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Outgoing public school board chair wants to end ‘education property tax designation illusion’

A teacher holds a globe as kindergarten students gather around her. vgajic/Getty Images

The outgoing chair of the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) wants Alberta to eliminate the designation of education property taxes.

“Many Albertans are still under the illusion that where they designate their education property taxes (public, separate, undeclared) makes a financial impact on the money to hire teachers, buy computers or build new schools,” Michael Janz wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “It does not, and this deception is problematic for many reasons.”

Janz wants to debate the following motion at the Feb. 28 public school board meeting:

“The EPSB should advocate to the provincial government to eliminate the designation of education property taxes and continue to advocate to our sole funder for predictable sustainable funding and new schools in alignment with our capital plan.”

Janz says it doesn’t “make a penny’s difference to education funding” whether people check off public or Catholic/separate education when filling out their property taxes.

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“Education property taxes from across Alberta are collected by municipalities and then pooled into the general revenue of the provincial government,” Janz wrote. “They are then allocated via per-student funding to each individual school board. More students? Funding goes up. More people designate their funding to your school board but your enrolment stays the same? No new money.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Public urges Alberta NDP to stop public funding of private schools 

Alberta Education admits, without the designation box, the allocation of property taxes between public and Catholic schools would essentially remain the same.

“On the end, the checkbox does not have any real bearing on where the person’s tax dollars end up in the education system as the amount of per-student education funding is the same whether a student is enrolled in a public or separate school,” ministry spokeswoman Lindsay Harvey explained.

However, property tax revenue only accounts for about 32 per cent of the total operational funding required for public and separate education. The rest comes from general provincial revenue.

“This method provides stability for education funding,” Harvey said. “The amount collected is only a portion of the per-student funding allocated by the province, with general revenue required to make up the difference.”

Here is a breakdown of how the process for collecting and distributing education property tax works currently:

A. Municipalities collect education property tax from property owners on behalf of the province.

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  1. If the property owner has declared as Catholic, the education property tax revenue is directly transferred to the separate school board.
  2. If the property owner is undeclared or supports the public school board, their education property taxes are forwarded to the province.

B. The education department sends invoices to municipalities for those that support the public school boards and sends invoices to Catholic school boards for those that support separate school boards.

C. The province deposits all education property tax revenue it receives into the Alberta School Foundation Fund (ASFF), both public and separate.

D. School boards across Alberta receive funding from the ASFF on a per-student basis.

READ MORE: Edmontonians will likely see higher than expected tax increase 

“Every year the province calculates, based on assessment value, the amount each municipality must contribute toward the public education system,” Harvey explained. “Municipalities collect the education property tax from ratepayers and then forward it to the province for deposit into the Alberta School Foundation Fund (ASFF). Alberta’s education property tax dollars are pooled into the ASFF and ultimately distributed among public and separate school boards on an equal per-student basis.

“Pooling the education property tax in the ASFF ensures students receive a quality education regardless of their municipality’s assessment wealth,” she said.

“All separate school boards in the province have opted out of the ASFF, which means they requisition and collect property tax money from the municipalities directly. Any difference between what an opted-out board collects and what it is entitled to receive is adjusted so there is no financial gain to a school jurisdiction that opts out of the ASFF.

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“While declaration does not change the amount of per-student education funding, it supports the municipal process of providing education funding directly to separate school boards which are opted out of the ASFF,” Harvey said.

Janz argues the checkbox is “misleading” and “an anachronism that should have been deleted when the taxation powers of school boards were removed in 1994.”

You can read the full blog post here.

“It’s part of the law that goes back in terms of separate school boards and public,” Education Minister David Eggen said Wednesday. “Laws change,” he added. “I’m open to looking. We want to make sure at every point in time, we’re doing best for our children and to ensure that families are getting the education that they need.”

“I’m willing to have discussions with all the levels of our government but I also respect each of those levels and the responsibilities that they have,” Eggen said. “I know that school boards have a long history and a proud tradition of making excellent choices for their regions.”

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Eggen said the province directs more than 90 per cent of the money that is pooled back into individual school boards.

“The elected officials, trustees, are a level of government that make a lot of the choices around schools and education,” he said.

READ MORE: Alberta school refusing to adhere to GSA policy could be deregistered, face funding withdrawal 

In his blog, Janz said the designation box creates unnecessary paperwork, confuses the public “as to why their badly needed school isn’t built yet,” doesn’t help student enrolment planning and gives the province (sole funder) a “political shield against adequately funding education.”

Janz said the public school board has grown by 6,000 students in the last two years. He said changes to the taxation process are urgent as the Alberta Modernized Municipal Government Act is being looked at and a municipal election is coming up.

“We have a pretty established system for paying for public schools,” Eggen said. “There’s different choices people can make and if you don’t make the choice then the arrangements are made. Honestly, I don’t see any reason to change the system by which we’re paying for education. Education funding is coming from other sources too, not just property taxes.”

Education property tax Alberta Fact Sheet by Anonymous TdomnV9OD4 on Scribd

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