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Eggen reiterates support for school choice

May 30, 2017 ATA News Staff

Education Minister David Eggen has affirmed the government’s support for funding of private schools in a letter sent to Alberta Teachers’ Association president Mark Ramsankar in April.

In the letter, Eggen writes that “Alberta’s education system has a number of delivery methods that allow parents to select the method they feel will best ensure their child’s success.”

Eggen’s letter was written in response to an earlier letter from Ramsankar expressing the concern of Provincial Executive Council (PEC) about the government’s apparent intent to maintain current levels of public funding to accredited private schools.

The issue of public funding of private schools has been elevated recently as a result of advocacy efforts from groups including Public Interest Alberta and Progress Alberta, and also stemming from a high profile conflict between the Government of Alberta and Trinity Christian School over their home schooling programs.

Ramsankar says the Association has been supportive of the work of Public Interest Alberta and Progress Alberta related to the funding of private schools and decided to write the letter to the minister to advance the issue with government.

“To be clear, the Association does not object to the continuing operation of private schools in the province,” says Ramsankar in his letter, “but takes issue with these schools having continued access to the public purse.”

“Public money should be reserved for schools that contribute to the mission of public education in our democracy.”

In the letter, Ramsankar also notes that private schools are not democratically accountable and are not obliged to accept all students. He states that in some cases, private schools teach students in a segregated setting in a manner that is incongruent with values of citizenship, inclusion and respect for the value of other cultures or beliefs.

Ramsankar also argues that defunding private schools would not reduce choice options, pointing out that programming variety is widely available in the public systems and that many private schools will continue to function without public funding.

To that point, Ramsankar notes that 15 private schools in Alberta charge annual tuition in excess of $10,000 and maintain substantial reserves.

“Certainly with annual tuitions
of $21,660 and $18,000 and accumulated surpluses of $4.7 million and $6.2 million respectively, it is difficult to imagine that the viability of Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School and Webber Academy would be threatened by a reduction in or elimination of funding from government,” writes Ramsankar.

Eggen’s response says that the Government of Alberta is committed to providing all Alberta students with a high-quality education.

“Government has demonstrated this commitment to Alberta students by providing funding for every eligible Kindergarten to Grade 12 student in the education system,” writes Eggen. “Although faced with fiscal challenges, Budget 2017 continues to provide all school authorities with stable funding.”

Eggen also points out in his letter that Ramsankar’s letter acknowledges that many private schools, such as designated special education private schools, provide programming for specific student needs.

“I appreciate your comment that these schools should continue to receive government support,” he writes.

After reviewing the letter with PEC, Ramsankar noted that Council was dissatisfied with the response from Eggen and that he will continue to push this issue with the minister.

“Prior to the last election, both the minister and the premier in their former roles had expressed the view that the diversion of public funds to private schools was misguided,” said Ramsankar. “I will continue to remind them of that while I advocate for a stronger public education system.” ❚

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