Alberta taxpayers are subsidizing Calgary’s elite and exclusive private schools

Alberta taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund posh private schools for Calgary’s elites.

According to data released by Progress Alberta, 15 private schools which charge more than $10,000 in annual tuition fees received more than $30 million in taxpayer subsidies in 2015-2016.

One of those private schools, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, charges $21,660 in annual tuition fees per student, the highest of any private school in Alberta. The school has received $20.5 million in government funding since 2010 and in 2016 it raised $25 million through fundraising. At the end of 2016 the school’s two charitable foundations had $4.7 million remaining, according to Progress Alberta.

Public funding for private schools has become a hot political topic in recent weeks, with some groups calling for the Alberta government to stop public funding of private schools. I remain undecided about whether funds should be available for some private education, but I was shocked to learn that some of Alberta’s most elite and exclusive private schools are receiving public subsidies.

Conservatives politicians have stepped up to defend private schools. Wildrose education critic Leela Aheer and Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney argued that private schools provide Albertans with choice in education. Aheer said in a written statement that the private system saves Albertans money because they receive 70 per cent of the per-student funding of public schools.

Both those arguments are flimsy to begin with and completely fall apart when we start focusing on private schools that charge significantly high tuition fees while also being able to fundraise large amounts of money. Most Albertans can’t afford the “choice” of enrolling their children in exclusive schools, and private schools which can generate large amounts of funding on their own can probably survive without government subsidies.

Funding exclusive private schools with admission fees that are out of reach of most Albertans only perpetuates a system of education based on economic class. Equality of opportunity should be the driving force behind public funding for education, whether it be public or private.

The speed at which Education Minister David Eggen swiftly denied any allegations that the NDP government would be defunding private schools was surprising considering the criticism his party levelled toward the old PC government on the same issue. The NDP should do what should have been done a long time ago – let Alberta taxpayers off the hook for funding these expensive, exclusive and elite private schools.

22 thoughts on “Alberta taxpayers are subsidizing Calgary’s elite and exclusive private schools

  1. Phil McRae

    STAGGERING to think that Albertans gave a private school (Webber Academy in Calgary) $21.9 million in subsidies between 2012-2016 & they surplussed $24,286,653. It is not just the public funding of private interests without public representation on the governance of these schools, but also the public funding of multi-million dollar surplus.

    Reply
    1. Janet Hooper

      The people saying it’s no big deal likely don’t have children in the public system or likely do not work in the public system. It is a big deal. The schools are chronically underfunded, leading to students who are not meeting their full potential. It has been proven time and time again that a well-educated population increases the overall economy as it decreases crime and reduces strain on welfare and health care. Many of the people who put their kids in private schools are the same people who don’t want to pay taxes. They have the money to get tax breaks. These parents are able to claim a portion of the tuition back as well. Additionally, I would like a more detailed look at how many of these people as well who have kids in the school have parents who are even double-dipping. Because the private schools can act as a charity, how many of the parents own their own businesses and then donate to the school giving them another tax-break for their business?

      Reply
  2. Darren

    If we have a system where funding follows the child, and these schools have a cirriculum that meets Alberta Education standards, what’s the problem? If parents can afford it then why not? That’s sort of what school of choice is about. All the taxpayer should care about is that the education a student is receiving meets provincial standards.

    Reply
  3. Larry Leach

    Not all Private schools are created equal. Not all Public schools are created equal. Public schools in wealthier neighbourhoods have inequitable access to extra funding through parent councils where other schools in high ESL or lower demographic don’t even have capacity for a parent council, let alone fundraising. Many Private schools rely on public funding for their existence and do great outside of the box work with students who find it difficult to learn in Public Schools for a variety of reasons. Taking funding away simply creates a one size fits all solution that not only does not fit all, but costs taxpayers more.

    Reply
  4. Fred Ziffel

    It is not “subsidizing” private schools any more than it is “subsidizing” public schools or separate schools. In fact, on an apples-to-apples comparison, the public schools are “subsidized” to an even greater extent.

    If the alternate schools all closed and the students went to the public school, the net effect would be to cost the public purse even more money than currently.

    It is all about control and ideology.

    Reply
    1. Calgary Watcher

      Public schools are owned by the public and administered by publicly elected and accountable school board trustees. Private schools are private clubs with little accountability. Big difference.

