Fairness and equity for Alberta Public Schools

On Tuesday March 6th I moved the following notice of motion to be debated at our March 21st meeting.

Be it resolved that the Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Government of Alberta to develop a framework to ensure Public schools get a fair and equitable share of schools, modernizations, portables, and capital project spending. 

  1. All schools, portables modernizations, and capital funding to Public and Catholic schools are  awarded by the provincial government.
  2. We lack transparent policy from the provincial government how schools are prioritized and awarded between different school districts.
  3. Public students and families across Alberta– especially in Edmonton– need their fair and equitable share of capital funding– especially for new schools
  4. Despite only 25% of Albertans being Catholic, the government appears to provide them an unfair and inequitable amount of school dollars, sometimes between 30-50%.
  5. Fairness and equity in transparent, defensible provincial decision-making would prevent unreasonably advantaging one group over another.

Rationale:

As Alberta spends $3.5Billion over the next five yearsfair and equitable process  is essential. Education’s needs are looked at in the context of the infrastructure needs of other government ministries, so naturally we need to make sure schools are rationed in a fair and equitable way.

No school district is having their needs fully-met, but some districts appear to be seeing their needs met slightly more. Edmonton public parents and community members need to know that our board and fulfill our fiduciary and moral duty to public education.

Does this seem fair?

Depending on the years, the inequity might be worse. For example, looking at modernizations in 2006: 36% of the funding went to the Catholic District while 64% went to the Public District. There were years when no schools were awarded so new schools should not be the only metric considered, It appears previous governments have let down public education families and the current government needs to rapidly course-correct. In September 2016: three public and two Catholic schools opened. 40% went to the Catholic district. In September 2017:  11 new public schools are under construction and Five new Edmonton Catholic schools. 32% of funding went to the Catholic district.

According to the province’s own 2016 Unfunded Capital Projects list despite only 25% of Edmontonians being Catholic, the Catholic district are getting 50% of the new schools in Edmonton! (I would think that six Public schools for two Catholic schools would be more fair and equitable.)

It appears the Government of Alberta has been unfairly and inequitably handing out money to school districts (New Schools, Modernizations, Modulars, Portables), denying public school students their fair share of the funding. As a result, the government has been artificially inflating Catholic enrollment (more space means more enrolment, means more justification for more space). I hear regularly from parents who would have chosen a public school if it were available and closer to their home, but instead opted for the Catholic district instead of a longer bus ride. This is an unfair penalty against non-catholic students and families in our city who are waiting for a new school, taking a longer bus ride, shuttled out of their current school, or is sitting in a crumbling building awaiting a modernization. Non-catholic families should not be penalized by government bias towards the Catholic school system.

How should funding be provided to Public or Catholic schools?

Here are a few ideas:

Enrolment: In 2016 Catholic School Boards (separate) made up about 23% of total enrolment in Alberta Schools. Public Schools 67%. In 2016 Edmonton (133,167 combined EPSB&ECSD students), Roughly 25-30% (40,216) go to the Catholic District and ~70% (92,951) go to the public board. (I don’t have the total student numbers for Charters/Francophone for Edmonton.)

Declared Catholics: The most recent numbers I can find from declarations on census indicate that in 2011: 24.3% Catholic in Alberta and 25.9% are Catholic in Edmonton.

Property taxOnly 17% sent their property taxes to Catholic Schools in Edmonton. Alberta-wide the number is closer to 11%.

Clear and transparent policy as to the appropriate ratio of funding that should be going to Catholic or Public boards would be a step in this direction. As a future step, I would also make the case that inequity merits greater investment on a go-forward basis to restore fairness to public students and families.

This has been a bone of contention that I’ve heard from many other school trustees across Alberta and I certainly hear from parents in new and mature areas in Edmonton. Fairness and equity in transparent, defensible policy would prevent one group from unreasonably advantaging one group over another.

It is wrong to expect non-Catholic families to send their children to Catholic schools or face ride times to public schools further away.

Although Catholic schools are fully-funded by the provincial government, It is important to correct the common myth that the Catholic School Districts are the same as a public school district with the same purpose and obligations to the community. Public school districts have a legal obligation and requirement to take all students at a designated school Catholic districts are only legally obliged to accept the Catholic.

According to the lobby group for Catholic Schools, the ACSTA:

Catholicism and Catholic education is not an alternative program offered in a secular school but a worldview, encompassing a Christian perspective, imbued with the Spirit, taught by faith witnesses who are more than teachers but sacraments to God’s grace, and Catholicism is permeated throughout the curriculum, as well as school life in general, be it through sports or extracurricular activities. (Full statement)

I appreciate and respect their evangelization mission, however it is their mission and catholic evangelization should not be the mission of Education Minister David Eggen in distributing operational funding or Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason in awarding new schools. Supporting my motion would renew the call for “public oversight and full transparency” that Premier Notley campaigned on:

“Albertans depend on our schools and hospitals for the high-quality education and health care that matters most to families,” said Notley. “But for years, the PCs put their own political interests at the top of the infrastructure list. It’s time to end the political games that too often decide when and where shovels hit the ground.”

There is no other issue more critical to the future of public education than being able to provide the right schools in the right places– right now.

I’m not advocating that the provincial government stop supporting Catholic schools, I just want to make sure Billion-dollar decisions are done in a fair, transparent, and equitable deal for public education.

I’m asking my colleagues to join public families in asking for our fair share.