Should private schools receive public funding?

To the Editor;

The debate over public versus private education has bubbled up again recently, with lobby groups, unions and even the Edmonton Public School Board supporting Mr. Eggen’s bid to cut off all provincial government funding for private education. The same view was proposed in a recent letter to the editor. The argument put forward is that shutting down all private schools would somehow save the government money. It has been a few years, but having served a term on the Parkland County School Board, this got my attention. So I decided to look at a few numbers. According to the stats that I could find there are currently about 650,000 students from Kindergarten to grade 12 in Alberta. The annual operational budget for public school boards for this age group is about 7.1 billion. By the old math that is over $10,000 per student. When I looked at government payments to private schools, I found that to be about $263 million for about 35 thousand students. That works out to well under $8000 per student. The Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta (AISCA) calculates the difference even greater. That is because the above number is only operational and does not include about 1.4 billion allotted annually to public school capital projects (classroom space). Private schools get nothing for buildings nor classroom space, and as far as I can see (a few exceptions where private school students are allowed to ride the public school busses) nothing for transportation. So if you put it together, the cost to taxpayers is at least $12,000 per student per year in the public system compared to $8000 in Private schools. So the argument that 3% of the budget going to educate about 5% of Alberta students is a travesty - it must be the new math. If Mr. Eggen and his cohorts get their way and force 35 thousand more students to show up on the doorstep of the public system the net cost to taxpayers will increase by about $4000 for each of these students per year.

I am inclined to think that the reason for lobbying the shutdown of private schools is not the cost, but something else. Perhaps quality of education. Some parents choose to spend extra money to send their children to a private school because of academics. They believe that overall their child will receive a better education in a private school. So I did some checking. I could not find a similar Canadian chart, but the one I found for the US showed that in every subject tested (Reading, Math, Writing, History, Geography, Civics) private school students out performed public school students. So if it costs the government less, and academic quality is not a problem, then what is the concern?

This seems to be the kicker. The majority of private schools operate because some parents prefer a “faith based” education over the “humanistic” education of the public system (if you want specific examples of where these bases clash, I would be glad to provide some). I suspect this is the real reason behind the fight to close them down.

Cecil Cowie

Three Hills, AB