Category: Second Term (2013-2017)

Can we open a Catholic Faith program within the public school system?

(For the EPSB Board Meeting Feb 14th, 2016) Request For Information: Could the Administration inform us whether or not the Minister of Education or (School Act) would permit a public school system to create a Catholic Faith Alternative Program or a Catholic School within the Public School System?
The issue of why we don’t have a Catholic program within our EPSB constellation of alternative and choice programs is a question I am frequently asked by my constituents and I have to admit I don’t have a clear answer.
Is a public school board permitted to open a Catholic Faith Alternative Program?
I informally asked the question when I was first elected trustee in 2010, and was told that previous governments and Ministers would not permit Public school boards to create Catholic programs, but puzzlingly they have allowed Catholic districts to offer duplicate programs that are also offered by Public and Francophone school boards.
Before the Board of Trustees directs staff time or dollars on program creation or policy amendments, we should ensure that the Minister of Education would allow us to create a Catholic Faith Alternative program. Edmonton Public would not be in a position to confirm demand for such a program until parents can be assured that such a program can be offered.  The first step in this journey would be understand the direction of the provincial legislature (our formal process for these inquiries is called a “Request for Information”
We are proud of our legacy as a district of choice, including our existing excellent faith program choices. EPSB offers more than 30 alternative programming options. Students enrolled in alternative programming receive instruction determined by Alberta Education, with a focus on artsathleticslanguage and culturefaith-based or teaching philosophy.
We have faith-based Christian programs such as Millwoods Christian or the Logos (Christian faith) Program. Talmud Torah offers an integrated program of Judaic and secular studies in a Hebrew bilingual setting. Sakinah Circle programming is based on a philosophy of education derived from the Qur’anic (Islam) worldview.
Currently, There are thousands of students who attend Catholic Schools who aren’t Catholic. In the past, attendance to Catholic School Districts were restricted to only students who were Catholic (baptism certificates were demanded) but this is no longer the case and families, regardless of faith, often move freely between districts. For example, Edmonton Catholic Schools own website states:
Non-Catholics and other non-resident students may enroll at Edmonton Catholic Schools given the adequate availability of resources such as space and suitability of program.

That means of the approximately 40,000 students going to Edmonton Catholic Schools, not all of them are Catholic but might be convinced with the right programming to be included in the 92,000 Edmonton Public Students. If even a few of them chose to return, that could be a significant influx of students and would be especially valuable in mature communities with lower-enrollment schools. Province wide, it could be even more significant especially for rural communities with dwindling populations.

For decades we have supported choices within public school districts. It is important to note that this initiative does not call for the abolition or defunding of the 17 Catholic School Boards in Alberta, but rather contemplates the potential for public school boards to grow and expand faith program offerings. This is no different than EPSB operating French Immersion programs which do not challenge the existence of the constitutionally protected Francophone School boards. The Edmonton Public School Board supports programs of choice where there is a demand and if anything this would mean more faith and more choice, not less!
If permitted by the provincial government, any public school district could create a new program of choice and offer greater selection to parents. This would be especially timely in areas where new schools are in high demand or in mature communities that may be contemplating requesting replacement schools. There may be huge operational and capital savings to the provincial government in future if this idea were further explored. That means more money for front-line education rather than duplicated administration or half-empty or aging schools.
Public school districts are funded on a per-pupil basis, and we need to remain competitive and continue to demonstrate efficiency through economies of scale and administrative effeciencies. As Trustees, we would demonstrate responsiveness to the interests of students, families, and communities. Picture a new Edmonton public school opening with a few classrooms set aside for a Catholic Faith Alternative program— we would be serving the needs of all Edmontonians and potentially saving the province millions of dollars! We would be able to save on capital costs by attracting more students whose only choice might be a distant bus trip to the ECSD system.

There would be significant cost savings to the Alberta government if public schools could offer a Public and Catholic program under one physical and metaphorical roof. If we were able to offer another program, we would be able to save on capital costs by attracting more students whose only choice might be the ECSD system.

What about a Catholic Faith course? If we weren’t able to offer a full Catholic program, maybe as a first step, we could consider the establishment of a Locally Developed “Catholic Faith” course that would provide more choice and welcome more Catholic families back into the Public school system?
What could this mean for the future of school construction? As we look ahead to submitting our annual capital planning request list for new schools, and I reflect on provincial commitments to transparency and sunshine lists, I look forward to exploring the idea of how decisions are made to allocate Public or Catholic schools to new communities and how evidence of parent intent is determined. With the archaic notion of directing one’s taxes to the Public or Catholic school system having no bearing anymore on funding (it’s all pooled and directed based on enrolment) it is time we got creative in finding innovative ways to improve program delivery while demonstrating innovation and efficiency in the use of our education dollars. But that is likely a inquiry for a later date when we discuss our capital planning process.
While we are engaged in a dialogue on curriculum redesign, maybe it’s time to have the bigger question about program or system redesign. To be clear, these are the questions and observations of one trustee, and until a formal vote is taken at the Board table, no program can be created.
So will we be allowed to proceed? Once I receive an answer I will report back.

What do you think? Is this a good idea to explore further? How can we make sure our education system is inclusive, responsive, and efficient?

All votes for MLA deserve an equal weight

One vote should have the same weight wherever you are in Alberta.

And whether you are 15,000 voters in South Edmonton or Central Alberta, your votes should count towards electing the same amount of MLAs in the legislature. Currently, there is one riding with 15,000 and another with 46,000 voters, both electing one MLA. With modern technology the outdated rationale used to justify such enormous variances is unacceptable.

With all parties holding seats in rural and urban areas, this is not a partisan issue, but an issue of fairness. I have no doubt that fair representation in the legislature will have a profound impact on ensuring that Edmonton receives the investment in Education that corresponds to our unique challenges. With 30% of our students being English Language Learners, higher percentages of Special Needs Students, and 6000+ new students over the last two years, we need to make sure that our educational needs are given the weight they deserve in provincial expenditure.