      Reply
      1. Fred Ziffel

        @Calgary Watcher

        What you have said is factually true.
        What you have said also confirms what I said – the issue is control, not education of students.

        Reply
          1. Rick

            Independent schools meet stringent requirements for oversight. Their students, parents, and teachers are surveyed on an annual basis. The schools submit Annual Educational Results Reports and Three Year Plans. They also provide audited financial statements to Alberta Education, and report. Independent schools are also accountable under the Societies Act or the Corporations Act, and are very accountable to their parents.

            Reply
      2. Larry Kozy

        Calgary Watcher, it’s worth your while to learn the facts. Private schools have high accountability and report regularly to the education ministry. If you want to talk about accountability issues, you might first investigate the waste within the public system. Who knows what you infer when you say “private clubs”. If that means students focused on serious education, positive results, advancing each day in their motivation and positive attitudes to lifelong learning, and then accomplishing results, possibly you’re right. I have my doubts that’s what you actually meant, though. If you were serious and plausible, you’d have signed your name. Good luck in your research into the facts.

        Reply
  5. redcarpet

    Government also funds universities which then also charge huge tuition fees. I don’t see what the big deal is. Like the poster above said, if funding follows the student, this just allows for more options and puts less strain on the fully public schools. It’s just a shame that our health care system can’t work the same way.

    Reply
  6. Laura Shutiak

    Simple solution: Base private school funding on sliding scale of tuition. If tuition is $1,000 or less, they can have 70% of public per pupil grant. If they are charging $20,000 – then give them 10 or 20 % of it, That way elite schools aren’t seen as being paid for by taxpayers, but small, niche schools that offer choice – for a price within the range of public school fees by the way – should keep funding.

    Reply
  7. F. Turner

    I think, if you check the records, that government funding only applies to operational expenses. The private schools have had to raise the funds for capital expenses from private sources. If all the private students were to be unleashed on the public system there would be a sudden capital crunch.
    And the parents of private school students do pay taxes.

    Reply
    1. Larry Kozy

      F. Turner, you’re absolutely right. So many people fighting support to the private education system fail to realize and admit that families within the private education system have no choice in directing our educational tax allotment (aside from public or separate). We ARE funding everyone’s education in Alberta. Difference is, we hold our schools accountable.

      Reply
  8. Jerrymacgp

    The challenge with this issue, is that not all “private schools” are in the same niche as Strathcona-Tweedsmuir. Some are ethno-cultural or denominational-religious schools, such as Grande Prairie’s Hillcrest Christian, a Mennonite school. That doesn’t mean the issue doesn’t bear a full airing, or that we shouldn’t seriously reflect on whether and to what extent private schools should receive public funding, but it does mean that we cannot tar every private school with the same brush as “rich elitist”. To do so does all Alberta residents a disservice.

    Reply
  9. Wes

    The 30 million is a large number. It’s also the same amount as the request to modernize ONE public school in barrhead. How much has the govt contributed to the building of those schools in question?
    Zero. Private schools save the province tons of money. If the issue was saving money we would increase private school funding and encourage more of it.

    Reply
  10. Melodie

    I’m surprised that so many think that all these private school students would come rushing over to the public system – they would not. I know plenty of parents who feel that their child’s private Christian education is a matter of life and death. That their child’s very SOUL is at stake. They will spend any amount of money to keep their kids out of the public system where they might be exposed to ungodliness. They will not betray their faith over money – the collection plate will be passed around a few more times to make up the difference or they will switch to the home school system.

    Reply
    1. Larry Kozy

      Melodie, your comment about parents who enrol their children in a private education setting are trying to protect them from ungodliness is so far from reality. All private schools do not promote Christianity, nor has anyone made any reference to the public system being immoral or otherwise lacking in values. It’s about educational quality and capacity, not to mention proper accountability.

      Reply
  11. Larry Kozy

    It’s worth everybody’s time to investigate Progress Alberta. This is the group that describes themselves as “the org that kicks the teeth of Conservatives” and posts images on their website of a luxury aircraft with a tagline “Back to School” featuring an emoji of a crying face with a gun pointed at its head (apparently some anger issues to work out among their group), AND boasts a $100 million dollar union-based pot to help back their planned NDP re-election. Wow…$100 million could go a long way in the public school system, don’t you think?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *