; and three against the scheme with 200 signatures — all presented to the House in the present Session; and, although some of those in favour, differ in the detail, yet all approve of the Free system. With reference to the few against it, the parties seem to be under an impression, that a tax of Twenty or Thirty Shillings per 100 acres, would be levied to meet the expense; and should that be the case, they would prefer the present system; but your Committee are satisfied that when they are made aware that it is not contemplated to tax the land to a higher amount than Four Shillings and Two-pence per hundred acres, in addition to the present land tax, scarcely an individual will be found to oppose the principle.
You have to parse the thicknesses of the ye olde language to make sense of this, but the essence is clear: if families have to pay for education, fewer children will go to school.