The Edmonton Public School Board passed a motion Tuesday afternoon to rally the Alberta government to phase out public funding of private schools in the province.
Newly elected trustee Trisha Estabrooks brought forward the motion to the board at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. She asked the board of trustees to “continue its strong commitment to public education and advocate the provincial government begin phasing out public funding of private schools and reinvest that money in public classrooms.”
“Private schools have every right to exist in Alberta, and provide choice to some parents, students and families,” read Estabrooks’ motion.
“Phasing out the funding of private schools does not remove the choice for families, rather, the choice remains: pay the higher tuition fee (to cover the cost left when the government stops funding private schools) or send your child to a publicly funded public school.”
There are approximately 100 accredited, funded private schools in Alberta and another 100 early childhood service providers. In the most recent budget, the province estimated it would spend $263 million in 2017/18 funding accredited private schools and early childhood service programs.
According to Progress Alberta, the province spends $27.4 million funding the province’s 15 most elite private schools each year. These are the schools that charge over $10,000 in tuition per student.
“This is money that should be spent, and arguably needs to be reinvested, to improve public classrooms and public education in our province,” said Estabrooks, who was elected to the public school board last October.
Estabrooks said public education is meant to be inclusive and accessible to everyone, noting the “notion of accessibility” is absent from the private school model.
“Private schools can and do pick and choose their students and set their tuition rates. When a school is able to choose who can attend based on ability, income or faith, that same school should also lose its access to public funding. Public funding should belong to schools that use it to educate the public — all of us — no matter our backgrounds, faith or income,” she said.
“Additionally, there are those within the current opposition party who, if elected to form government, support equal funding of private and public education. Equally funding both the private and the public schools will seriously erode and compromise our public education system in a way that will have far reaching impacts on our children and our society.”
Watch below: Should your tax dollars support families who choose to put their kids into private school? As Tom Vernon reports, Alberta spends more than $100 million on these programs.
However, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta (AISCA) says private schools play a significant role for 35,000 children in Alberta and cover a broad range of student needs, from special education to cultural backgrounds or language.
John Jagersma calls the push to stop funding private education disappointing.
“I think it’s just a lack of awareness of how integrated the system is, how student-centred its focus is, the success we have,” he said.
“If we were to lose funding, a significant portion of those kids are going to go back into the public school system and each one of those children is going to cost taxpayers $8,000 more.”
Jagersma says cost savings aren’t the only reason to support private education.
“I think the bigger question is around choice and around what’s good for kids. Are we meeting the needs of students?”
This isn’t the first time the public school board has called for this action from the province. In April 2016, the public board passed a similar motion to send a letter to Education Minister David Eggen, urging him to phase out the public subsidy to private schools and reinvest the money in public education.
On Tuesday, Eggen supplied a statement to Global News, stressing he’s a champion for the public education system.
“Our record speaks for itself. Through the economic downturn, we’ve made investing in public education a top priority.
“We are building a historic number of schools and we reversed cuts planned by the previous government which has put over 1,000 new teachers into public school classrooms. In addition to this, our government is making life better and more affordable by reducing school fees and expanding our school nutrition program to every school board across the province.
“Our government continues to provide stable funding to our public education system because we know that it’s an investment in our province’s future. Through all of this, we continue to support the critical role parents play in their children’s education which includes their ability to choose the school they feel will best ensure their child’s success. We always welcome feedback from trustees as we assess how best to fund education in Alberta.”
In her motion, Estabrooks acknowledged the April 2016 action by the school board but said “no action has been taken by our provincial government.”
A letter will now be sent to the education minister. A letter will also be sent to all Alberta political parties stating the public school board’s position on the topic.
— With files from Emily Mertz