A young child timidly meets new classmates on the first day of school. Soon school becomes a normal part of the daily routine. Time flies. Graduation arrives, and the child, now a young adult, completes further schooling and becomes a nurse, or an engineer or a teacher.
Does this story sound like a fairy tale? It isn’t. It’s part of the everyday life of our province.
It’s a success story, regardless of whether this child graduated from a public, separate, charter or private school. After all, the point of our educational system in Alberta is to support children so that they can benefit from a quality education and become active, contributing members of society.
Regrettably, this isn’t the success the majority of Edmonton public school board trustees see. Just days ago, they passed a motion calling on the government to eliminate provincial funding of any kind for private schools and to transfer control of charter schools to public school boards.
The majority of Edmonton’s trustees want to reject what provincial governments have endorsed for almost 50 years — that all schools in the province contribute to the public good. What was their reasoning? Well it appears to be in line with Henry Ford’s classic statement: you can have a Model T in any colour you want, as long as you want black.
The Edmonton public school board suggests that parents can choose any education for their child they want, as long as they choose the public system. They do this by proposing to effectively cripple any other educational choices by cutting them off from any public funding.
It makes no financial sense to eliminate private schools for which parents are subsidizing the education of their children. Without the public funds, most parents would be forced to enrol their children in a public school for which the public purse pays around $13,000 per student.
Because private schools only receive around $5,100 per student each child that doesn’t enter the public system saves the tax payer around $8,000 per year. Furthermore, private schools receive no financial support for capital costs, transportation costs or teacher pensions.
Private schools are often established to address an educational philosophy or to support a distinct cultural or faith-based group. Most private schools serve a spectrum of students with different learning needs, and from different economic and cultural backgrounds. The Edmonton trustees suggests this is segregation. However, some public schools select students for their artistic abilities, athletic interests, faith commitments, academic aptitudes and even their gender.
To be clear, this wide range of choice is wonderful. However, it isn’t reasonable to criticize private schools for meeting the needs of specific groups of students while celebrating similar choice within the Edmonton public school district.
The trustees suggest that private schools “erode” the unity of society, while public schools serve as “the cornerstone of democracy.” This is nonsensical and ahistorical. Private schools have been part of the democracy that is Alberta since its beginning as a province in 1905.
Alberta’s diverse educational system should be celebrated instead of attacked. Internationally, the province has consistently scored among the top countries on a range of empirical evaluations. This is a credit to the public system which educates the vast majority of students in our province. It is also a credit to the private schools that provide an equally sound education.
This past week the Alberta government issued its budget which reflected how highly it values education. Even in these difficult economic times the budget maintained funding for growth in enrolment. It also continued to provide equitable and predictable funding for all schools. These funds continue to allow all kids the opportunity to succeed.
John Jagersma is executive director of the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta.