School Choice Is An Alberta Value

The way the Alberta government funds schools is unfair.

But, if you only read media headlines, it’s probably not unfair in the way you think.

Take the media coverage of the education portion of Alberta’s 2024 budget, for example.

Many in the media and in various union and lobby groups attacked the budget because it increased funding for "private" schools.

("Private" is the pejorative term the left uses for independent schools, while simultaneously complaining that they receive public money.)

They claimed that private/independent schools received three times as much new funding as public schools did.

(Some even tried to make it sound like independent schools receive three times the total funding per student than public schools do, which is ludicrous!)

The reality is that only the percentage increase in funding for independent schools (13.5%) was three times the percentage increase in funding for public schools (4.4%).

This percentage increase still translates into a far smaller increase in funding in dollars for independent schools compared with public schools, because there are far fewer independent schools than there are public schools.

And, crucially, it represents no change in the per-student amount of funding that independent schools receive compared with public schools.

That’s because, despite all the rhetoric, the Alberta government still only gives independent schools 60% of the per-student funding they give to public schools, and this number hasn’t changed.

Basically, the only reason why independent schools saw a larger percentage increase in their funding is simply that independent schools are growing more quickly!

A faster rate of increase in enrollments for independent schools compared with public schools will, automatically, mean a faster rate of increase in funding for independent schools than for public schools, even though independent schools receive less per student.

And, remember, every student that attends an independent school actually saves the government money, leaving more money for students in the public system, because the government only gives 60% of the funding per-student to independent schools.

So, yes, the way the Alberta government funds schools of choice is unfair.

But a fair funding model, where all students are funded equally, would actually see more funding provided to independent schools - not less.

Let’s dig a little deeper into why this would make sense for Alberta…


By The Numbers

Budget 2024 was the first budget in our memory to address the crippling growth issues being faced by independent schools.

Independent schools are currently growing at a slightly brisker rate than public schools, but that baseline comes from an interlude during the pandemic restrictions that saw 14% (!!) growth for independent schools, while public schools saw a 2.2% reduction in enrollment.

Many independent schools are facing waiting lists exceeding their enrollment - growing pains typically only associated with charter schools.

This is because Alberta has exceedingly high barriers for new independent or charter schools to start up.

These schools must follow all the same regulations as public schools, with less financial support, particularly for building projects.

If you don’t include childcare services - which unlike independent schools, are not required to deliver the Alberta Curriculum - Alberta has only added 3 net new independent schools in the last 9 years.

Charter schools, likewise, even since the senseless and heartless cap on their total number was lifted in 2020, have not been allowed to establish quickly enough to keep up with demand.

While our estimates have a little over 12,000 students now in charter schools, we estimate roughly 25,000 students on waiting lists for charter schools.


Dishonest Attacks

So, if we care about Alberta keeping up with its student growth, it’s clear that attention should be focused on the charter and independent sectors.

Allowing for more seats in charter and independent schools will even relieve much of the growth pressure on public schools, as students are more able to access the schools they would like to attend!

But when a government finally giving attention to schools of choice is portrayed as unfair to public schools, you can predict what will come next.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is claiming Alberta funds its public schools less than any other province.

And, right on cue, Sarah Hoffman - seeking the support of the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s 46,000 members in the race to lead the New Democratic Party - says the public system is being starved, so she calls for the public system to eat up charter schools, and for independent schools that charge “high fees” to be starved instead.

Of course, she ignores that - by definition - if public schools are starved, then charter and independent schools are starved all the more so.

In fact, each and every family that leaves a charter or independent schools will only add to the strain on the public system and actually cost more taxpayer money than they currently cost.

That’s no recipe for stronger public schools.


The Heart Of The Matter

But is that Alberta Teachers’ Association claim that triggered these responses even true?

Is public education being starved?

Is Alberta falling behind other provinces?

They claim this information comes from StatCan, but it certainly does not reflect StatCan’s own data.

We went to the source:

“Annual expenditure by educational institutions per student”.

They show Alberta spending $14,467 per K-12 student per year - more than British Columbia and thousands of dollars more than the Alberta Teachers’ Association claims.

Is that still too little?


It’s, frankly, impossible to know.

One of the great advantages of market competition is that it reveals the correct price.

It’s why Soviet commissars had to check prices from outside the communist bloc whenever they needed to set an internal price for something they had made a public service.

But what really matters to parents is not how much money we and our neighbours are expected to pay in taxes for our kids’ education, but the outcomes we see from it.

And there, Alberta’s public education excels - 2nd among all jurisdictions in the world in reading, 2nd in science, 7th in math.

That is not surprising to anyone familiar with the overwhelming empirical evidence that school choice improves the performance of public schools.

That’s why neither the NDP government in British Columbia or the NDP government from 2015 - 2019 in Alberta restricted access to schools of choice.

When they seeking the votes of all Albertans, not just party members, even the NDP accept that school choice is better for all kids, including kids in public schools.

The outcomes are what really matter, not how much money can be thrown at the problem.


The Neglected Value

After all, the education system is about educating kids, not just employing adults, right?

Which brings us to the final outcome - so often ignored in these discussions - even though parents consistently say it’s more important than academic outcomes.


Without choice in education, families are trapped in a winner-takes-all system of political decision making, where other people's values can be enforced on their kids.

School choice is education money following the child so no one is trapped in a school failing them.

It’s the peaceful way of resolving disputes over what education should look like, far better than politics.

And it benefits everyone, including those who choose public education.

Sounds like it gives Albertans great value!


Speaking Of Value

As you’ve probably noticed, debates around education policy are full of misleading information.

We work hard to correct the record, promote the facts, and make sure parents are fully informed.

But, if you want us to be able to dispel more myths about school choice, join us as a member today.

For just $10/month, you can ensure we have the stable funding necessary to bring Albertans the correct information.

We’ve accomplished a lot, over a short time, with a little, so you know you’re getting great value for your dollar here too!



Fighting for Value,

Jeff and the Alberta Parents’ Union Team

P.S. If you'd rather provide a one-off contribution, you can do that too. Your contribution of $5, $25, or even $100 is greatly appreciated. Click here to donate today


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  • Alberta Parents' Union
    published this page in News 2024-03-20 14:29:48 -0600