On Monday January 16th, I had the opportunity to present as Trustee for Ward F to the Electoral Boundaries Commission. The commission is in the process of reviewing the areas, boundaries, and names of ridings across Alberta. As they note, Alberta’s population has grown 20% over the last eight years.

I touched on a few key points that I wanted to share:

  • One vote in Alberta should count the same, wherever it is cast: Many urban Albertans have been denied a fair voice in affairs affecting their lives. I was told in the past by MLAs that despite having thousands of Edmontonians in new neighbourhoods, it was hard to award new schools to the cities because of the disproportionate influence that the rural MLAs held over budgets and capital planning decisions.
  • The Electoral Boundaries commission should use the most accurate data: Statistics Canada is ready to unveil the data from last year’s census on Feb. 8th but we should also take into account other materials such as the demographic study by Edmonton Public Schools that forecasts thousands more new residents moving to Edmonton communities. If there are to be variances, let us carefully consider the rationale and take into account future growth projections.
  • Complexity Matters: while great geographic distances can be a challenge for some rural MLAs to serve vast constituency areas, elected officials in urban areas also have to take into account complexity and diversity such as socioeconomic status or linguistic barriers. Serving as an elected official in an urban setting can be enormously challenging and connecting with thousands and thousands of constituents who bring unique challenges must be taken into account.
  • Technology Matters: As an elected official, 95% of my correspondence is via email, telephone, and on rare occasion, meetings. It is easier than ever to call your MLA, send correspondence, attend telephone town-halls, and engage through other means and channels. I would be fully in favour of adding additional office supports to help MLAs from larger geographic constituencies engage their communities just as I would want to ensure multi-lingual translators were available to help those with other complexities to engage with their constituents as well.

I ultimately come back to the idea of how much is one vote worth? Imagine if Alberta was one riding and both you and I received one ballot. But for some reason because I lived in a lower populated area, I received an additional ballot. Or two. Or three. That would not be fair.

All politics are local, and ultimately MLAs are profoundly invested in demonstrating to their constituents that they have achieved results for their local needs. This advocacy has a tremendous effect on provincial spending and I’ve seen it most apparent in the inequalities around meeting the needs of our growing city.

If you want to learn more about this issue, here are three links:

Alberta Diary:

Guest Post: Five things you need to know about Alberta’s latest Electoral Boundaries Commission

I actually disagree with Dave Cournoyer on the 10% threshold and think 5 percent would be a much more reasonable threshold:

When the commission does receive the latest data, I would like to see all electoral districts proposed for the 2019 election be within the 10 percent above or below the average population of all the proposed electoral divisions.

I would also like to see the commission keep the number of special districts to a minimum. I would prefer that no district fall below 25 percent of the average, as increased funding should be allocated to MLAs in geographically larger rural ridings for additional offices, staff and travel costs. But political necessity will likely lead to the existence of one or two of these special exceptions.”

I also note that Public Interest Alberta has posted their Electoral Boundary submission online as well.

Dr. Don Carmichael, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Alberta and Democracy Task Force member, stated, “The problem begins with allowing far too much initial variance (25% above and below the average,) which is then made worse over time by subsequent population shifts, often involving increases in rapidly-expanding urban and suburban settings and declines in rural areas.”

Carmichael added that the current unacceptable situation originated with an attempt to address the problems of ensuring effective representation in large rural ridings with sparse populations. “The justifications for these disparities were better suited to earlier times: when there were few telephones, fewer paved roads, no television, and – crucially – no internet.  These limitations no longer apply.  Today, constituents in the furthest reaches of the province have the capacity to communicate with their representatives as quickly and easily as their urban counterparts.”

I would be curious to hear your thoughts and I’m sure so would the EBC:


Education of the head and the heart: THINKEQUAL and Edmonton Public Schools

As a Trustee I have the opportunity to attend many fantastic events and hear many fascinating speakers. One such example was the Mahatma Ghandi Canadian Foundation for World Peace who invited me as a guest to their awards banquet and to hear their guest speaker Leslee Udwin, the award-winning director of the film India’s Daughters and now the Founder and CEO of an organization called THINKEQUAL.

If you haven’t seen India’s Daughters, it is a powerful film that outlines the importance of education of not just the mind but the heart. This film is centred around the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh who was a physiotherapy student that sparked protests and debate across India.

Following the film, Leslee has dedicated her energy to her non-profit THINKEQUAL providing a spectrum of resources and supports to education around the world (for free):

We believe in a holistic approach to education to support a new generation of Global Citizens in the context of the UN’s post-2015 Sustainable Development goals. Our purpose is to add Social and Emotional Learning as a compulsory new subject on national curricula around the world. This education must start from the very beginning  of every child’s formal education. THINK EQUAL aims for a long overdue system change in education.

They outlined four goals:

  • Educate rounded, sensitive, empowered, respectful, more equitable and inclusive young men and women.
  • Provide children with the tools to succeed on a lifelong journey of learning, and equip them to promote these values in their communities.
  • Empower girls to unlock their potential, and to contribute to the development and the economy of countries.
  • Transform mind sets and create a new generation of human rights and equality advocates in all school-going youth over the next decade.

The Edmonton THINKEQUAL Delegation (comprised of many active Edmonton citizens such as

  • Robert Philp, Chief Commissioner Alberta Human Rights Commission and Chair, Think Equal Edmonton
  • Sarah Chan, Think Equal volunteer
  • Bev Park, Think Equal volunteer
  • Jan Fox, Think Equal volunteer
  • Judy Piercey, Think Equal volunteer
  • Satya Das, Think Equal volunteer
  • Liz O’Neil, Think Equal volunteer

presented to the Edmonton Public School Board in December and we are excited to learn more about the work that they will be doing as they move forward. They have partnered with NAIT and will be distributing digital lessons and content for dissemination beyond the classroom walls.

