Private schools hit back at push to have public funding withdrawn in Alberta

Advocacy groups face off over the issue of public funds for private schools in Alberta. CP PHOTO/Don Denton

The Phoenix Foundation in Calgary and other private schools across the province say an Alberta advocacy group is hurting students by pushing to have the NDP phase out public funding for private schools.

Diana Stinn, co-founder of the Phoenix Education Foundation told News Talk 770’s Danielle Smith there are approximately 34,000 Alberta students attending independent schools. If funding for private schools is cut, many cash-strapped families would have to enrol their children in public schools.

“We have heard over the last couple years that there’s not even enough physical seats in public schools to accommodate kids,” Stinn said.

“You think public schools are crowded now, what happens when 34,000 kids move that direction?”

READ MORE: Class sizes continue to grow in Alberta schools 

Public Interest Alberta told News Talk 770 government funds need to be reallocated in order to help meet NDP campaign promises, which include reducing mandatory school fees and class sizes, as well as increasing classroom supports and introducing a school lunch program.

Story continues below advertisement

Private schools in the province received $248 million in government funding in 2016.

Joel French, the executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said there is no evidence to suggest enrolment numbers in the private school system would decrease if the government cut funding.

“At the end of the day, almost all of the people who have their kids in private schools right now are going to keep them in private schools – no matter what rate they’re subsidized at,” he said.

“In fact, you can look back at history in Alberta, at a time when we funded the private schools at 60 per cent. Now, we’ve boosted it to 70 per cent,” he said. “Enrolment hasn’t changed since then.”

“I don’t think, if those families decide to opt out of the system that we built collectively as a province, that they should try to take money with them out of the system.”

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

Listen: John Jagersma, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges of Alberta

Story continues below advertisement

There is precedent for provinces withdrawing funding from private schools. Ontario, for example, does not provide any financial support for private schools.

Stinn said Friday between 275 and 300 students receive their education at the Phoenix Foundation, which does not charge tuition and relies entirely on funding from the province.

“Our parents contribute in sweat equity,” Stinn said. “So, if there are things that need to be done, they donate. If there’s glue sticks we need to have, they donate those kinds of things.”

She said many of those families would not have the income to remain in the private school system if that funding was funnelled into the public school system.

READ MORE: Alberta government shuts down Cold Lake private school; province says insufficient accountability 

Listen: Diana Stinn, co-founder of the Phoenix Education Foundation

Story continues below advertisement

John Jagersma, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges of Alberta said many of the parents in the private system, especially those with children who have unique needs, have tried other systems.

“Parents choose to take on the sacrifice of an independent school because they desperately want what is best for their child and they find a system that works,” Jagersma said.

“A lot of these kids have pretty unique needs and the schools have been able to support and accommodate that, which is wonderful.”

French said his group recognizes that existing public schools do not have the supports that private schools have to provide education to special needs students. He said that is why they are not pushing to have their funding withdrawn.

“In the long term, what we believe is those supports should be built into public, Catholic and Francophone systems. But they’re not right now and it’s not a quick fix to do that.”

Jagersma said private school systems have been around since before Alberta became a province and have been receiving government funding for almost five decades.

He said it would be cheaper for taxpayers to partially fund private schools than to place those students in the public school system.

Listen: Lisa Davies, founder of Kids Come First

Story continues below advertisement


Sponsored content