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Commentary: Private schools don’t save governments money

April 24, 2018 James Wilt, Progress Alberta, Special to the ATA News

Part of a Progress Alberta campaign calling on the government to defund elite private schools, this commentary is adapted from an article that appears on Progress Alberta’s website at

A popular argument made by private school proponents in response to those who suggest private schools should not receive public funds is that private schools are actually saving the government money.

In Alberta, private schools receive 70 per cent of the per-student operational funding that is provided to public, separate and francophone schools and they don’t receive funding for capital projects. This, according to private school proponents, results in a per-pupil savings to the government when parents send their children to private schools.

But there’s one part they conveniently leave out.

Many private schools offer federal tax receipts for tuition, either under the guise of religious education or child care. That means that wealthy parents are receiving income tax reductions from the federal government for sending their kids to private schools that most families could never afford.

Here are a few examples.

In 2016, Glenmore Christian Academy — an 871-student private school in Calgary that charges up to $6,810 per student — registered $2 million in tax-receipted tuition fees. The school’s last three-year plan indicated that it receives $4.7 million from tuition and another $4.6 million from the province. More than 40 per cent of the tuition paid by Glenmore parents was recognized as a tax credit or deduction.

Or take Bearspaw Christian Academy, also located in Calgary. The 769-student school charges up to $7,450 in tuition. But in 2016, it logged $1.4 million in tax-receipted tuition fees. That same year, it received a total of $3.5 million in tuition fees, meaning that again about 40 per cent of the tuition it collected was used to reduce taxes owed by the parents.

Since a portion of the money paid to the private schools is being returned to parents through a reduction in their federal taxes, the federal government is effectively funding part of the tuition. These private schools are not only getting direct public funding from the province but they are getting additional indirect funding from the Canadian government.

As you may have noticed, both of these examples are Christian schools. That’s because religious schools are able to offer charitable donation tax receipts. Religious private schools in Alberta registered a total of $18.6 million in tax receipts last year.

But that’s not the end of it.

For unknown reasons, Lycée Louis Pasteur, which charges up to $14,600 per year for tuition, registered $2.2 million in tax receipts in 2016. While the explicitly nondenominational school did not report the amount that it received in tuition from parents, calculations indicate that it was around $4.7 million. That means almost half of the elite school’s tuition was designated as eligible for tax receipts.

A number of other elite private schools indicate that there are tax receipts accessible for parents under the category of “child care.”

In 2016, the National Observer’s Sandy Garossino discovered that an elite private school in Vancouver was marketing to parents the potential eligibility of $3,800 per student in tax deductible expenses relating to child care, up to the age of 16.

That school considered supervision provided by the school before and after classes, during lunch, recess and other break times as child care in order to calculate the generous tax receipt.
The same is happening in Alberta.

In 2010, Webber Academy (one of the most elite private schools in Alberta) told parents in a newsletter that they can claim 50 per cent of kindergarten and 25 per cent of grades 1 to 10 tuition for students up to the age of 16. At the time, that worked out to between $3,500 and $7,000 in tax subsidies per year. While Webber doesn’t appear to publicly list the percentages anymore, it continues to tell parents of the opportunity in its annual handbook.

“We are permitted to issue income tax receipts for a portion of the tuition fees paid for students up to the age of 16,” it reads.

“The amount of the income tax receipt varies based on the grade and tuition fees paid during the calendar year.”

Delta West Academy — another one of the elites — told parents in a February 2017 newsletter that they’ll receive “tax receipts for the eligible portion of the tuition.” The Calgary Waldorf School mentions “lunch supervision fees are included in tuition fees and this portion of the tuition fees is tax deductible as a child care expense.”

The Calgary French and International School, yet another elite private, reports issuing child care tax receipts at the following rates: 50 per cent of the kindergarten tuition of $12,160, 25 per cent for grades 1 to 6 tuition of $12,160, and 20 per cent for grades 7 to 12 of $13,460.

Private schools aren’t “saving us” money. In fact, they’re double dipping. First with government funding, and then with tax receipts for much of the remainder. They’re being subsidized by both the province and federal government. ❚

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