They have assembled a star list of supporters and advocates ranging from Celebrities to education thought-leaders like Ken Robinson.

Here is a speech Leslee Edwin gave at the United Nations General Assembly:


As we move ahead with discussions about Curriculum Redesign in Alberta it is important to consider how we will be teaching empathy and equity. Education is the reproduction of lessons and ideas from one generation to the next, and we have a unique opportunity to think about how we can produce a more thoughtful, caring, and compassionate society.

Bev Parks Executive Director of the Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre shared with the Board during her presentation:

“I am pleased to be here today on behalf of the C5 partnership which consists of Boyle Street Community Services, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society and Terra Centre for parenting teens   and ourselves; Norwood Child and Family Resources Centre.  We are excited to be entering into a partnership with THINK EQUAL.  We have reviewed the curriculum and even sent it to our friend Dr. Jack Shonkoff at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and to Nancy Mannix at the Palix Foundation and the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative both working in the related areas of childhood development to improve global health by mobilizing science in this area. 

We believe that the THINK EQUAL early years curriculum supports the programming we do under the Government of Alberta’s early year’s framework.  It also aligns with the Government of Alberta Children’s Charter and of course the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

I truly believe we are being handed a gift that can position Edmonton as a “Human Rights City “and Alberta as a province that continues to lead the way for this country to ensure our children have optimal opportunities to develop their full potential – to freely express themselves and have their views respected; AND to respect one another and to live free of discrimination.  It is never too early to role model and support children to believe in themselves, respect what is different in each other and to celebrate that verses shying away from it.

Our children are our future and we all need to invest in them especially in those very early years.

Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre has agreed to be the first Alberta 3-5 year old demonstration site for THINK EQUAL through our Head Start programs and I believe we will see some great outcomes for our children’s social and emotional development. “

Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Feehan also shared the following message:

As the MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford, I support the values and mission of Think Equal. I’ve witnessed structural inequality in Alberta, both in my decades as a social worker and in my role as Minister of Indigenous Relations. I can tell you how funding and infrastructure deficits affect Indigenous communities. But prejudice, discrimination and racism – overt and subtle – are also a daily reality.

Think Equal aims to “break the cycle of negative stereotypes.” This aligns with my Ministry’s goal of empowering Indigenous people through “effective relationships, legislation, policies and initiatives.” Our government is taking concrete steps to break problematic cycles, whether it’s through enhanced curriculum and training, implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or increased economic opportunities.

A comprehensive human rights curriculum would be another significant step forward, an opportunity to enhance learning and cultivate a fully inclusive society. As a way of addressing structural inequality, I urge you to consider implementing Think Equal”

THINKEQUAL is taking steps to further this conversation worldwide, and as your public school trustee, I am excited to be a part of the conversation.



Teacher Bargaining, ASBA and a proposed 50% cut to ASBA Membership fees

Teacher Employer Bargaining Association (TEBA)

I spent this afternoon with the (TEBA) Teacher Employer Bargaining Association today in Red Deer. Now that bargaining has been centralized/formalized, a new teacher bargaining process has started through TEBA. Due to confidentiality guidelines, matters pertaining to land, labour, and law are to be kept confidential.

Chinooks Edge School Division provided us a letter today that they gave to the Minister urging any matters settled should remain fully-funded by the provincial government in order to ensure current levels of service.

I don’t have much to add at this time, except to update that conversations are underway.

ASBA Spring General Meeting 2016

Tomorrow it is the ASBA Spring General Meeting in Red Deer. This is the annual budget meeting when the 61 members school boards of the ASBA come together to pass a budget. With our advocacy being done via board-to-board collaboration like funding for Syrian Refugees, and TEBA established as the bargaining vehicle, this budget is effectively a subsidy from our classrooms. It will be interesting to see how much has changed, if anything, since I resigned as ASBA Vice-President this time last year over concerns over fiscal accountability.

At Edmonton Public we delegate and share our board, committee, and representative work. While our ASBA concerns are unanimously shared by all 9 EPSB trustees, given my passion for strengthening our provincial advocacy opportunities, I’ve been board chair spokesperson on this file but our concerns are certainly unanimous.


With the unanimous support of the Edmonton Public School Board, we will be proposing a fifty (50%) membership fee reduction in the annual ASBA membership fee paid by school boards.

Given the significant concerns school boards have had over the last few years, this is an opportunity for the ASBA to demonstrate fiscal accountability, restore more money to school boards, and reduce the feelings of ill-will by some of the members that feel “held captive“.

There are a couple of other proposals we will be bringing forward if time permits which will help enhance accountability of the ASBA such as a new “benefit plan” membership plan category, and providing an audio recording of ASBA board meetings.


The ASBA meeting is public and open to the media—Red Deer Sheraton Hotel. Details here:

I’ll be trying to live tweet under #asba or #asbaSGM16 for my board colleagues back in Edmonton.

ASBA Budget 2016 SGM 2 ASBA Budget 2016 SGM









We did offer to stay: Letter: 07-october-13-2015-letter-from-epsb-to-asba-re-meeting-followup

Education Act delay is a very good thing.

I was very pleased to hear the news today that Minister Eggen is delaying the proclamation of the Education Act and would encourage him to do so indefinitely.

Personally, I have always felt that the idea of a wholesale new Education Act felt to me like a more politically motivated exercise on the part of former Ministers– I never really understood the justification that “we need a new Act because the old Act is old”.

