Calgary

Public system advocate says charter schools are 'gateway' to private schools

More charter schools may be coming to Alberta, and a group of public school advocates says that's not good news for public education in this province.

Support Our Students group against UCP government's move to lift cap on charter schools in Alberta

A public education advocate says she is concerned about the cap on charter schools being lifted in Alberta. (weedezign/Shutterstock )

More charter schools may be coming to Alberta, and a group of public school advocates says that's not good news for public education in this province.

Proposed amendments to the Education Act would remove the caps on the number of charter schools in this province, which is set at 15 though only 13 charter schools currently operate in Alberta.

"My problem is really that they [charter schools] are hotbeds of exclusivity," said Barbara Silva, communications director for Support our Students Alberta, a public school advocacy group.

"They have the legislative ability to turn students away. And that runs contrary to public education," explained Silva, who called charter schools a "gateway to private schools" in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.

In addition to the right to refuse a student for enrolment, charter schools receive public funding but do not have publicly elected school boards, though some have boards of directors.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are privately run.- Barbara Silva, communications director for Support our Students

According to Silva, this means there isn't public accountability for tax dollars and funding is diverted from the public system. Charter schools do have to answer directly to the Ministry of Education.

She points to alternative programming from public boards such as the Calgary Board of Education as an alternative to charter schools, because those programs ultimately report to a publicly elected school board rather than private organizations.

Charter schools 'add value,' says association

"The charter school system has been extraordinarily responsible," said Ron Koper with the Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools.

According to Koper, charter schools add value to public education in Alberta — by relieving some of the financial pressures on the system.

"The charter schools are currently funded less than the average public school … so adding those students back into the public system would actually increase public school costs," said Koper.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The proposed changes to charter schools would take effect in the fall. They are part of Bill 8, which was introduced in the legislature on Wednesday. The bill also eliminates rules that compel school officials to approve gay-straight alliances when students ask for one.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener, CBC Edmonton, Tahirih Foroozan and Colleen Underwood

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