The Journal speaks on private schools

Three letters came out in today’s Journal (I need to find a copy while I can) attacking the private school funding:

From Allison Dennis:

I feel absolutely sickened that any tax dollars go toward funding private or separate schools.

The founding principle of the public school system was to promote understanding and tolerance across economic and cultural dimensions, as well as a good education in other aspects of life and academia.

Rather than providing education about world religions to all students in the public system, Roman Catholics were granted the right to tax-funded separate schools.

As a result students in both systems suffer from either ignorance about other religions, or about religion at all. Now, other religious groups clamour for the same “rights.”

In many cases, families who send their children to private schools can afford to provide a rich educational life for their children outside of school, in the form of music, sports and travel.

To divert tax dollars away from the public system, which may provide the only means for a poorer family to promote meaningful extracurricular activities in their children’s lives, is nothing short of criminal.

I was a high school student in Ontario when funding for Catholic schools was legislated in the 1960s, and remember feeling very sad that my Catholic friends would be going elsewhere to school. And school nurses were let go from a public system that could no longer afford them.

Tax dollars should only be used to fund services and benefits that are accessible by all, period.

From my girlfriend Sonia Milbradt:

I was very glad to see The Journal address the serious issue of education funding in this province. Educating students in a public school allows all children, regardless of faith, to receive a strong education. I have recently been very concerned about tax dollars going towards faith-based schools, and I am glad that The Journal has brought this issue to the public eye.

Increasing funding to faith-based schools reduces the educational opportunity for students whose parents want them to grow up with a diverse public education. If parents decide that they want their child to grow up with anything other than a classic education, they should have to foot the bill, instead of using public money. We should not have to pay for the discriminating, religious indoctrination of other people’s children.

And from yours truly:

Re: “Public schools still in need,” Editorial, Aug. 29.

At a time when the quality of education in Alberta is under assault from several directions, it is admirable to see such a strong defence of public education. It’s good to see the issue of funding of private schools brought to the public eye.

Personally, I find the idea of public funds promoting religious education to be a violation of the secular principles upon which a democracy should be founded.

When publicly funded, faith-based schools can discriminate against teachers and students who do not subscribe to the same code of beliefs, we are removing the “choice” that spokesperson Kathy Telfer is talking about.

I am OK with the existence of faith-based schools, but not at the expense of public coffers.

Ian Bushfield, Western Canadian regional director, Centre for Inquiry, Edmonton

Finally, yesterday they had one from David King, executive director of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta:

The members of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta (PSBAA) are concerned about the recent decision by the Stelmach government to increase funding for private schools. The decision raises questions.

Was the government transparent in its dealings with the public on this issue? Did government MLAs raise the issue in their constituency and ask for public input? Did they talk to the local school board and ask for input?

Was the government inclusive in the way it shared information before the decision was made? Did it conduct an open review of private schools, and the funding for them? (Ten years ago, when the last significant change was made to funding for private schools, the government first conducted a public review of the issues, before decisions were made.)

Five years ago, the government appointed Alberta Commission on Learning, after considering funding for private schools, wrote, “Alberta’s current support for private schools is amongst the most generous in the country and the Commission does not recommend any changes to the current funding arrangements.”

The government has not provided any evidence that more funding for private schools will provide the greatest good for the greatest number.

Second, the government decision represents public policy driven by special interests, rather than the public interest. The government has an additional $8 million to invest in education, and it chooses to invest the money to increase support for private schools, rather than to address the documented needs of public school students across the province.

Readers who face the possible closure of public schools, large classes, longer bus rides to and from school, loss of special-care aides, or dilapidated facilities should remember this government decision the next time an MLA says, “there isn’t enough money.”

In fact, supporters of public health, public parks, public buildings and clean supplies of municipal water should all remember this decision.

The third reason the government’s decision is unfortunate is that it is based on a badly considered trade-off. The government talks about increased accountability for private schools, as the exchange for more funding. The information provided by the government itself only points to increasing the amount of documentation private schools must provide.

Increased documentation does not assure increased accountability, although it does assure increased administrative work for increased numbers of employees, and more administration doesn’t improve conditions for students in the classroom.

At its meeting in February, the Public School Boards Council adopted a position opposing increased funding for private schools. Given the lack of transparency and consultation, and the exclusive nature of the process, the 34 members of the PSBAA are disappointed by the government’s decision to increase support for private schools.

David King, executive director, Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta, Edmonton

[tags]private schools, faith based schools, religion, secularism, Edmonton Journal, Alberta[/tags]