Conservative parties compete to demand fat tax subsidies for Alberta’s education special interest groups

Posted on February 27, 2017, 2:00 am
6 mins

PHOTOS: In Alberta, private schoolboys like these would have 70 per cent of the cost of their education paid for by taxpayers! (BBC photo.) Below: Progressive Conservative leadership frontrunner Jason Kenney and Wildrose Education Critic Leela Aheer, both of whom support tax subsidies for shee-shee private schools. Below them: NDP Education Minister David Eggen, who’s apparently OK with them too.

For a supposed sometime tax fighter, Jason Kenney sure seems to favour the high-tax solution when his friends and allies and their special-interest groups stand to benefit.

Take the matter of education taxes, for example, where the Progressive Conservative leadership frontrunner has placed himself noisily in the camp of those who strongly in favour of the use of tax dollars to support high-tuition private schools, not to mention to subsidize religious home schoolers who could be teaching their children anything.

When a group of 14 organizations opposed to this misuse of tax money grabbed some media attention last week with the claim $100 million could be redirected to public, Catholic and francophone schools if we stopped heavily subsidizing elite private schools, agenda-ridden charter schools and home instruction that in some cases is little more than publicly funded All-Year Vacation Bible School, Mr. Kenney was so angry he accused them of all being … New Democrats!

Leastways, he accused the Alberta New Democrats of being behind Thursday’s press conference, which was organized by Public Interest Alberta, through what he called “NDP-linked special interest groups” by naming some of the people involved who are New Democrats.

Well, all’s fair in love and politics, I guess, as long as we remember there’s also a long list of people supporting the same cause who are not New Democrats – like the Edmonton Public School Board, whose trustees have come from all over the political spectrum, and representatives of the Alberta School Boards Association, an organization that has hardly been known for its progressive, NDP-style positions in the past, and which historically has been lousy with ambitious Tories.

Even the Alberta Teachers Association, while it is a union, has traditionally been a generous contributor of talented teachers to the PC benches in the Legislature.

Not that there’s anything unique on the right side of the political aisle about Mr. Kenney’s apparent opinion it’s always the right time to spend tax dollars on your friends. The Wildrose Opposition said pretty much the same thing.

In a news release, Wildrose Education Critic Leela Aheer demanded that Education Minister David Eggen publicly disavow the calls to end tax subsidies of exclusive private educational institutions.

She also repeated the thoroughly discredited claim private schools save taxpayers money by reducing the impact of population growth on the public system. Many of the assumptions on which this is based are false, including the idea all children from impacted private schools would automatically return to the public system.

Remember, private schools in Alberta currently receive 70 per cent of the operational funding of public schools and can charge whatever they please for tuition. The average parent’s contribution through provincial taxes to the cost of education for their child is only 5.9 per cent of the total per pupil cost.

Ontario gives no such subsidy and has more than three times as many private schools.

As for the NDP planning – as Mr. Kenney tendentiously put it – “to radically transform Alberta’s education system,” if only it were so!

Alas, Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats are as disinclined as Mr. Kenney is to do anything about this waste of $100 million.

Mr. Eggen quickly did as instructed by Ms. Aheer and distanced himself unequivocally from the education advocates’ idea. “For the sake of security, for the sake of stability in our education at this point, I have no plans to change that landscape here in the province of Alberta,” he stated.

It’s easy to understand why, I guess. As special interest groups go, the people behind well-heeled private schools and religious education are politically connected, skilled at lobbying and savvy about how to apply political pressure through the media. The NDP has taken on enough significant issues not to be interested in this particular fight, now or in the future, no matter how many of their friends wish they were.

That fact acknowledged, it’s still worth remembering what Alberta’s conservative parties want to do, which is to continue heavily subsidizing private schools and other forms of exclusionary education while cutting funds to public services.

Who do you think will get hurt if that happens?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

23 Comments to: Conservative parties compete to demand fat tax subsidies for Alberta’s education special interest groups

  1. Jason

    February 27th, 2017

    My theory is that if the WRP, and especially Leela Aheer are opposed to something, then it’s the right thing to do. Cut off this privileged entitlement for Alberta’s RW elite ASAP. We don’t need to waste our money on them any longer. They are clearly so not worth it.

    Reply
  2. Sam Gunsch

    February 27th, 2017

    Research undermines private schools lobby… public system delivers better results.

    excerpt: ‘The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.’

    Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins
    FEB. 23, 2017
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html?smid=tw-upshotnyt&smtyp=cur&_r=0

    =======

    Not that Alberta’s political leaders on the right pay much attention to evidence.

