Edmonton

Province funds millions to school board fighting LGBTQ guidelines

The Edmonton-area private school board fighting LGBTQ government guidelines received $4.5 million from the province over 6 years, according to data obtained by Progress Alberta.

Over 6 years, the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society received $4.5 million

Duncan Kinney of Progress Alberta asks whether this is a worthwhile use of taxpayer money. (CBC)

A private school board that refuses to implement an LGBTQ policy received nearly $4.5 million in provincial funding over in the past six years.

"Why is four and a half million dollars going to a private school that is actively fighting a province that is trying to create safe spaces for LGBTQ youth," asked Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, which obtained the government funding data through freedom of information.

"I think the question all Albertans have to ask themselves is, do we believe this is a worthwhile use of taxpayer money?"

Brian Coldwell, chair of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, told CBC News on Tuesday he would not allow "gay activists" to undermine religious freedom and "confuse and corrupt our children."

That prompted Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann and others to urge Education Minister David Eggen to withdraw the board's funding, and set off duelling online petitions.

Dave Beninger, a social media political commentator, launched his petition calling on the province to defund the two schools, Meadows Baptist Academy and Harvest Baptist Academy.
Human rights advocate Dave Beninger launched a petition to defund the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society. (Phi Vernon)

"This petition was started out of a concern for schools that accept public money but are showing that they refuse to accept public rules," said Beninger.

He said Coldwell has repeatedly shown publicly he's incapable of providing a safe space for students in his care.

"There is a concern here why a gentleman like this should be allowed to run an organization receiving public money and unwilling to follow the public rules that we as a society have decided on to keep children safe," said Beninger.

Freedom of choice

In response, blogger and parent Theresa Ng created a counter petition defending the current funding model as a way to preserve "authentic education choice" and meet the needs of families in a multicultural, pluralistic province.

"Freedom of choice is meaningless if all 'choices' are forced to be the same," said Ng.

Ng said she found it disturbing that Swann would suggest defunding the schools for non-compliance with guidelines "the minister of education clearly said were not legally binding."
Theresa Ng's counter petition defends the current funding model as a way to preserve educational choice. (CBC)

The petition also defends the right of faith-based schools to operate according to their foundational beliefs.

Kinney said Alberta private school students receive 70 per cent of the operational funding a public school student would receive.

The amount, he said "is the highest in the nation."

He said Ontario and Maritime provinces don't fund private schools and Alberta needs to have a conversation about whether to continue.

"While we're wasting millions of dollars on publicly funding private schools that refuse to create safe spaces for LGBTQ students we could be funding school lunches or more inclusive education," said Kinney.

A spokesperson for the education department said Coldwell's Independent Baptist Christian Education Society received $2.5 million in provincial funding in the 2015-16 school year.

"Our top priority is the safety and well-being of students, and we know those who have signed the (Beninger) petition feel the same way," said Larissa Liepins, press secretary for Eggen. "All schools are required to follow the law and we do have some options at our disposal if schools do not comply. We will be assessing these as we move forward."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca                 @andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, youth at-risk and the justice system. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca