News / Edmonton

Former Education Minister wants referendum on separate school funding in Alberta

David King launches petition to gauge support for single publicly-funded education system instead of separating public and Catholic

A sign outside Edmonton Catholic School Board headquarters in downtown Edmonton.

Metro File

A sign outside Edmonton Catholic School Board headquarters in downtown Edmonton.

A former education minister is calling for a referendum on separate school funding.

David King, who served as Alberta's education minister under Peter Lougheed from 1979 to 1986, launched a petition Wednesday to gauge support for a single, fully funded public school system, rather than separate public and Catholic systems.

On the website for Inclusive Diverse Education for All (IDEA), a group he founded, King writes that having two systems "is obsolete, unnecessary, expensive, and contrary to what we understand about personal and religious freedom, and the religious neutrality of the provincial government."

King has been voicing concerns about separate school education for more than a decade, but said he has grown more concerned in recent years due in part to human rights issues.

“You’ve got kids who want to start clubs in schools – and surely the formation of clubs is a good way to allow kids to learn about the implications for democracy. Instead … they’re being told by adults that they can’t start the club,” King said.

“So you’ve got that set of problems. And then you’ve got cost, fragmentation of community, loss of economies of scale, duplication, the list goes on.”

Newfoundland held two referendums on separate schools in 1997 that drove a move to a single publicly funded system, and Quebec made the same move that year without a referendum.

Both were approved by the federal government, led by Jean Chretien at the time.

King the move would be easy to make from a procedural standpoint but the public will need to drive the conversation.

“There is no party in Alberta that has the political will to do this at the moment,” he said.

“There are some issues that are so important they should be led by public, and this is one of them.

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