Parents urge cuts to begin at Alberta's private schools
CALGARY - If the Stelmach government is determined to cut $80 million from the education budget, some parents say the province should start by reducing public funding for private schools.
But the founder of a prominent Calgary private school says cutting support for independent schools could result in a larger drain on taxpayer dollars because it would mean more students enrolling in public system.
Thirteen months ago, Alberta Education increased funding to private schools by 10 per cent.
Private schools now receive 70 per cent of the per-pupil operating grants that public school boards receive -- which worked out to about $117.7 million during the last school year.
It was the first time in a decade private schools had received a funding increase.
The move was meant to ensure educational choice for Alberta parents, Alberta Education Minister Dave Hancock said at the time.
But continuing to support private schools doesn't sit well with many Calgary parents as school boards have been called on to return $44 million of their savings to help cover a mandated$80 million in cuts from this year's $6.2-billion education budget.
"The government has mismanaged Alberta's finances to the point of ruin and who is going to pay for it: our kids," said Laura Shutiak, president of the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils.
If cuts must be made, "it would be very easy to take it out of private schools," she said.
Smaller Calgary schools are already feeling the pinch, and further education cuts could mean bigger class sizes, said Megan Evans, whose 10-year-old son attends a public school.
"Typically if a person had a need or desire to put their child in a private school, they have a personal mandate. They should maybe pay for that," said Evans.
Calgary-Varsity Liberal MLA Harry Chase said he understands the Stelmach administration needs to balance the budget. But he would rather save money by cutting public subsidies to private schools.
"Private schools are by their very nature exclusive. If parents really want a private option, they can pay for it;public dollars should be reserved for public schools, which are open to all," Chase said.
Private schools actually reduce some of the strain on the public system at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers, said Webber Academy founder Neil Webber.
While private schools receive 70 per cent of the per-pupil grant, independent institutions don't get access to many other education subsidies such as for technology upgrades or transportation, he said.
"The fact is for every child learning at a private school to go to a public school would cost the government more money," said Webber.
It's not as if school boards are the only ones being asked to dig deep to help address budget cuts, he said.
Private schools have received word from the province that they, too, will be expected to give back some cash this year, said Webber.
He estimated his school would have its budget cut by between $30,000 and $35,000 this school year.
"I'm not upset with that at all. Given the economic times, I think we have to be part of the process," said Webber.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Can anybody briefly explain to me what "Blue Book" Grants are? I looked at them and noticed Neils delightful "non-profit" received $2.5m from 07-08, and from 08-09Q3, $1,885,197. This is vastly higher than the supposed "70 per cent of the per-pupil grant" and it seems like a considerable oversight on someones part. What's going on?