Traditionelles England ! Kein Pfingstbrauch, sondern eine englische Rudermannschaft in ihrem traditionellen Kostüm, zur Eröffnung der Ruder-Saison.

PHOTOS: Private schoolboys. In Alberta, our taxpayers subsidize ’em! (Photo: Below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, and Progress Alberta Executive Director Duncan Kinney.

Now that’s interesting! According to a new poll, the idea of ending funding for elite private schools enjoys more support in Alberta than does the idea of completing the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline to Vancouver!

The poll on education funding, done by Environics Research for the Alberta Teachers Association, dealt only with public attitudes about public funding for private schools.

While you could argue the choice of topic was motivated by the political and professional interests of the 40,000-member provincial teachers’ union and regulatory association – and someone is sure to – no one can claim Environics is not a quality public opinion research firm using solid methodology. In this case, it based its conclusions on a telephone survey of 815 adult Albertans between Feb. 20 and 28.

On the question of whether public funding for elite private schools that charge more than $10,000 per year per student in tuition should be eliminated, 75 per cent of respondents agreed and more than half, 53 per cent, agreed strongly.

Of the remaining respondents to that question, 11 per cent moderately disagreed and 11 per cent strongly disagreed, for a combined 22 per cent. Three per cent indicated they didn’t know.

Polling done a year ago by another well-known pollster, Abacus Data, indicated similarly high levels of support and an identical level of opposition for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project that currently dominates news coverage in both Alberta and British Columbia. In that survey, 58 per cent of respondents strongly supported, supported or said they could support in some circumstances expansion of Kinder Morgan Inc. megaproject, while 22 per cent were opposed or strongly opposed. Nineteen per cent said they didn’t know.

This is interesting given the positions of Alberta’s two principal political parties, the governing NDP and Opposition United Conservative Party, on both issues.

Both strongly support the pipeline – indeed, their principal argument right now seems to be which of them supports it more.

But the NDP Government led by Premier Rachel Notley gives the impression it would be just as happy if the private school funding issue would go away, notwithstanding the strong public support for defunding elite private schools and a general lack of public enthusiasm for private schools.

By contrast, the UCP led by Jason Kenney is enthusiastic and unstinting in its support for private schools, including continued use of public funds for high-tuition elite private schools that in Alberta charge up to $26,000 per year per student.

Progress Alberta, a progressive advocacy group based in Edmonton, earlier this month identified 17 private schools that charge tuition of more than $10,000 a year, and noted that they continue to pull in the largest per-student private school subsidy in Canada.

The reason for the NDP’s wariness and the UCP’s enthusiasm of this issue should be obvious. Albertans may generally be unenthusiastic about public funds going to private schools, especially chichi high-tuition institutions, but parents’ groups associated with such schools tend to be influential, well connected, well heeled and motivated to back the political parties that support them with time, donations and votes.

That makes support for elite private schools an effective wedge issue that works for parties like Mr. Kenney’s UCP – as long as no one figures out the impact of this level of support on public schools.

The UCP consistently uses the neoliberal buzzword “choice” to describe the supposed benefits of private schools – as if ordinary voters had the choice to sent their kids to a school that charges $26,000 a year for the privilege.

The results of the Environics survey suggest ordinary voters are starting to get it, suggesting both parties might want to reconsider their strategies on this issue.

Environics said the margin of error for a sample of this size is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, with a confidence level of 95 per cent.

Other questions in the Environics survey indicated:

  • Half of the respondents strongly agreed schools that receive public funds should not charge for attendance. (50% strongly agree; 27% moderately agree; 12% moderately disagree; 9% strongly disagree; 2% don’t know.)
  • Fewer respondents thought private schools should be funded by the government. (14% strongly agree; 17% moderately agree; 25% moderately disagree; 43% strongly disagree.)
  • Six in 10 Albertans think the government is giving too much operational money to private schools. (61% too much; 30% just about right; 7% too little.)
  • Support continues to grow for eliminating public funding for private schools and reinvesting the money in the public school system. (49% strongly support; 23% somewhat support; 13% somewhat oppose; 13% strongly oppose; 2% don’t know. The level of strong support was up from 44% in a similar survey in June 2017 and 37% in March 2017.)