In practical terms, this means school boards, parents, and community members continue to have predictability under the School Act. The evidence from national and international comparisons demonstrates that Alberta’s education system is among the best in the world. That sort of performance only exists when there are capable school boards, strong and wise government support, and a legislative scheme that promotes and enables the very best from our education professionals in the classroom. We have one of the best educational jurisdictions in the world and it was unclear to me what the proposed Education Act would contribute that School Act amendments could not.

Minister Eggen now has a unique opportunity to put the Government’s values into legislation, not by proclaiming the Education Act, but by retaining and continuing to amend the School Act after the fashion ably done by your government in the recent past. Just a few examples are the new student code of conduct (section 12), mandatory support for GSA’s (section 16.1), a more balanced view of parental involvement (section 16.2), guidance on bullying prevention (43.1 and 45.1), and moving the provisions relating to giving notice to parents regarding religious and sex ed instruction from the Alberta Human Rights Act to the School Act.

My advice to Minister Eggen would be to honor the feedback given by stakeholders in the Education Act process by making systematic, thoughtful, individual amendments to legislation. Proclaiming the act as-is without amendments could have been a very risky move and a cause of significant turmoil.

The status quo is not broken: the School Act works. Make your own amendments in a measured and thoughtful way. Your focus is needed on many more pressing concerns. While there are numerous areas in our education system myself and other education activists, constituents, teachers, principals and parents would like to improve (school health, nutrition, wellness, achievement, FNMI, ELL, arts, early learning……) the solution to these issues isn’t a wholesale replacement of our governing legislation. Predictable legislation and predictable funding go hand in hand.

Now… about new schools for Edmonton…


The letter I received this afternoon: (June 3rd, 12:25PM)

Over the past several months, I have been conducting an extensive review of the Education Act and its proposed regulations. Throughout this process it has become clear to me further discussion and collaboration is needed on specific policy shifts that would take effect should the Education Act be proclaimed.

As such, the School Act will remain in effect for the 2016/17 school year. This legislation has served Albertans well, and will continue to do so.

In the coming months, I will engage our education partners to further discuss education legislation.

I truly appreciate the time and effort you and your organizations, as well as many other Albertans, have put into the Education Act to date. A wealth of information and insight has been gathered and will, I assure you, continue to be put to good use as we continue our legislative review.

In the coming months, I will have more information about the format, timing and scope of future discussions regarding the Education Act. In the meantime, I would ask that you share this information, as you deem necessary, with students, parents and others impacted by the School Act remaining in effect.

Lastly, I want to restate that our government is committed to the education of our children. We demonstrated this through the providing of stable and predictable funding in Budget 2016, funding that we know will be put to good use as our attention shifts to the 2016/17 school year.

I thank you, as always, for your contributions to K-12 education in our province. I believe, by working together, we will ensure that legislation will continue to meet the needs our students.


David Eggen


Aloha! pt. 2: Is the ASEBP a service of the ASBA? If not, why is ASBA membership required to access health plan services?

Once again questioned about transparency and expenditures, the ASBA tried to distance themselves and deny responsibility for the actions of the ASEBP:

Alberta School Boards Association vice-president Mary Martin said the benefits plan is an independent organization that should make its own decisions about disclosing expenses.

ASEBP Service

From the ASBA Bylaws and Budgets document

This is contradictory, considering the ASBA has made it clear that they consider the ASEBP to be a service of the ASBA and changed the rules after thirty four years of operations to require ASBA membership to participate in this benefit plan.

We understand that they did not sign off on the Hawaii trip, but as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation notes in their blog post:

Considering the ASBA seems to be in charge of holding the ASEBP board accountable, is the fox guarding the hen house?

The ASEBP board is made up of five appointees from the ASBA and five appointees from the Alberta Teachers Association (the teachers union). When an Edmonton Public School Boards trustee asked for more information about ASEBP expenses and travel, the ASBA voted the request down.

According to Janz, ASEBP board members created their own policy that encourages each of them to attend one conference per year through their international umbrella org.

(Note to self: come up with CTF policy encouraging me to go to Hawaii every year. Pitch to boss. Try not to get fired.)

So, will the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan board make their per diems, expenses, travel and compensation public? Will the Alberta School Boards Association make them disclose this information? Will the Alberta government make the benefit plan organization subject to freedom of information requests?

Perhaps there’s a perfectly reasonable justification for sending taxpayer-funded ASEBP board members on trips to Hawaii and “significant out-of-province travel” for “professional development.” But that case must be made to taxpayers. 

ASEBP ServiceAll of this again begs the question: why are school boards required to be members of the ASBA to access the benefits of the ASEBP? Furthermore, Can a School Board Leave the ASBA?

Edmonton Public School Board is not alone in our frustrations. Sturgeon School Division recently wrote in support of repealing rules that require ASBA membership to participate in the ASEBP:

CLEASE_H_ASEBP_May 13_2016

Public Dollars Should Remain in Public Schools

Update April 23rd, 2016:

The EPSB Board of Trustees approved my motion as amended. The new amendment read:

That the Board of Trustees reaffirm its commitment to Alternative Programs within Edmonton Public Schools and continues to advocate that the provincial government should phase public funding away from private schools and reinvest it in public education. Furthermore, that the Minister should incorporate charter schools into public school boards.

This replacement motion still encapsulates our principled position on this issue, but also reminds our parents that we are committed to the dozens of choice programs within our public framework.

The debate was very educational. I didn’t know this, but Ontario does not give any public subsidy to public schools. Another reader emailed me this:

The proportion of funding that private schools get is an arbitrary number. Prior to 1998, it was 50% (a proportion that is much more common in other provinces). Jim Prentice was part of a task force that then pushed the number to 60%:…/1998-private-school-funding-report-puts-…

Today’s 70% funding level was made at a closed door caucus meeting held by the PCs in the dead of summer 2008 during the Calgary Stampede – a move surely meant to fly under the radar:…/Province%20increases%20private%…

It is interesting to note that the increases to funding had little effect on the proportion of students that attended private schools. I’m quite sure that parents opt for private school independently of how much public funding they receive and that rolling back the funding level would not drive students back to the public system en masse.

