Edmonton Public School Board calls on province to cut funding to private schools
Motion from Trustee Trisha Estabrooks passes Tuesday
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The Edmonton Public School Board voted Tuesday to support a phase-out of private school funding.
The board will write a letter to Alberta Education Minister David Eggen advocating for the move, for consideration in the province’s 2018 spring budget.
The board will also write to opposition MLAs, many of whom have spoken in favour of funding private schools.
“It’s no secret we need more money invested in public education across the province,” said Trustee Trisha Estabrooks, who put forward the motion.
Estabrooks, who was elected in October, said she heard overwhelming support for her position while doorknocking during the campaign.
In February 2017, Public Interest Alberta, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and other public education advocates asked the province to cut private school funding, claiming $100 million a year could be saved and reinvested in public education.
The groups said that money could be redirected to public, Catholic and francophone school boards to reduce class sizes, reduce mandatory school fees, increase classroom supports and beef up school lunch programs, rather than to schools that charge tuition.
Estabrooks suggested the public school money could go toward hiring more teachers and educational assistants.
“To me, when a school is able to choose who attends based on ability, income or faith, they should also lose access to their public funding,” she said.
It’s an issue the NDP also talked about while in opposition, and Estabrooks said she is unfortunate they have not taken action while in power.
Trustee Michael Janz had a similar motion passed in 2016.
Estabrooks acknowledged there is heavy opposition to the idea and said the phase-out would have to take place over several years.
“Alberta has a long history of subsidizing the cost of private school education, so I’m certainly not pushing for cold turkey on this, or going right to zero. That doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.
“What does make sense is a gradual phased out approach, with a target in mind – so let’s say in five years’ time – that we do completely defund private schools. But a cautious, methodical approach.”
Trustee Sherry Adams was the lone voice of opposition to the motion at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Adams argued that, while Edmonton Public Schools offers a wide variety of voices for students, schools outside of the city are not able to offer the same kind of choice.
“Parents who choose an independent school do so for a variety of reasons. Namely, they believe it’s the best for their children to thrive,” she said.
“I believe it’s unreasonable to assert that every child will or must fit into the public school system.”
Eggen issued a statement saying the provincial government has made public education a top priority by reducing fees, expanding school lunch programs, building schools and reversing cuts that were planned by the previous PC government.
He also seemed to suggest, however, that the government will continue supporting private schools.
“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," Eggen said.