Trends, arguably, are important in public opinion, something Alberta political parties forget – or ignore – in their ongoing conversation about the level of public support for that pipeline across the Rockies to B.C. However, that needs to be a topic for another day.

Meantime, the Alberta government continues to “invest” at least $29 million a year in elite private schools to which most of us could never hope to see our children and grandchildren attend. Mr. Kenney, chanting the mantra of “choice,” appears to be committed to increasing that public subsidy while cutting education funding for most Alberta schoolchildren.

Alberta taxpayers spend about $110 million a year to subsidize private schools, excluding those that provide services for special needs children – all without a peep of protest from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other Astro-Turf groups created to support conservative political parties.

According to Progress Alberta’s research, of the five Canadian provinces that subsidize private schools – the others are B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec – Alberta’s subsidy of 70 per cent of the amount paid per public and Catholic school student is the highest in the country.

“Elite private schools need to get off the gravy train of public subsidies,” says Progress Alberta Executive Director Duncan Kinney. (No relation, and not the same spelling either.)

Isn’t it funny, though, how it always turns out that some “gravy trains” have more merit than others in the eyes of conservative beholders!

Join the Conversation


  1. OMG! Based on that picture we should go beyond defunding private schools and just ban them outright. Can you imagine the years of psychotherapy that would be needed after being forced to wear such uniforms? Can you imagine how a student would feel after being seen in public dressed like that.

    Of course it might explain why some of our current crop of conservative politicians are so bizarre and out of touch as they either attended such a school, or they have a secret desire that they did.

  2. FYI: Not a mention of this new poll in any Postmedia publication today.

    If the government is politically averse to outright elimination of private school funding, they should at least consider an immediate and steep reduction in funding levels for all provincially-funded private schools. British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec provide 50 per cent funding for their private schools — Alberta 70 per cent. In the case of BC they have levels of provincial funding that can go as low as 35 per cent, depending on the type and program of the school. A 20 per cent reduction in funding would amount to $22 million in provincial savings that could easily be incorporated into the new Alberta School Nutrition Program that provides lunches for children in Kindergarten to Grade 6. Not hard to make that case — politically speaking.

    Completely scrap the the funding for private schools, but in the event it’s not politically expedient for the government heading into an election, at least consider a reduction in funding levels to financially aid the public system and alleviate some of the pressures they currently are experiencing with class size, lack of teachers and the challenges inherent in providing school lunch programs. Education Minister David Eggen should see this as a “no-brainer.”

  3. Private schools recieve base funding of $5000 per student in Alberta. In the public system for the current year Alberta is spending $13092 per public school student. This includes public school operations and capital funding for school facilities but does not include school board expenses or pensions and debt. When you include funding for kids with special needs the average per student in the private system rises to an average of $7567 per student. All costs in, the public system is $14127 per student. There are 34754 students in the private school system. If those 34,754 students move to the public system it would cost taxpayers an additional $227,986,240 dollars per year. Keep in mind all my kid graduated from public school and I have no kids in the school system at this time.

    1. Although I would like to take you to task over your assertions over school funding and the your contention that you have had children, I’ll restrain myself. In what world would anyone want to channel hard earned tax payer dollars to fund schools run by and for a bunch of elitist ideologues? There are senior citizens (like me) who’s tax dollars unfairly go to subsidize these private schools for the elites, and I for one say stop! Why should any of my cohort eat cat food while the elite ensure that their progeny might avoid the riff-raff? We succeeded because of public education, certainly not in spite of it you tosser!

    2. But of course, those in the private schools wouldn’t all transfer to the private system. Given the cost of tuition, most of their parents are likely well heeled and would be able to scrape up the difference. Thus the cost effect on the public system would likely be minimal. Nice try, Brian.

