Parents Defend Private Schools for Learning Disabled

MLA Kent Hehr’s private member’s motion calls for an end to private school subsidies
CBC News Posted: Dec 4, 2012

Some parents of children with learning disabilities are joining the debate over public funding to Alberta’s private schools, arguing in favour of taxpayer money in some private classrooms.

Parent Colleen Willmer said she noticed big changes in her son since he switched from a public school to a private one called Foothills Academy that specializes in teaching students with learning disabilities.

“His self esteem has grown a thousand per cent. His marks this year are unbelievable and he loves coming to the school.”

Parent Darren Deitz, who also has a son in Foothills Academy, said the school has made a big difference to his family.

“[He’s] a very smart kid. He just learns differently and he benefits from this school. The class sizes are smaller. They teach differently. They use different methods and it just clicks for him,” he said.

“Foothills Academy is a private school, but it’s…a lot different. I can’t speak too much about the other private schools out there, but from my view point we need to be considered a little differently.”

Private member’s motion
Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s private member’s motion calls for an end to subsidies for private schools. Alberta funds private schools at higher rate than other provinces in Canada – kicking in 70 per cent of what a student would get in the public system.

Willmer agrees some private school shouldn’t be funded with taxpayers’ dollars.

“There are certain private schools in this city that I don’t believe should be funded, but for a school like Foothills that is for children with learning difficulties, I absolutely believe it must be funded.”

Hehr argues the needs of all Alberta students could be met by keeping funding in the public school system.

“With government commitment to those children [parents] wouldn’t be forced to dig into their pocket,” he said.

Private schools bite into Alberta budget

Alberta gave private schools $193 million last year, nearly three per cent of the education budget.

Neil Webber, a former Alberta education minister and president of Calgary’s private Webber Academy, argues private schools actually save the province money.

“Our parents still pay the tax dollars to the public system and pay, of course, the tuition fees. And if we didn’t have our private schools these children would be forced into the public situation, where it would be more costly to the government than it is right now,” he said.

“We receive 70 per cent of the provincial operating grant [per child], however we don’t get capital grants, we don’t get transportation grants and a number of other type of grants.”

But Hehr said that argument doesn’t make sense. He argues only a quarter of Alberta students in private schools would return to public classrooms, which would still save the province $75 million each year.

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