On Wednesday, April 19th an Environics poll was released which purports to indicate that a majority of Albertans believe private (hereafter referred to as independent) school funding should be phased out. However, the poll should be taken with a large grain of salt. From news reports it appears the poll asked Albertans whether they would support “phasing out public funding for private schools and reinvesting the money into public education.”
This question is a misnomer as there would be no savings to reinvest. The reality is that private schools save Albertans hundreds of millions of dollars. The math is quite simple. All Albertans pay taxes which go into the ‘public purse’. From these taxpayer dollars, an average of $5200 goes towards funding a child’s education in an independent school, whereas a public school education costs the tax payer around $13,000/child.
There is ample evidence that the system of education in Alberta is doing an excellent job of educating children, and Alberta is often held up as an example of a high functioning system. This is true of all the choices for education within the system: public, separate, charter, francophone, independent and home education. Independent schools provide this excellent education at considerable savings to the Albertan taxpayer.
Eliminating the funding for children in independent schools would force many of these children back into the public school system. Each child that leaves an independent school and enters a public school costs the tax payer an additional $8000/year. Over the past 5 years independent schools in Alberta have saved Albertans 750 million dollars.
Besides the per student savings, it should also be noted that capital costs for independent schools aren’t paid for with public dollars. Considering the significant need for more schools that already exists in the public system, it seems counter intuitive to force more students to enter this school system, thereby causing increased strain on student capacity, and further burdening taxpayers with the cost of additional new schools.
Teacher pensions and transportation are two additional areas where independent schools receive no funding. If the partial funding that has been provided to independent schools for the past 50 years was reduced or eliminated, there would be additional costs placed on the public purse to support these items as well.
If the poll question had asked, “do you support the public purse spending hundreds of millions of additional tax dollars on education with no measurable improvement” the results would likely be significantly different.
Independent schools serve the public good. Collectively the independent schools and early childhood service programs provide a quality education to 34,000 Albertan children. And they do so at a considerable cost savings to Albertans.
Thankfully, the Alberta government continues to recognize the value of equitable and predictable funding for independent schools. Just last month, the government once again put forward a budget that continued to show that they value education for all students in the province, including those who attend independent schools.
Alberta has an excellent system of education, which provides a range of choice as is appropriate in a pluralistic society. Within the system there is a wide array of choice in school programing. Independent schools further enhance this choice for parents; they do this by offering schools for students with special learning needs, or which provide a distinct cultural, religious, or pedagogical perspective. Instead of attacking and undermining the quality of education for some children, we should celebrate and further enhance the collaborative approach that has allowed all Albertan children to experience significant success.
AISCA encourages Albertans to be further informed about the public good that independent schools provide by watching this short video https://youtu.be/VRusRMLmnZk or by visiting our website at http://www.aisca.ab.ca