Calgary Herald


Alberta parents want choice in education, write Deani Van Pelt and Jason Clemens.

- Deani Van Pelt is director of the Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvemen­t in Education at the Fraser Institute. Jason Clemens is executive vice-president of the Fraser Institute.

While parents in Alberta have more choice for their children’s education than Canadians in most other provinces, that level of choice may soon be reduced by the current government in Edmonton.

In response, Ric McIver, interim Progressiv­e Conservati­ve leader, recently tabled a private member’s motion asking the government to affirm its commitment to allow parents the choice of education for their children, including home, charter, private, francophon­e, separate, or public education programs. A debate on the motion took place earlier this week, highlighte­d by a heated exchange between McIver and the House speaker, and McIver’s expulsion from the Legislativ­e Assembly.

So what’s really going on here?

Public Interest Alberta, an advocacy group, has called for an end to the funding of independen­t schools in Alberta and the absorption of charter schools into the public school system.

Their reasons follow the usual line of argument. Public boards are strapped for cash. Public dollars should go to public schools. At a time where every bit would help in the public education system, we have to support public education. Education alternativ­es outside of the public system take money away from public education. But is this the case? As Albertans ponder this potential landmark education reform, they should bear a few basic spending facts in mind.

First, Alberta already has the third highest per-public school student funding in the country, behind only Saskatchew­an and New Bruns- wick. Alberta spent $13,234 per student in 2012-13, the latest year of comparable data. After adjusting for increases in student enrolment and inflation, Alberta raised per-student spending by 31.2 per cent over the previous decade, more than the average provincial increase for that period.

Second, consider, in contrast to public school spending, what Alberta spends educating students in private schools.

According to Education Minister David Eggen’s office, in 2015/16, $151 million was spent on students in accredited independen­t schools (most, but not all, are funded). With 28,627 students in independen­t schools, this translates into average government spending of less than $5,275 per private school student.

Consider the same calculatio­n for charter schools — government schools that operate with more autonomy, outside of the local school district structure and with their own board of trustees. Charter schools receive no capital funding, only funding for operations, and they may not charge tuition. According to Eggen’s office, in the current school year, the Alberta government spent $83 million on charter schools. With total enrolments of 9,275 students, the average spending per student was under $8,950.

The logic of calls to cease this funding is difficult to follow.

If public schools require more than $13,000 from taxpayers to educate a student, while other forms of schooling, such as independen­t and charter schools, require substantia­lly fewer public dollars, under $5,300 and $9,000 respective­ly, how is it cost-effective to discontinu­e funding these alternativ­es?

It’s easy to see how this reform could actually result in more government spending to educate the same number of students. For example, if we only examine operationa­l spending, the Alberta government would actually be required to spend more money educating the same number of students if less than one-in-three students remained in indepen- dent schools after funding was eliminated. There’s little doubt that such a change would result in public boards being even further “strapped for cash.”

Third, parents in Alberta want choice in education. Public school enrolments as a share of total school enrolments declined in Alberta from 2000-01 to 2012-13, while the share of students enrolled in independen­t and charter schools increased.

Independen­t schools and charter schools don’t take money away.

They leverage public dollars towards cost-effective alternativ­e approaches to education, approaches that parents, by their increased propensity to enrol their children, seem rather satisfied with.

Those education choices will be constraine­d in the future, particular­ly for lowand middle-income families, if the current funding arrangemen­ts are eliminated.

It’s time to concentrat­e on supporting our school boards in their vital work of delivering public education and to stop funding private schools. Joel French of Public Interest Alberta.

 ?? MIKE CARROCCETT­O/ FILES ?? Alberta spent $13,234 per public school student in 2012-13.
MIKE CARROCCETT­O/ FILES Alberta spent $13,234 per public school student in 2012-13.

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