    Reply
    • Expar Albertan

      February 27th, 2017

      But you miss the point about many conservative charter school advocates (particularly the wealthy kind) – the aim is more about busting unions and turning over public resources to the for-profit sector. Excellence in education is irrelevant… even a little dangerous.

      Reply
      • Bob Raynard

        February 28th, 2017

        Hi Expar Expat?

        You are right about union busting. The legislation that created charter schools in Alberta expressly prohibits charter school teachers from being members of the ATA, and it certainly is easy to bring up a mental image of Steve West and a few other knuckle draggers using that as their motivation for implementing charter schools.

        Implementing the idea didn’t really go as they hoped, however. Other legislation requires teachers to attend the annual teachers’ convention, but convention is closed to people who are not members, or associate members, of the ATA. So, guess what? Not only was everyone on staff associate members of the ATA, we were allowed to submit the receipt for said membership as a professional development expense!

        Convention not withstanding, we were also encouraged to purchase a membership right at the start of the year so we might be eligible for some of the protection the ATA provides, and most of us did.

        The school also paid salaries that pretty much matched what Edmonton Public paid; personally I felt uncomfortable that we were benefiting from the efforts of the ATA without making more than a token contribution to its coffers. After I retired apparently the school board did try to implement some kind of cost cutting measure and the staff negotiated a contract!

        Your excellence in education comment, however, is off base. Not only did we have excellent results, we had to in order for the school’s charter to be renewed every 5 years. Before you think I am blowing my own horn, however, I will acknowledge that we were also not required to provide any kind of special needs program, and this very much resulted in a non-level playing field.

        Reply
    • Val

      February 28th, 2017

      there is a catch – the private school very picky in selection of candidates to be enrolled contrary to public, which must accept any and every applicant, despite possible problems of individual student.

      Reply
  3. Val

    February 27th, 2017

    don’t worry, anyway there will be no money left, after subsidising those, who can afford to replace their roof shingles by the solar cells.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      February 28th, 2017

      Sure Val.

      Go ahead and repeat the RWNJ myth that Alberta will be broke because of progressive initiatives to help Albertans.

      In 1989 when our first Family Day was instituted, RWNJs claimed that it would lead to economic collapse because their greedy corporate friends couldn’t afford it. The same refrain came when the NDP dared to improve minimum wage incrementally and microscopically.

      And now, yeah, sure we will be broke because the provincial government is subsidizing solar energy with a mere $36 million. That’s mostly a symbolic act rather than a genuine shift in policy, by the way.

      Anyone who thinks $36 million will bankrupt Alberta is a fool who lacks the facts. But, don’t let that stop you, because RWNJ hate facts. Facts are the enemy of propaganda.

      Reply
    • Jim

      February 28th, 2017

      private school subsidies cost nearly three times as much as the solar investment program costs ($100 million to $36 million)

      Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      February 28th, 2017

      Oh please. Are you able to tell the difference between small and large sums? 36 million for a one time tax expense is neither here nor there, and if it succeeds in kickstarting a viable solar industrie it will be money well spent. It used to be possible to take your remarks seriously…why throw that away?

      Reply
    • Val

      March 1st, 2017

      seems you guys don’t got main point.
      it’s not about sum but rather about sense of action with bit of sarcastic touch..
      for medium sized house solarization of electric power feed would cost about $40 000.
      $40 000/25 years (cells lifespan) = $1600 per year, which is cost $133 per month.
      my electricity for last month cost me $95.53 GST included. why one should go in all hassles and troubles attached with solar cells installation and maintenance to pay more,
      particularly if majority of albertans can’t grab $40 000 from under their mattresses to go solar, thus must borrow those money with perspective interest payment be greater than $133 monthly?
      so, this incentives from government pretty much resemble past cut from 7% to 5% of GST, beneficial only to ones, who have plenty of cash to spend on expensive goods and services and present gift $14 000 in Ontario to every proud owner, who can fork out $100 000 for electric car.

      Reply
      • mr perfect

        March 2nd, 2017

        So currently you pay $95.35 per month for electricity. Do you believe you’ll pay the same in 5 years? 10 years? Do you believe there will be no increase in hydro prices at all? Do you believe hydro will always be less than $133 per month? How do you heat your home, by natural gas? What does natural gas cost monthly on average? A house with solar panelling could also heat the home with electricity. What would be the total cost then, have you calculated that? When you go to sell your house do you recoup the extra costs in the sale of your house? There are people who will pay more to not have to pay the costs of utilities and would like to go green. As well more new house construction may include these solar panels from the beginning. Buying in bulk allows the builders to get a discount on individual units which means they might not pay $40,000 per for solar panelling. As technology improves and demand increases, the cost of solar panelling should go down. But when you only look at the current date on the callender and get stuck on that date, it becomes yesterday’s news and your thinking gets stuck along with it.

