One of the reasons school choice has thrived in Alberta is due to funding support, meaning school choice is accessible to Albertans regardless of income, not just reserved for those who are wealthy.
However, there have been increasingly aggressive attacks to eliminate this funding support for any education options outside of government-run schools.
Here is a sample of quotes from the ongoing campaigns often pursued by special interest groups, large public school boards and the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA):
- "join the fight to defund private schools" because "elite private schools are expensive, unfair and downright wasteful." (Progress Alberta)
- "Continuing to support Alberta’s private schools means taking funds away from the children at public schools, thus limiting their opportunities and their success. We are calling for the return of those dollars to our children” (Arlene Hrynyk, president of the Public School Boards Association of Alberta, Edmonton Sun article)
- "We support the existence of private schools, we support their ability to deliver education and to provide that choice for parents, but what we take umbrage with, though, is the idea we as a taxpayer should have to subsidize that choice instead" (Michael Janz, Edmonton Public School Board trustee, CBC article)
Unfortunately, those who make these allegations neglect to mention their own vested self-interest in destroying education choice options and also miss five key facts in their arguments.
Fact #1: Independent schools save money
Under the current funding model, students attending independent schools receive only a fraction of the government funding allotted to public school students - 60 to 70% of the per-student instructional grant provided to public school students and 0% of the capital costs (i.e. facilities and transportation).
At least $750 million dollars is saved by taxpayers every five years, thanks to parents sending their children to independent schools, as evidenced in a 2015 PCE report authored by Dr. Mark Milke.
Fact #2: Majority of independent schools are "non-elite"
According to a 2017 Fraser Institute study, 82% of independent schools are classified as "non-elite" and the families who choose these education options have an average after-tax family income closely comparable to families with children in public schools.
Thus, the allegation that independent schools are somehow attended only by elite, wealthy families is unsupported by evidence.
The reality is that many of these families make considerable financial sacrifices to cover the extra costs - on top of the regular education taxes they pay - in order to access an education option where their children are thriving.
These school communities also often invest extra time and energy into fundraising initiatives to provide support to low and middle income families.
Fact #3: Cutting funding would create a two-tier education system
As established above, the majority of families attending independent schools make significant financial sacrifices to prioritize education that meets the unique needs of their children. Stripping the partial funding support they currently receive would mean many could no longer afford to access schools where their children are thriving.
Ironically, by eliminating funding support, the ATA and others would actually create the very outcome they claim to want to prevent - a two-tier education system where only the wealthy can still afford school choice and no one else can.
Fact #4: Public dollars should reflect the public
Access to a variety of educational choices, funded either fully or partially through public taxpayer dollars, should honour and reflect the diversity of Albertan taxpayers who fund the system together.
We should be extremely concerned by anyone who suggests that public purse strings be used as a means of coercion to enforce a one-size-fits-all government-run approach to education for all children and their families.
To suggest that only some educational choices are “valid” is to say that the needs and values of some people are worthy of taxpayer support - and others are not. This premise undermines and fundamentally corrupts the functioning of a pluralistic, multicultural and free society.
Fact #5: It is a fool's errand to improve one child's education by stripping another child of theirs
Independent school options currently serve approximately 30,000 students or 4-5% of Alberta's student population and are specifically chosen because they meet important needs for children that are not being provided for within government-run schools.
Aren't these children just as deserving of a successful education option that is meeting their specific needs?
The truth is that defunding independent schools will do nothing to correct the chronic budget issues persisting in government-run schools.
Instead of hyper-focusing on stripping dollars provided to their independent school neighbours, public school boards ought to ask themselves how best to maximize their own massive subsidies (for example, public districts in Edmonton and Calgary each receive more than $1 billion) so that no student is left behind.
Learn More about Alberta’s funding framework:
“Funding for K-12 education in Alberta is provided primarily on a per student basis. The funding framework allocates funding to school authorities based on the location of the school authority and its schools and local population characteristics.”
Reports & Columns:
- PCE Funding report, authored by Mark Milke, Ph.D:
Alberta’s Independent Schools: Taxpayers Saved $750 Million
- Calgary/Edmonton Sun column by Parents for Choice in Education:
Special Interests Ahead of Kids?
- Calgary Herald column by Parents for Choice in Education:
Public Schools Need to Get Their Own System in Order
- Edmonton Journal editorial by Michael Zwaagstra:
No Gain, Lots of Pain, From Cutting Private School Funding
- Calgary Herald editorial by Mark Milke, Ph.D:
Private schools foster independent thought – and save money
PCE Perspectives in Education video series: Alberta taxpayers, want to save $750 million?
*We thank Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta (AISCA) for allowing us to share their excellent video on funding and independent education. They can be found at www.aisca.ab.ca