thumb-2023-04-010-danielle-smith-education-charter-school This article is more than 1 year old

New Data Shows Danielle Smith’s Education Plan Benefits Wealthiest Socioeconomic Households

Percentage of funding to charter schools three times higher under Danielle Smith’s UCP government compared to public schools

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Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party government is ramping up funding for charter schools that cater overwhelmingly to the province’s top socioeconomic households, according to newly released Government of Alberta data.

Following the announcement of a $118 million dollar charter school hub last week, the Alberta government released funding numbers this week showing the UCP government has increased funding for charter schools by 18.6% compared to a 6.83% increase for public schools.

The province’s data shows these schools cater to the wealthiest socioeconomic households in Alberta.

The first schools setting up shop in the new space for fall 2023 are STEM Innovation Academy, which will get 500 spots for high school students, and Connect Charter School, a charter school with a focus on outdoor education for junior high aged students, which will get 300 spaces.

Both of these schools sit in the top three school divisions in the province in terms of wealth and privilege, according to the SES index, which rated each school division.

Connect Charter School Society is in fact the highest in the province in terms of student socioeconomic status.

Using census data, every school division in the province (public, separate, charter and francophone) was assigned a rating on the average socioeconomic status of each student’s backgrounds. The government assigned each division an SES score from 1-10 based on family household income, education level, and home ownership.


Charter schools dominate Alberta SES rankings

Most of the charters received a score of 1 – meaning the wealthiest socioeconomic group. STEM Innovation Academy and Connect Charter School score among the highest in the entire province at 1.0040 and 1.001 respectively.

In fact seven of the top ten school authorities in terms of student SES backgrounds in Alberta are charter schools. The top 6 overall are charters:

  • Connect Charter School Society, 1.0001,
  • Westmount Charter School, 1.0004
  • STEM Innovation Academy Society, 1.004,
  • Calgary Girls’ School Society, 1.0064,
  • New Horizons Charter School Society, 1.0145,
  • Calgary Arts Academy Society, 1.0417

The median SES score for charter schools is 1.3. By contrast, the median SES scores for public and separate schools in the ten largest cities in Alberta is 3.1.

With its two first occupants leading the province in student socioeconomic status, it will be higher income families that benefit from the government investment in the charter school hub, which according to Wing Li, Communications Director for the public education group Support Our Students Alberta, amounts to a private school subsidy.

“Charter schools are private schools in disguise because they are privately managed and privately governed. This means the financial operations, administration, and program delivery are performed by a private entity who are not accountable to the public,” Li told PressProgress.

“The new charter hub facility is receiving a record amount of public dollars to fund a private venture. This is a blatant diversion of much needed resources that could be bolstering the public education system. Instead, the UCP government’s funding of the charter hub is an ideological backing of education privatization.”

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Rapid expansion of charter schools under UCP government

Alberta is the only province that has charter schools. There was a province-wide cap on the number allowed to operate until 2019 when the UCP removed the limit under Jason Kenney’s Premiership. Government subsidy to charter schools has expanded since.

STEM Innovation Academy received a particularly massive 77% increase in its funding, totalling $9,432,682, while their soon-to-be neighbours at the charter school hub will see a 2.7 million dollar increase, bringing their total to $8,838,622.

“I think the big thing this year is that the government has certainly really put his money where his mouth is in terms of preferring charters over anything else,” Economist Neil Hepburn told PressProgress.

Hepburn points out that STEM’s increase and the lack of explanation for it is unusual.

“All of the other charter schools except for STEM, New Humble and Holden, have their funding profiles released. Now New Humble and Holding are brand new. And so I can understand there not being a funding profile for them, because it’s really startup funding,” Hepburn said.

“But STEM has been in operation for at least a year now. And their funding profile has been withheld. What are they withholding that for? There’s nothing in the funding manual that would explain a 77% increase.”

There are some charters out of the 17 in Alberta that rank poorly in the SES index, and cater to specific needs, like english language acquisition, reintegration of at risk youth into the educations system, and to fill gaps in rural school availability.


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Stephen Magusiak
Stephen Magusiak is PressProgress’ Alberta reporter. His reporting has a focus on public accountability, public services and privatization, and the right-wing war on environmentalists.

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