 I had a great discussion with one of my parent friends yesterday about private facilities that receive special needs support. I think it is crucial to distinguish that some private schools are very class-based and charge thousands and thousands of dollars of annual tuition. There are others that are publicly subsidized religious schools teaching a very specific denomination or faith. To me these are very clear examples of where church and state should be separated or where giving millions to the millionaires is not warranted. With the third example of special needs school sites, as I stated below, this points to a greater need for public investment in the public school system so every child can receive the education they deserve.
I also had another interesting discussion about public oversight and the lack of transparency from Private/Charter schools. Going beyond the idea that they should be supervised by all citizens (like the public or catholic system), they should also have to be subject to FOIP and the same public disclosure regulations that all other school boards are.


With the review of the Education Act, now is the time for Premier Notley and her cabinet to ensure that public tax dollars are best being allocated to support public education.

I support the elimination of public subsidies to private schools immediately. But if the Minister isn’t ready to go there yet, as a compromise position, the minister could phase out the subsidies over a reasonable period of time.

Either way, this is an area that requires review by the Ministry of Education, especially considering there is a new Education Act and severe budget pressures.

This Tuesday (April 19th, 2016) we will be debating my motion:

That the Board of Trustees reaffirm its commitment to the provincial government that public funding to private or charter schools should be phased out and reinvested in public education. (link to Board Package)

Based on the dialogue I’ve been having with parents, I thought I would try to pull together a blog post with some of the background and arguments on this subject I have been hearing:

Understanding the debate:

As was reported in the Calgary Herald, Alberta is the only province to fund charter schools, which receive the same per-student funding as public schools, but don’t qualify for infrastructure and maintenance funding. Private schools are eligible for 60 to 70 per cent of per-student funding.

For clarity, in Alberta public education typically means Public, Separate/Catholic, and Francophone Schools. I seek to continue to support the plethora of choice programs we have within the public school system (French immersion, Mandarin Bilingual, Cogito, Judaic, Islamic, Christian, and dozens more…) but I take exception to our system subsidizing private school education with public tax dollars.

Facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, Premier Notley and Minister Eggen will be carefully trying to figure out how to preserve public education funding in future budgets. The first place they should start is phasing  the $200* million dollars from Private schools back into public education. (*unclear how much funding in totality goes to private schools. I’m examining this year’s funding manual)

Subsidizing private school tuitions is essentially incentivizing a decision that a stakeholder was going to make anyway. This is a frustration I regularly hear from parents and school council members who complain to me about this school segregation. The public school is legally obliged to educate the highest need, most socio-economically challenged, and special needs students, while the private school down the road continues to pick-and-choose their students–and receives  public money to do so.

No one disputes the right of the private school to exist and the social status, ideological or faith reasons the parents hold to send their children to that school. We just remain frustrated that our schools pick up the public burden while they receive the public benefit.

My opposition is both philosophical (segregating and dividing society is anti-democratic and will have long term negative consequences such as in other countries) and logistical (impractical investment, duplication of administration).

Last week, Public Interest Alberta renewed their call for the government to end provincial funding for private schools and absorb charter schools into the provincial school boards. I agree with this call and would encourage you to read their release here:

“We need to direct public funding to schools that operate under democratically elected school boards, which operate with public accountability and transparency of expenditures, rather than to private entities with private agendas.” (said French)

“Private schools have a right to exist, but not to receive public funding,” French stated. “Last year the Alberta government gave over $200 million in public funds to private schools. These are difficult financial times, and that same sum of money could have been used to eliminate school fees for all parents across the province, provide school lunch programs for children living in poverty throughout Alberta, or pay for much-needed programs to support indigenous learners.”

French pointed out that Alberta’s school boards were on record as supporting this direction, with the Alberta School Boards’ Association having passed a formal motion in November 2013 calling on the government to reallocate to public education funding currently given to private schools, in order to better build “a viable, sustainable public education system.”

In terms of Alberta’s charter schools, French called for the government to end the experiment and bring the schools fully into the public education system. “Charter schools were introduced early in the Klein era with the promise that they would promote innovation and provide competition for the public system. Two decades later there are still only thirteen charter schools.  They haven’t delivered on that promise, and no other provinces have gone in this direction because charter schools are not necessary or helpful.”

French pointed out that Alberta has been recognized for developing a culture of school improvement across the province through the former Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI,) and charter schools are simply not needed. “Alberta has a well-developed system of support for alternative schools and programs within our public and separate schools, and Edmonton Public Schools in particular has demonstrated how to accommodate legitimate desires for choice and diversity within the public system.  It is clearly time for charter schools to be absorbed by school boards as part of the public education system, or to become private schools.”

They also posted this handy backgrounder worth reviewing:

Can a private school operator refuse to enrol my child? Yes. A private school operator can refuse to enroll a student. This is because the School Act does not require private school operators to provide education programs to every student.

Do private school operators offer special education programs? Private school operators are not required to admit students with special needs. However, once an accredited funded private school enrolls a student with special education needs, Alberta Education requires the private school operator to provide appropriate education programming for that student for the school year in which that student is enrolled.

Public Interest Alberta noted that this not a new position for public school boards, and Edmonton Public Schools was one of a chorus of school boards who supported eliminating funding for Private schools in 2013 at the Alberta School Boards’ Association:

“Public boards are being strapped a bit for cash and we’re trying to do more with less,” said Helen Clease (ASBA President)… “We don’t have an issue with there being private schools,” Clease added. “But we believe that the public dollars should go to public schools where every child can have access to that education.”