      1. Well, both my children attend a private school. My wife and I are average wage earners. Both of us must work to make a living. We forgo vacations to places like Mexico, Hawaii, etc (places where many of our friends with children in public school go each and every year routinely). We cannot afford vacations period. We don’t have an expensive car (2003 Honda CRV) and we don’t buy expensive things. Why? Because we fortunately live in a free country and have been provided a choice as to where our money is spent. We receive less funding for our children from a tax pool we pay into equally. We are choosing to spend our hard earned money on our children’s education instead. This is our priority as average wage earners. We are not elite ideologues. Yes, this means we (just like you) pay our taxes dollars to support public education to the tune of $13092 per child on average and private education to the tune of $7567 per student on average. If private education is no longer funded for my two children at the avg of 7.5K per child then we will be moving them to public school. We have to. It’s interesting…because now our 2 kids probably get their share of the 7.5 K each. We pay 6K directly out of our own pockets each year for each child to make up the difference – 12K a year in total diverted to education from our vacation, car, new kitchen, snowmobile, hunting trip, etc fund

        Our kids get 7.5K each from taxes, 6K each from their parents for a total of about 13.5K per year on average.
        Your kids get 13K per kid on avg from my taxes and you get to go on your fancy trips.

        So sure, take the private school funding away. We cannot afford to pay 26K a year so our kids can attend a school with a philosophy that is tuned to our values and life style. It’s a privilege we appreciate in this country and province and only available to us because of tax payers like us, and our own priorities (where our money is invested and spent in education as our top priority) – its parents similar to us that help to make private schools available to the average person (if that is their priority)

        Take the private school funding away and our kids WILL be attending public school. Public schools are fantastic…but it does take our choice away. It does increase the cost for tax payers over all (you will be funding our kids at 13K each instead of 7K). I think this is more an emotional issue based on the misunderstanding of who is using private schools. It’s not just elites. It’s also average people who make customized education their financial priority.

    3. Assuming your numbers are accurate… what percentage of students would actually move to the public system is up for debate. The question really is what is the motivation for right leaning politicians to support this very socialist idea? Similar to the voucher system which was supported by many neoliberal economists in the past the goal is to starve the public system and break the unions. It is hard to explain away the fact that our hard earned tax dollars are going to private for profit companies. As a middle class taxpayer who contributes far more to the pot then I take out I object to corporate welfare. Perhaps these private schools should be allowed to sink or swim on their own. You know like a free market is supposed to run, if there is demand for their product at a price people are willing to pay go for it.

      1. The numbers came from an article on CBC dated February 28,2018 titled:”How much funding private and public schools actually get in Alberta.” As for how many would switch to the public system that is certainly the question. If 80% stayed in the private and 20% moved to the public that would still cost $45,598,560. One other point I would raise is that I would think many private religous schools would be run as non- profits not as for profit corporations. And certainly this is more of an ideological issue than it is a financial for most people. Enjoy your day

        1. The CBC article you reference is not really relevant to this topic. The blogger is talking about private schools charging $10000+ annual tuition fees. The people who can afford fees this high can pay an extra $5000 per year to keep their precious offspring away from the common riff raff. The CBC article does not break out how many students are enrolled in these ultra elite schools so using those numbers makes no sense, you tosser.

  4. The graduates of Upper Canada College and other elite Ontario establishments still seem to run the place without their schools getting provincial financial help. Not sure it would be any different in Alberta should those fancy institutions have to make do without fat government subsidies.

    And the blogger is right. Why no howling from the the self appointed guardian of the taxpayer dollar, the five member CTF? C’mon guys, re-hoist the Mike Duffy pork balloon for a good cause!

  5. I think probably the strongest argument for reducing funding for private schools is that Alberta is more generous than other provinces. However, I think a poll might not capture all the nuances on this, people might respond somewhat differently to funding for private schools for religious and cultural minority groups, than schools for the well off or the elite.

    I agree that using “choice” as an argument is misleading. Those people who can’t pay the $10,000 or $20,000 tuition fees, don’t have a “choice’. In this case “choice” is really only for the well off, so the public at large should not be subsidizing it.

    I am sure funding private schools costs the Alberta government a lot, so reasonable efforts to reduce or contain this cost makes perfect sense. It is ironic that the National Post or the CTF never looks at costs like these, this does indicate that their analysis of government spending is selective and based on ideology.

