Publicly funded private schools. Rationalize this.

There was an interesting twitter-storm on my feed today. Entirely to do with education in Alberta, which is a welcome change from all the political manoeuvring that’s been going on lately.

First, you should really watch this video for some context.

The debate that’s raging around private schools seems to be about the inequity that exists between private schools, that enjoy both provincial funding (70% of their counterparts), and charge tuition (up to $18,000 in the case of the Webber Academy), and their solely publicly funded counterparts.

Proponents argue that private schools are more efficient than public schools, providing better education for less of the taxpayer’s money. They also might argue that parents are paying their fair share of taxes to support the general education system, and are choosing to use discretionary spending dollars towards their children’s education, which arguably is better spent than buying a Porsche or something.

People opposed to this system of publicly subsidizing private schools argue that it creates a hugely unequal system where the wealthier families, already privileged members of society, are given even more privilege. And given the vast discrepancy between the schools featured in the above video, it’s hard not to agree.

I’m going to lightly touch on the issue of publicly funded religious schools in this province as well, being a guy that went K-12 in a small-town Alberta Catholic school. Religion aside, funding two streams of the same educational curriculum is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great education. But I lived in a town of 1500 people with two K-12 systems. There were 3 students in my Physics 30 class. Three. Not a good use of the taxpayer’s dollars, any which way you slice it. Had both schools been bursting at the seams and being given the same funding for the same number of students, then it’s less of an issue. But we wouldn’t dream of building two hospitals a few blocks apart, would we?

Back to the issue of private schools. I have no problem with the idea in a general sense, so long as they’re truly private. I’m having a tough time subsidizing ANY school that has a 450-seat state of the art theatre when every public school uses the gymnasium. An easy solution would be to set a base amount of funding that goes to schools (public, separate, private, charter, whatever) on a per-student basis. If a school chooses to charge tuition, great. They just have to give back the taxpayer’s money on a dollar for dollar basis. That money then gets re-allocated into the worst performing schools in the province, or the poorest postal codes.

Students who attend private schools are already so far up the opportunity ladder from their poorer counterparts that the last thing they need is a boost from the taxpayer.



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