– David Howell, “Private school funds under fire,” Calgary Herald, Nov. 21, 2013

Charter schools were established in an era where there were not choice programs in public school systems. As you can see by the choice offerings in Edmonton or Calgary Public schools, there are dozens and dozens of programs already available within the public system. Charter schools were also intended to produce research — which to my understanding has not been produced. These charter schools could be easily re-incorporated back into the oversight and efficiency of the larger public administration umbrella. Millions of dollars are being spent on duplicated administration of the Charter schools that would not be necessary in the public system.

Quoting David Climenhaga:

“Alberta is the only Canadian province that funds charter schools, which are generally defined as ‘alternative’ schools that receive government money but are really just private schools that are subsidized by taxpayers. There’s a good reason we’re alone on this. It’s a bad policy that takes money from taxpayers to bankroll often dubious and poorly monitored specialty programs, many of which cherry-pick students on such grounds as how likely they are to succeed and how much money their parents have. Practically speaking, it also takes money away from public education. Alberta’s charter schools, which often try to deny their teachers fair pay and union representation, continue to receive the full per-student grant provided to public and separate schools.” David Climenhaga,, April 3, 2016

According to Understanding Canadian Schools (4th Ed) – 

All provinces have at least a few independent (also called private) schools. An independent school can be defined as a school that is not governed by a public school board, and that is selective about whom it admits as students, whether the selection process is based on grounds of ability, religion, or some other criterion. Students are usually charged tuition fees. Most private schools in Canada are religious in orientation. (p. 159)

A few of the arguments on the issue:

1. Private Schools provide a private, not a public good. Private Schools should have a right to exist– but not to receive any public funding.

All Alberta communities are entitled to strong publicly funded schools supported by the public purse, and accountable through elected school boards. It is a basic right and a responsibility of government to provide it to all citizens.

In every community in Alberta there is a public school that, by law, is required to take your student. That means that every student who currently attends a private school has a desk waiting for them at their local designated public school. If their parents want to make the choice to send their children to a different school, or study abroad, or send their children to boarding school in another province, they should have to pay the full-freight of doing so themselves. That is their families choice.

If you ran a business and were unhappy with the local police department, you would have a right to add your own security system, but that would be at your own expense. Just as companies who want additional or alternative security pay for it themselves, so should families who wish to pursue additional education services. If you aren’t happy with your own local library branch, I shouldn’t have to subsidize 70% of your book purchases at Chapters.

Again, I’m not calling for the elimination of Private or Charter schools, merely the public money subsidizing operations. should be used to subsidize the expensive tuitions. Currently Private School tuitions range from $5000 per year to $50,000 or higher. It is unclear to me if there is even a relationship between private school tuition rates and the public subsidy they receive. A reduction in public funding would not automatically mean a tuition increase. It is unclear to me where there profit margins are. Anytime they need to generate more revenue, they can charge their users more. Private schools are also eligible for corporate sponsorships to augment their revenue.

2. Social fragmentation.

There are some who believe that these segregated schools produce negative societal consequences by isolating the “have” from the “have not” kids, and there is extensive research in the United States about the role that private schools play in inequality. There are also some who challenge that Private and Charter schools in Alberta are not teaching the Alberta Curriculum and may not be following provincial legislation in areas such as Bill 10 (Are there Gay Straight Alliances for students who wish to form them?) or comprehensive sexual health education (are they adhering to the fact-based resources available on

There are more who have more articulately criticized problems with private schools (leaving out the poor, disadvantaged and special needs children, the high parent tuitions, undermining the democratic fabric of our community, social fragmentation and elitism, and state funding of religion to name a few).

As the late Joe Bower wrote:

James Moffett coined the (unofficial) mantra of private schools with select admissions to be: “Send us winners and we’ll make winners out of them.” 
Alfie Kohn puts it this way: “Institutions that get to choose whom to admit tend to look for the applicants who are good bets to succeed: those who seem smart and compliant, will require the least time and effort, and are most likely to make the school look good. And that means those who most need what your school has to offer are turned away.”
As bad as schools with select admissions are, I can think of few things more morally bankrupt and intellectually indefensible than publicly funded private schools with select admissions. 


3. Why are we giving a public subsidy for private choice?

Or then-MLA, now MP Kent Hehr:

“I believe our public school system is an excellent place for kids to learn,” he said. “If people do not want to take part in the public school system, that is their right. But it’s not a corresponding right for the taxpayers to fund that choice for a religious or cultural option.”

Last year, the NDP followed in the steps of the  Tory Government designated $226 million for private schools. Those are public tax dollars from the public education system, designed to education and support all students, given to private school operators as a subsidy. That’s millions of dollars that could support our public school students– many of them who need it the most!

Why are we giving away public tax dollars for the education of private school students and families. We the taxpayers have already build the roads, the schools, the libraries, the community halls, and the hospitals. Why should we now be cutting an enormous cheque to families who could enrol their students in the public  classrooms available to them tomorrow?

According to the AISCA, the lobby group for the Private schools, there are more than 100 private community operated kindergartens and more than 100 private schools in the province, educating approximately 4.5% of the K-12 students in the province. These students have opted out of the public system already and are paying additional tuition and fees. For these families if we removed the public funding that subsidizes their private tuition, some of them would stay at the schools anyway, while some would return to the public system. It would depend on how the private operators decided to adjust tuition as well as other factors. I don’t know if there is a relationship to the cost of their education to tuition charged.

4. Is there capacity within the public education system? Yes! Even if 100% of these students returned to our classrooms, we have room for those students in the public system, and would welcome their return. But if they wish to remain in their private school (which I believe most would because if cost was the motivator they would have gone to a public school in the first place), we respect their choice, but will reallocate the public subsidy back to the public classroom.

Imagine the impact on the most vulnerable students in Alberta if those dollars were reinvested in the public school system?

