If Ponoka News’ most recent poll on separate religious school systems is any indication, Alberta residents want choice when it comes to their children’s education.
By the time the poll closed on Monday, there were 541 votes with a slight majority in favour at 291 (53.79 per cent) and 248 votes (45.84 per cent) against. The remaining two votes (0.37 per cent) were unsure.
Watching the results roll in showed votes went back and forth in favour and against the idea.
Once political activist Luke Fevin tweeted the poll, voting and comments started to heat up. “The @PonokaNews is holding an online vote; ‘Should Alberta keep it’s separate Catholic school system?’ #Ponoka may surprise you. Vote here.”
— Luke Fevin (@According2Luke) June 6, 2018
Just over one third of Alberta’s school authorities are Catholic, which shows residents have a desire for religious education for their children.
For the school divisions in Ponoka, St. Thomas Aquinas Roman (STAR) Catholic sits at around 4,000 student population, scattered from Drayton Valley to Lacombe and Wolf Creek Public Schools has around 7,300 students from Rimbey to Mecca Glen.
This shows a majority of students in the public system in this area, but there are some communities where the gap is smaller. Red Deer Public Schools has around 10,000 students while Red Deer Catholic Regional Division has just over 9,000 students.
This reality points to what some Ponoka News readers spoke about: choice.
Chad Starko pointed out that the many differing opinions on Ponoka News’ poll shows why the province needs separate religious education.
“It seems that, because some people are emotionally against the Catholic schools, they believe they should have the right to prevent others from making their own choice in educational system,” said Starko, adding that there is a clear demand for Catholic education.
“Doing a search on monopolies versus a competitive system quickly indicates the strength of a dual system — some competition creates a better product for all (we cannot deny that education of students is the product/service of any school system),” said Starko.
Reader Thalia Hibbs, who is also a former STAR Catholic trustees chairperson, provided comments in several areas of the discussion on Ponoka News’ Facebook page. “Tax dollars support nearly every school in this province. Public, separate, Francophone, charter, private,” explained Hibbs.
“And under those categories you have public religious schools, private arts schools, charter language schools and every other combination in between you can imagine.”
There are some who see having a publicly funded Catholic education as somewhat elitist. Trevor Bos stated, “It’s no longer the 19th century and the rationale for the Catholic board no longer exists in Canadian society. It only remains as a distinctly Christian privilege.”
One area of misinformation related to who actually runs the publicly-funded Catholic school division, was clarified later on by Hibbs.
Facebook user Lynnsey Harder stated that they are not interested in a separate system funded with tax dollars, adding that, “…a public board runs the school, not a church-based local organization. There is a difference between a publicly funded private school and a publicly funded religion program in a public system.”
Her issue appears to be with a more private system where the church could potentially have an actual say in the education. Hibbs clarified that the Catholic school districts follow the same rules as the public system.
“Catholic — properly referred to as separate but in practice typically Catholic — schools are not private, they are equal to public schools and are 100 per cent under the School Act and must comply with it in every way,” said Hibbs.
And then there were those who feel these separate systems create a duplication of services and infrastructure.
Chris Demeule’s thoughts were that having two school boards in the same territory is, “…costly, inefficient, and ultimately not what is best for student learning.”
“In my community (Wainwright, just over 6,000 people) we have a small public high school spitting distance from a small Catholic high school. In a sensible world these student bodies could be combined so that the school could hire more specialist teachers and provide a greater range of option classes,” said Demeule.
Alberta residents get to decide which division their tax dollars go to however, which is enough reason for those who prefer the Catholic education system.
“My children are in a Catholic school and I pay my taxes like everyone else. It’s my right to pick where my kids go,” said Candice Assoun.
Editor’s note: Some comments have been edited for grammar.
Ponoka News’ web polls are a way to engage with readers and get a feel for what residents want. They do not represent an official petition or plebiscite. Check at www.ponokanews.com/web-poll for more polls.