Edmonton

Time to start 'phasing out' funding for private schools, says trustee on Edmonton public board

'I don’t want to see any further delays on this,' says public school trustee Trisha Estabrooks

February 20, 2018

The Edmonton public school board will see a recommendation Tuesday asking the province to phase out public funding for private schools in Alberta.

An Edmonton public school board trustee is asking her colleagues to support a motion calling for the phase-out of government funding for private schools.

The agenda for Tuesday's board meeting includes a motion from trustee Trisha Estabrooks that trustees "advocate the provincial government begin phasing out public funding of private schools and reinvest that money in public classrooms."

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If the board approves the recommendation, a letter will be sent to Education Minister David Eggen requesting action on the issue.

Estabrooks, who was elected to the board in October, said she's hopeful government will consider the request as it plans the 2018 spring budget.

"There are members of the Alberta legislature right now that are saying if [they form government] that they would equally fund private schools and public schools," Estabrooks told CBC's Radio Active.

"As a publicly elected school board trustee now, I just have to stand up, I have to speak out against that."

In a draft policy document published late last year, the United Conservative Party said the Alberta government should ensure equal per-student funding regardless of school choice — public, separate, charter, home or private.

In 2016, Alberta private schools were given $248 million in provincial funding.

Some advocates say about $100 million could be freed up each year for education funding if public dollars went to public schools only.

Public school board trustee Trisha Estabrooks says the NDP government has "stalled" on the question of funding private schools. (Edmonton Public School Board)

Estabrooks campaigned on the issue during the 2017 election. She introduced her notice of motion at the board's Feb. 6 meeting.

"I hope my colleagues are out talking to their constituents in their nine individual school-board wards about this issue," she said.

"I have certainly heard a lot about it either through email or through phone calls, mostly supportive ... Frankly, I don't want to see any further delays on this."

In February 2017, 13 groups including Public Interest Alberta, the Alberta Teachers' Association and several public employees' unions came together to ask the province to cut private school funding, saying the money could be used to reduce class sizes in the public system.

Estabrooks said that while NDP MLAs have previously supported ending funding for private schools, the topic has become "sensitive" with the current NDP government.

"Now that they are in government, they have stalled on this and I think they need a reminder that they promised that they would look into this, and they haven't looked into it," said Estabrooks.

"No politician who is seeking re-election is going to jump on this bandwagon, sadly."

Board meetings are open to the public. Tuesday's meeting starts at 2 p.m. on the second floor of the Centre for Education, 1 Kingsway.

With files from Rod Kurtz
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