5. Do private schools save the public system money? No. There is a reason only a few other provinces provide public funding for private schools (and no other province has Charter schools). We would save even more money if those students were paying the full cost of their private tuition (without the 70% public subsidy) as demand for private school is relatively inelastic (regardless of the cost they would still purchase the product at their own expense).
In other words, we are paying them $226 million for something they would likely do anyway. These Parents chose the private school for status, philosophical or religious reasons– not to mention the tax receipt for tuition— over universal, free, public education.

If 70% allegedly saves the system money, what about 60%? or 50%? Or even 40%? A phased approach to reducing funding would keep more money in the system while respecting parent choice.

Returning to the social fragmentation argument– on a philosophical level, even if every single one of those students left their private school tomorrow for a public school desk, I would be prepared to cover the hypothetical slight cost difference because I believe in the fundamental mission of public education– social cohesion, social mobility, and societal advantages that it brings. Our communities are better off when we learn to live together.

6. Any system must have a reasonable limit on choice. Many school systems allow for choices already and as such if the public choice offerings are not sufficient for you and you want to choose a private school, that choice should be yours — including the financial cost. I fully support choices within the publicly funded system. Check out the offering by Edmonton Public or Calgary Public Schools— there are amazing programs within the public system.

Some schools are in very high demand. Some neighbourhoods even have lotteries. Some parents want teacher A over teacher B or program A over program B. But there must be some policy framework that is fair to everyone and isn’t just based on your family’s wealth. If their parents want to make the choice to send their children to a different school, or study abroad, or send their children to boarding school in another province, they should have to pay the full-freight of doing so themselves. That is their family’s choice.

7. What about private special needs programs? There are some who suggest that because certain private schools cater to the special needs students that they should also be given funding. I disagree. If government wants to improve outcomes, they should invest more in the public special needs programs rather than subsidize delivery to the private centres. If families still want to make that choice to go to a specialized site, they should pay the full-freight themselves. A good education shouldn’t be contingent upon your families capacity to pay expensive tuitions to private providers. as we have excellent programs already in our public system that these families can access.

This two-tier, pro-private school mentality is an archaic ideological relic of the culture of past Progressive Conservative Party governments. Restoring public funding to the needy students who need it the most would pay a far greater dividend in terms of our provincial well-being than subsidizing the tuition of those families who can afford to pay more anyway.

8. The NDP have not traditionally supported public funding for private schools. What have other political parties said?

The Alberta Party, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Greens have all called for an end to public subsidy of private and charter schools. Janet Keeping wrote this blog post on the Green Party of Alberta blog: 

In no country is this function of public education more important than here in Canada where we have one of the most diverse populations in the world.  Learning to appreciate, live with and make decisions together with others from very different backgrounds – perhaps most importantly, with children from families of very different degrees of poverty or wealth – is essential to keeping our society functioning in a sympathetically democratic way.  This is accomplished in large part through a public education system.

Private schools on the other hand segregate children along lines that inhibit the development of that democratic sympathy, for example, along religious, gender, cultural and wealth lines. 

Unfortunately, at this time, it seems that the NDP has no plan to roll back funding for private charter schools at this time:

9) What about other school boards or education advocates?
Private School funding is still a matter of controversy. I repost a comment from Bruce Pettigrew former Chair and Trustee with Rockyview Schools that he posted to the Calgary Herald Story:

I cannot understand why the Alberta taxpayer has to subsidize the private choice of a few people at the expense of the public good. Private schools and many charter schools are by their mandate and nature exclusionary. They ‘cherry pick’ their students, increase fees so they can deliver smaller class sizes, and then claim to be doing a ‘better’ job than the public schools which welcome all students regardless of ability.

The Alberta taxpayer gives out something to the tune of 275 MILLION $ for this small group. Granted it will be argued that these students would be in the public system if
they were not in private schools but I would counter that many would remain in the private/charter system regardless. As well I acknowledge that there are a few charter/private schools that take very difficult students but I believe with proper funding of special needs those students would be equally successful in the public system.

A final note regarding Charter Schools. When the Charter schools were first proposed and charters granted they were to operate on the basis of delivering definable improvements for students as opposed the the public system. They were to be evaluated regularly by the Department and, if not delivering, the charter was to be revoked. I do not believe this has ever happened in Alberta (fraud and financial malfeasance excepted). Where is the accountability for the extra funding of charter schools?

Education leaders have long been critical of public subsidies for private schools. Here is a letter from 2008:

The Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS), the Association of School Business Officials of Alberta (ASBOA), and the Alberta School Councils Association (ASCA) jointly will be sending a letter to Premier Ed Stelmach expressing our concerns and requesting that he reconsider the decision to increase public funding for private schools.

The main message to the premier is this: Private schools can pick and choose students, do not have to follow the same rules as public schools and are not accountable to any elected authority. More privatization of our education system is the wrong path to follow, if for no other reason than it encourages inequity in the education of children.

From: Heather Wellwood, president, Alberta School Boards Association; Paulette Hanna, president, College of Alberta School Superintendents; Russell Horswill, president, Association of School Business Officials of Alberta; and Trina Boymook, president, Alberta School Councils Association

For further history into the connections between Jim Prentice, the PC Party, and Private Education, please see David Climenhaga’s excellent Backgrounder on this subject:

If you are looking for information from Alberta Education, please see:

To support other public education advocates trying to support strong public schools, connect with: and read their op-ed response:

As always, I would like to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to send me an email:

You can also contact your local school trustee at

Eleven education issues I expect to hit the news (fall 2015)

In a few weeks summer holidays will come to an end and the hallways of our schools will be filled with little feet once again. September always feels like the new year for me.

As a citizen and education advocate, I often get asked about what the “hot issues” will be this fall.  This is a combination of what I’ve been hearing at the BBQ circuit this summer as well as a few observations from the last couple of years. With another school year starting, here are some of the issues (in no particular order) that I anticipate may be on the radar this fall.

