Edmonton public school trustee candidates express views on public funding of private schools

The previous Edmonton Public School Board in a meeting on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Brad Gowan, Global News

Parents with students in the Edmonton public school system trying to decide who is best fit to make decisions regarding their kids’ education now have more information at their disposal ahead of the municipal election.

The Edmonton Public Teachers Local No. 37 of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) asked trustee candidates to answer seven questions relevant to public education.

READ MORE: Memo reminds schools to keep the candidates out of the classrooms

There are 27 candidates vying for eight of the nine seats on the Edmonton Public School Board; Ward B incumbent Michelle Draper was acclaimed. Nine of the candidates did not respond to the survey.

Local No. 37 asked candidates these questions:

  1. What is the role of a Public School Board Trustee?
  2. What do you see as the main issues facing public education today? Of these which is your priority? How will you address that priority?
  3. Do you believe that education in Alberta is adequately funded? If you answered “no,” what will you do to advocate for more educational funding?
  4. What will you do to support the success of FNMI (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) students from K-12? Please indicate goals and objectives, and also action steps.
  5. What is the appropriate level of government funding for private schools? (For comparison, funding of private schools in Canada ranges from 0 per cent in Ontario, to 70 per cent in Alberta.)
  6. Do you support the rights of students to keep their sexual orientation or gender identity as private information (information that can be shared by teachers only with express consent of the student)?
  7. Do you support inclusion in the classroom? If so, what supports would you consider necessary to make inclusion successful?

One of the most controversial topics among these questions is the issue of public funds being used for private schools in Alberta. A poll released earlier this year found two-thirds of Albertans, or 64 per cent, believe funding for private schools should be phased out and re-invested into public education.

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

Several groups, including the Edmonton Public School Board, have long called for the phase-out of public funding for private schools in Alberta, saying taxpayer dollars can be better spent on other areas, like school nutrition programs and making education “more inclusive.”

Alberta Education numbers indicate just over 29,000 students attend private school. Private schools say if funding for private schools is cut, many cash-strapped families would have to enrol their children in public schools — therefore increasing the overcrowding experienced in some areas.

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

Below are the views on private school funding from all candidates who responded. (Answers have not been edited.) The municipal election is on Monday, Oct. 16. To see how the candidates answered the other six questions, click here.

Q: What is the appropriate level of government funding for private schools?

Ward A

Ahmed Knowmadic Ali: 0%. No Public funds should fund a private institution – full stop. Government dollars should go to fund public schools. A parent should be allowed the choice but our provincial government should only fund public schools.

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Perry Chahal: I need hard financial data to provide an answer.

Thomas Deak: I will maintain the current funding in place for private schools as this is not for me to decide. These decisions are made with the current provincial government.

James Gault: no response received

Cheryl Johner: no response received

George Chung Yan Lam: no response received

Joseph Luri: I do not support public funding of private schools at all. EPSB already has found ways to include within the public system a wide range of schools and programs of choice and I am open to continuing to do this prudently and with full care to avoid elitism or any human rights violation. But government funds should not go to private schools.

This is not just an economic issue. Public schools are an important tool for bringing diverse people and views together to learn from each other and to find the common threads that weave together to make for strong healthy communities. Let’s have all our children in good public schools.

Ward B

Michelle Draper (acclaimed)

Ward C

Orville Chubb: I am not advocating for a change in this area.

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Shelagh Dunn: I do not believe that private schools should receive public funding and I support efforts to reduce this funding to 0% over time.

Jon Hoffman: no response received

Kurt Kronebusch: I have not created a full opinion on this topic. Should one child’s education be funded while another’s isn’t? Or should we not allow parents a choice of where and how to educate their children? There are many more questions that go with this. “Student success at school begins at home” (Edmonton public schools 3 year education plan 2016-2019). Parents play a large role in the success of student achievements.

Ward D

Jeff Behrens: I do not support the province of Alberta’s current level of funding for private schools. However, I do believe in diversity in education. There are many public and private programs that allow students with particular talents or needs the opportunity to flourish. I think that having multiple approaches to education provides us with perspective and an opportunity for comparison. If diversity is strength, we must not eliminate it. However, private schools in Alberta receive too much funding from the provincial government. The current NDP government has been slow to address this after promising to tackle it but I think it is important they decide what a more appropriate amount of funding will be. It is imperative that private schools adhere to provincial and federal legislation in the same manner that the public school system must and that they teach the Alberta Program of Studies. If some funding has to be maintained to ensure this, then I would support that happening.

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Trisha Estabrooks: As I outlined in a previous answer, public funding belongs in public schools. I support a parent’s right to choose where their child is educated, and public schools need to be a strong, sustainable long-term option. Parents can choose to continue sending their children to private schools as tuition rates increase in tandem with government reductions of annual funding for private and charter schools. I believe the amount of funding to private schools should be phased out within five years, with the goal of completely defunding private schools being the end result. I realize this is a politically sensitive issue but it’s one that needs addressing given current economic realities within our province as well as the basic tenet of what public education means – access for all.