  6. Commenters like “Farmer Brian” illustrate how pervasive the party line obfuscations have become. He/It is exemplary and in every way a good German! You’ll never never catch those ones! debate them? You’ll expire from lack of breath! Oppose them? They’ll vanish like smoke on a street corner. Defy their logic? A fools errand! His goal is to convince you that it’s impossible to justify a society that doesn’t fit some norm. Enjoy! He and like him are winning!

    1. Little harsh I’d say. He is quoting a CBC articles numbers. If the above article wants to include financial aspect in its opinion then it deserves rebuttal. I don’t prefer cherry picking or omission to obfuscation. Like most (according to the poll) I don’t support private school funding for ideological reasons and fume at “Elite Funding”, but I think pertinent information is valuable even if it doesn’t fit the narrative.

  7. What exactly is an ‘elite public school’? How is defined? How is it differentiated from a private school or a faith based private school? I do not even know what the definition is of elite any more since the politcians seem to have claimed it for themselves….most especially elite politicians.

    1. For the purposes of this story, “elite private school” was defined as a private school charging more than $10,000 per year per student in tuition. DJC

  8. Jason Kenney is the product of a private school. I went to a similar school, and feel pretty confident in saying that Kenney would be regarded by the staff there as just the sort of product that they wanted to turn out – aggressive and doctrinaire.

  9. Public money should go toward supporting the public good, and not the elites.

    It’s a simple concept really, except when the moneyed classes exert undue influence on politicians.

    No public money should go to private schools.

  10. I guess I do not understand why a $10K admission fee is ‘elite’ and an $8K or $5K is not.

    Is the cut off point monetary based?

    I believe the real issue is funding of any school that is not in the public or separate school sector.

  11. The thing i’ll never understand about the NDP across this country is their lack of backbone when it comes to issues that most citizens support . It baffles me that they would worry about political backlash for reducing or removing this private school funding from wealthy parents groups that I’m positive have never voted NDP nor would they in the future . I believe they run a greater risk of losing current supporters by accepting and embracing right wing ideas in the hopes of attracting centre right voters . We already have a Liberal party in Canada . We don’t really need two.

    1. Murray, I share your disappointment over the NDP’s inaction on reducing the level of support to private schools. Personally I think if they reduced it to 50%, which I believe is the next highest level of support among the provinces that provide any support to private schools, it would be a small enough reduction that there would be little migration to public schools that Farmer Brian alluded to. More importantly, I think a reduction like that would fall into the UCP’s category of Changes We’re Stuck With if Jason Kenney wins the next election.

      Remember how Kenney used to say the summer of 2019 would be the summer of the great repeal? He doesn’t say that anymore because the NDP has passed a lot of legislation that, although a UCP government would not have passed it, it would be bad politics to repeal it. During the UCP leadership Kenney campaign argued that it would be bad politics to campaign on reducing minimum wage earners’ salary, and I think it would be poor politics to do it after the election too. Thus I don’t think Kenney would reduce the minimum wage. Likewise I don’t think he will repeal Bill 6. Farmers have gotten used to the change and repealing it would be a real step backward. I am imagining an NDP press conference where they introduce an injured farm worker who has no benefits because the UDP repealed them.

      I think increasing private school’s subsidy back to 70% from the reduced 50% I suggest would fit in the same category, especially if it happens on the same budget that public school funding is increased – the optics are terrible.

      On the political strategy side, I don’t think the NDP’s inaction on this file will cause them any loss of support from their traditional base simply because there is no alternative on the left wing. At the same time, however, I think the NDP did get some support from (small c) conservative voters in the last election, who really wanted the PCs out but couldn’t bring themselves to vote Wildrose. Given Jason Kenney’s socially conservative leanings, those votes may still be up for grabs, although not at the religious schools. Finally, while parents at elite schools only have one vote, cutting their subsidy would feel like a direct attack, and really motivate them to work against the NDP, either through donating to the UCP or helping out with their campaign. Lack of action, however, does not produce any opposite motivation.

      1. What the smoke, arm waving and squid ink from the ideological privateers like our Farmer seeks to achieve is to distract real people from really good and proven solutions. You want a great public education? Prioritize it, tax to fund it, and
        hold the people who run it to account. You want reliable stable utilities like power, water, sewage treatment, transportation, communications? The guy in the Armani suit may not be your best option. Your mileage may vary!

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