The Federal Election: This one might be more wishful thinking– that our federal candidates talk about supporting public education. It is likely that much of the mainstream media coverage will continue to be concentrated on the Federal Election. While public education is an area of provincial jurisdiction according to the constitution, there will be a few areas where federal attention could dramatically improve academic outcomes for our students. The first is the Federal government stepping up our commitment to aboriginal education. We have heard disappointingly little in the campaign dialogue this far about what our federal leaders will do to improve socioeconomic and educational outcomes for students. I support the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and would like to see more discussion on these issues during this election.

The EPSB By-Election: Since the election of former EPSB Trustee Sarah Hoffman to the provincial legislature, there has been significant interest from candidates in putting their name forward for EPSB School Trustee. The nomination date is Monday August 31st, 2015 and the  by-election will be held on Monday September 28th. I have spoke to about a dozen potential candidates thus far on the phone or in person and I thank all of them for their passion and enthusiasm for our public education system. For more information visit:

So far declared candidates (that I can find websites for) include:

Bridget Sterling: (

Ros Smith:

Gerry Gibeault: (Gerry has withdrawn his candidacy as of August 25th)

The Education Funding Framework: After the troubling provincial budget roll-out last year under Minister Dirks and Premier Prentice, Premier Notley and Minister Eggen fulfilled their promise of restoring the funding cuts. Over the last few years under the rural-dominated PC Caucus there were targeted cuts applied to the metro school boards. Calgary and Edmonton are not eligible for certain funding envelopes, such as small schools by necessity, that other school boards draw from. While I recognize there is diverse need throughout Alberta, our Metro School Boards do considerable heavy-lifting in our province and we need to ensure that equity and fair treatment is restored. As you can see from our Metro School Boards lobby document, we are uniquely challenged in terms of student growth, diversity, complexity, and special needs. (Metro Board Newsletter combined in .pdf)

The SLAs: After the controversial roll-out of the grade 3 SLAs last year, government and school boards will be carefully watching if this diagnostic tool fulfils its objectives. As a board, we have supported the SLA as a diagnostic tool to support student learning and assist teachers in developing appropriate interventions. Last year there were issues with the Grade 3 SLA implementation, so we’re grateful for any assistance Alberta Education can provide to mitigate any impact SLA administration might have on teacher workload. We’re also supportive of any changes that will make the SLA more effective for teachers and, ultimately, for students and their learning.

Teacher Negotiations: What format will bargaining take this time? Will it be local? Provincial? Or a hybrid model? With the current four-year contract expiring with the ATA in August 2016, discussions will likely start soon. Many Alberta School boards recently supported a call for a return to local bargaining initiated by Terry Riley, Chair of the Medicine Hat School District.

The Education Act Review: The Education Act will not be proclaimed this fall as planned. Personally I’m pleased that we will have another chance to look at the act, especially around some of the areas that may be problematic for us.

The Pre-Budget Consultation: I believe now is the time to end the public funding to Private and Charter schools in Alberta (so do other Alberta school boards for that matter) This money should be reallocated to the students with the greatest educational challenges. Secondly, I believe that as a revenue tool and a health promotion action, I support a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention is again calling for the province to implement this next step. My third request? Implement a Wellness Foundation in Alberta.

School Nutrition: This was a platform item in the NDP campaign. I support a comprehensive universal school nutrition program that would assist in addressing issues of poverty (no child should have to come to school hungry) while simultaneously educating students about healthy eating. A Universal School Food Strategy for Alberta – Alberta Policy …

Bill 10 implementation and supporting Transgender students: Out of 63 school boards in Alberta, how many of them have a Gay Straight Alliance in their district schools? Great controversy erupted when Bill 10 came forward. The right for students to form GSAs were opposed by both Catholic Bishops, certain special interest groups and some school boards, but after significant public outcry from all over society (The City of Edmonton Youth Council with Claire Edwards, for instance or the on-air rant by Ryan Jespersen or Mike’s Bloggity Blog or hundreds of others…)  respect and inclusion won the day. On March 10th, then-Minister Gordon Dirks made an impassioned Ministerial statement in support of GSAs and as of June 1st, Bill 10 was proclaimed. Safe spaces and accommodation will likely remain a hot-button issue this fall, especially for students who are transgender. Edmonton Public passed a landmark Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy in 2012 that guides us as a district (Read it here). How long until all 63 school boards have at least one GSA in their district? Grand Prairie Catholic Chair Ralph Wohlgemuth stated “Our district hasn’t and won’t block GSA if students request one.”. How will the Legislature measure if Bill 10 is being lived in Alberta schools?

Rethinking School Board Advocacy: With Edmonton Public Schools debating leaving the Alberta School Boards Association this fall, and the continued collaboration of metro school boards (Calgary Public and Edmonton Public together account for 1/3 of students in the province. With Edmonton Catholic and Calgary Catholic that number jumps to half) it will be interesting to see how different stakeholders represent their individual interests to the minister. School boards have expressed an interest in returning to a more local form of bargaining rather than centralization. There are already 3 other school trustee interest groups actively representing their specific Public, Francophone, and Catholic interests– is there a need for yet another organization? And if Edmonton leaves, will other boards follow? (Last year I resigned as Vice-President of the Alberta School Boards’ Association. You can read my resignation letter here.)

Banning Corporate and Union Donations in Municipal Elections: With both big-city mayors and numerous other stakeholders in support (click here to read the letter from Edmonton Public Schools) let’s rework our systems now, well in advance of the 2017 municipal election cycle. (Further details here:

This post is getting pretty long but I would add countless others: school fees, full-day kindergarten, sex education, transportation, and our ongoing desperate need for new school space to meet unprecedented city growth.

Can you see why I love being a school trustee? There is never a dull moment!