Kevin O’Connor: Those families that choose private schools often do so because they feel the public system is flawed, and fails to meet the needs of their children. However true this may be, we still need to work toward creating a public system that can meet the needs of all citizens. Public schooling encourages us to recognize our individual and collective differences, and to affirm the virtues of a pluralistic and democratic society: equality, tolerance, and understanding. We are in it together, and the difficulties and rewards are ours to share. Do I believe that funding that could go into the public school system should be diverted into private schools? Fundamentally, no. But that doesn’t mean I would not support the funding of private schools if I felt sure that they were providing something valuable that was outside the scope of the public system.

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Tamie Perryment: I believe that private school funding should be calculated on a formula, based on how it matches and aligns with education in Alberta after a base funding amount of 50%. I would need more information to assess what this appropriate level of funding is, however I do support the current level of funding until I have further information. We need to continue to review and recommend changes to how we fund education within Alberta to ensure we are being fiscally responsible as well as provide a high level of education to students.

Ward E

Sam Filice: We are fortunate in Edmonton Public that we do have a wide range of choices when it comes to schools. Edmonton Public already supports schools that in other jurisdictions would be considered private such as language schools. Therefore, there is no need for private schools that are publically funded as Edmonton Public already provides different choices.

Ken Gibson: As champions for Public Education, I believe Trustees should advocate for zero public funds for private education.

Chris Hurley: no response received

Ward F

Michael Janz: The range of choice in the Edmonton Public School District is wonderful, but it would be a mistake to suggest that we are attacking educational diversity by calling for an end to subsidizing private schools with public funds. In fact, by calling for an end to such subsidies, we are clearly stating that it is essential to accommodate diversity and choice within the public system.

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For decades, EPSB has demonstrated our commitment to a highly acclaimed program of school choice that is accessible to all families, regardless of faith, income, or ability. Unlike private schools, we are not exclusive by design. Rather than selecting and rejecting students, we welcome and educate them all.

We respect the right of individuals to choose private schools, but by making a choice to reject the public system, individuals should be responsible for funding their choice. We must ensure that public funds go to public purposes, overseen by democratically elected representatives. Private schools have long existed in Ontario with no public funding, and Alberta should adopt the same approach.

Yemi Philip: Like all other areas of education, government funding for private schools should be determined based on what is the best interest of all students in Alberta viz a viz available resources. It should be need-based. The current funding system appears to be working in the best interest of all students. If there is no evidence showing it is inadequate, I support retaining it. We should not be seen to be cutting funds allocated to education. We need to realize that when we fund any form of education, we are not funding school. Rather we are funding a child’s educational needs. I do not think we should deprive our children of an educational setting they have chosen that is meeting their needs. I view funding private schools as a way of driving the quality of public education up. Those other educational options will create incentives to drive our public education to be competitive. A monopolistic educational system muzzles innovation and progress.

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Ward G

Tyler Duce: no response received

Bridget Stirling: I do not believe in any public funding for private schools, which is also the official position of the board for Edmonton Public Schools (motion passed in April 2016). In some circumstances, such as programming for students with disabilities that may not currently be available in a public district, Alberta Education should consider a fully public model so that cost is not a barrier to receiving appropriate supports.

Ward H

Neda Asadi: I don’t agree with public money being used to fund private schools. Alberta pays the highest amount of taxpayer dollars to private schools as compare to all the other provinces. At the time where students in public schools are faced with limited space and classrooms can benefit from educational assistance it doesn’t seem like the best or most logical approach. Public education system is one of the most valuable asset Canadians have and we need to ensure public schools are strong and can support all of their learners.

Nathan Ip: no response received

Ward I

Sherry Adams: At the Edmonton Public School Board, we are noted for choices and alternative programs that we offer to our constituents. The more choice we offer in our district, the less perceived need there will be for private schools and the better we are able to provide for the various needs of our children. Unless the School system is providing choice, parents will necessarily have to look for alternative school systems to meet the needs of their children. For every child to be successful, as we advocate at EPS, we must offer alternatives to meet their many and varied needs! Of course, we want our district to receive as much funding as possible; however, I don’t think it wise to cast the image of our public school system as the enemy of private schools. Let’s continue to look for cost effective ways to provide for all the needs of our children- such as more collaboration with different school systems.

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Sajida Asghar: no response received

Saira Wagner: As mentioned above in question (3), government funding for private schools should be 0%, just like it is Ontario. We need more stability in our public education system and we cannot be innovative and sustainable if we keep handing out our money to the private sector.