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OPINION: Private school funding is out of whack

‘Don’t force me to fund your choices’
Jonathan Teghtmeyer. (Photo submitted)

By Jonathan Teghtmeyer

Imagine if Elon Musk said that the state of California should help fund his private planes and helicopters because he still pays taxes for state highways even though he doesn’t use them. Shouldn’t the government fund choice in transportation?

Seems absurd, doesn’t it? Even for Elon Musk.

What if I want to hire a personal security detail to follow me around? Shouldn’t the government use some of the police budget to pay for my security? Don’t you support choice in protective services?

So why is the view on education treated so differently? Why, in Alberta, do we believe that we must fund a public education system and also fund the wants of people who choose not to use it?

It’s not the same in other provinces. Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island don’t fund private schools. Even provinces that do fund private schools fund them at a lower rate than we do. In B.C., some private schools receive 50 per cent of the funding of public schools, but more elite schools receive just 35 per cent. Saskatchewan and Manitoba fund at 50 per cent and Quebec funds at 60 per cent. Alberta is an outlier, funding private schools at 70 per cent.

Public school advocates say that dollars spent on private schools are diverted funds that could and should be spent on public education. Private school advocates say that their parents pay taxes; therefore, their children should have their schools funded too. So which is it?

I ran some calculations on how much a two-income family with two school-aged children contributes to education. While funding for education comes from general revenue, parents support that revenue in two forms: property tax and income tax.

The average employed Albertan contributes $5,787 in provincial personal income tax, and the average residential home is assessed $1,167 in education property tax. For a two-income household, that amounts to an average of $12,742 in provincial taxes.

With education, including capital expenses, making up 12.5 per cent of provincial expenses, it’s fair to say a two-income family of four contributes $1,591 of their provincial tax bill toward education, about $800 per child.

However, private schools receive about $5,213 in per pupil grants from Alberta Education (in addition to a few other non-capitated grants). So each time a student is enrolled in a private school instead of a public school, $5,000 in funding is redirected from the public school to the private school, only $800 of which comes from the parents.

Why is it that parents feel they are no longer obligated to fund public education when they send their child to a private school?

I have no problem with people sending their kids to private schools — that is their choice. But choice is being used as a pseudonym for privatization. Just because you choose private schools, don’t force me to fund your choices.

This is way out of whack. The degree to which Alberta subsidizes private schools — some of which charge more than $20,000 a year in tuition — is absurd.

Almost as absurd is funding the private plane fleet of a wealthy billionaire who chooses not to use public highways.

Jonathan Teghtmeyer is an executive staff officer and associate coordinator for communications with the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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