        BTW, what did your rant have to do with funding to private schools?

        Reply
  4. J.E. Molnar

    February 27th, 2017

    Climenhaga is correct in his assumption that at $100M in funding, “who needs the headache?” Besides, a number of votes are attached to these private/religious schools. It’s going to take every vote possible to ensure a second term NDP government. Smart money would seem to suggest; why risk the chance of upsetting potential NDP voters, even though the likelihood is that many private school supporters favour another party. Eggen is being prudent in riding out the clamour for change at this juncture. Given a second term, then it may be worth revisiting some fundamental realignment. For now, put the issue to rest and move forward. Smart!

    Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    February 27th, 2017

    I am wondering if the funding formula call for private schools to receive 70% of the public school grant, or is that just the way the numbers line up? Why this is important is if Mr. Kenney does take the reins in Alberta, and does reduce the public school grant, would that automatically reduce the private school grant, or would the private school grant remain the same, leaving it with a higher percentage of the public school grant?

    Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    February 27th, 2017

    I have beat this drum so often Einstein’s definition of insanity is coming to mind, but what the heck – I have never claimed to be sane anyway!

    As a former charter school teacher, Alberta charter schools are not the same as the charter schools in the States. They are fully publicly funded public schools, that just have a theme. (Edmonton Public operates several de facto charter schools) As such they would not be affected by any reduction in private school funding.

    Reply
  7. Sassy

    February 27th, 2017

    I’m surprised both right wing parties have come out so strongly in favour of a continued 70% subsidy for private schools. Do their working-class, public-school supporters agree with this policy? At least their views are out in the open – no back tracking now.

    I’m very disappointed in Eggen’s response. I wonder if reducing the subsidy to 50% (the same percentage provided by the other four provinces that financially support private schools – BC, SK., MB, QC) would be something the NDP government would consider for this upcoming budget. If they don’t do something, they are ticking off all of us who see deficiencies in the public schools caused by limited funds. I’d also like to see a requirement for all private school boards receiving public subsidies to post their financial statements on the Alberta Education website, the same as the Public, Separate, Francophone, and Charter boards now do.

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      February 28th, 2017

      I think it’s more the tax-is-theft libertarians on the one hand, and the home schooling fundies on the other. Both manners of loony can get behind transferring public finds into private hands.

      Reply
  8. Adam

    February 27th, 2017

    Somewhat related but note this:
    Charter schools subsidy: $5,000/student
    Catholic schools subsidy: $12,000/student

    The Government ought to prioritize its subsidies better.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      February 28th, 2017

      Where are you getting your numbers from, Adam? I am pretty sure the per student grant is the same in both systems.

      Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      February 28th, 2017

      Nice try at deflection. Except, oh wait, it’s much more like a lie. The separation between protestant and catholic schools goes back to the establishment of the Province, and reflects the history of the development of the nation. It is not easily changed, although some provinces have taken this step, and Alberta probably should too. No obligation to fully or partially fund any other form of school flows from this historical contingency, any more than we an obligation to recognize Mandarin or Urdu as official languages, simply because they are commonly spoken now than in former time. In light of these facts, it is simply a grotesque lie, the kind a Conservative propagandist would certainly tell, to pretend that one component of these established boards receives a subsidy.

      Reply
  9. pogo

    February 27th, 2017

    So, public healthcare, education and utilities (power, roads, water) should be left to the same people who populate our telephones and mailboxes with scams that challenge even the most sophisticated minds? Is that our bottom line? Should we limit our Government to exclude these Trumpian Amway artists from censure? Yay! Bring on the home schooled generation! Insert swear here. Sorry boss. I would’ve sworn from start to finish, if I’d thought you’d let me!

    Reply
  10. Brogan

    February 28th, 2017

    I would bet money every home schooler in the province is a Christian fanatic looking to prevent their kids from learning anything factual. So nuts to them.

    Reply
    • Sassy

      March 1st, 2017

      In numbers, you are close. When Alberta Education listed all the public and private authorities the Trinity/Wisdom home-schooling parents could switch to, I checked to see how many of the private ones had Christian in their name or mission statement. I found Alberta has 18 private school authorities who oversee home schooling families and 13 are Christian-based.

      Reply

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