EDMONTON, Alberta, March 13, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — An alliance of Alberta’s public sector unions, public school boards and teachers has called for the defunding of the province’s 225 independent, mostly Christian schools that educate 34,000 students.
“Public funding for education should be focused on building the best public, Catholic, and Francophone school systems possible,” said Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, the left-wing lobby group leading the attack. “Private schools in Alberta receive some of the highest subsidies in Canada, while core government campaign promises in education remain unfulfilled. We need a change of priorities.”
Reducing funds going to the private system will go a long way toward lessening the financial burden on families and recommit support for the public education system,” added Carolyn Blasetti, executive director of Support Our Students Alberta.
However, Donna Trimble, head of Parents for Choice in Education, said all of the alliance’s arguments rely on “false premises.”
First, Trimble told LifeSiteNews, the money at stake is not a “subsidy.” “These are not the government’s dollars. They are the taxpayers’ dollars, Alberta’s independent school parents are taxpayers too.”
Second, there would no savings for the public. In fact, “It is not rocket science to discern that even if half these children return to the public system, it would cost the taxpayers at least $750 million over five years,” said Trimble. “As it stands, independent schools receive around $5,000 for each student each year, while public school children bring over $10,000 per year to their school.”
Third, the idea that these schools are full of children from wealthy families is also false. Most are “middle class and lower-middle,” said Trimble. Therefore, they would switch to public schools if they had to pay for their child’s schooling entirely.
While it is not true that defunding independent schools would save taxpayers’ money, it would bring more money into the public system, said Trimble, that would go to the Alberta Teachers Federation and other public unions who staff that system.
Alberta’s New Democratic Party government and its education minister, David Eggen, have until lately paid lip service to the highly pluralistic education system they inherited two years ago when they ended eight decades of conservative government.
However, since last month’s call for defunding, Eggen has changed his tune. First, he responded noncommittally to challenges in the Legislature on the question last month. Then, early in March, the Calgary Herald asked him again about independent school funds. He replied, “To say everything stays static forever is to be not realistic. I’m always looking for ways by which I can provide good quality education for the most efficient use of public money.”
Along with the independent schools and their partial funding, there are 23 fully state-supported Catholic school districts and, the public system with many charter schools, each with its own guiding philosophy, including Christian ones. As well, there is a parallel Francophone public system and thousands of homeschoolers.
The socialist NDP government is also embroiled in an ideological fight with Catholic and Christian schools. It has joined the international movement to use schools to normalize same-sex relationships, gender fluidity and transgenderism.
So far, this has taken the form of forcing Christian schools to allow homosexual clubs and “trans” students who are males biologically to use female washrooms and change rooms. However, the government is also engaged in a multiyear project to rewrite the entire curriculum to favor sexual minorities and indoctrinate the next generation of Albertans.
Columnist Ted Byfield, founder of the now-defunct Alberta Report and Report news magazines, is certain the attack on private school funding and the long-term assault on the hearts and minds of Alberta’s students are connected.
“I believe Eggen not only knew that this [attack on independent school funding] was coming. I think the government organized it,” Byfield told LifeSiteNews. “Now they can do what they want to do anyway and say, ‘We are just responding to popular opinion.’”
Byfield said the Notley government’s quarrel with Christian and Catholic schools is ideological. “The ideology is that there is no such thing as any objective truth or morality. But Christians believe, ‘Yes, you can know some things to be true.’”
Byfield said it was “outrageous” that the Alberta Teachers Association should recommend such a self-serving policy to the government, when the latter depends on ATA support for re-election. He added that it looked like “influence peddling.”
The Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta said in a statement that it “strongly rejects this proposal, and the flawed premise it is based on.” Each independent school student saved taxpayers $7,800 a year, it said. Independent schools “provide a range of choice as is appropriate in a pluralistic society.”
Adriana LaGrange, president of the Catholic School Trustees Association, told LifeSiteNews that her group supported the right of parents to choose the education their children receive. She added, “From a social justice perspective, the tax dollars would have to follow their choice. Times are tough right now in terms of funding, but this is a time for different school systems to support each other, not cannibalize each other.”
Jason Kenney, the front-runner in the Progressive Conservative leadership race, joined the fray by starting a petition in support of independent schools. It has already gathered 4,000 signatures. Kenney is campaigning to unite the PCs with Alberta’s other social conservative party, the Wildrose. The latest polls suggest they could easily defeat the NDP if united, ending its experiment on the province’s youth.