Alberta MLA Kent Hehr, the Liberal representative for the riding of Calgary-Buffalo, wants to end funding to the province’s private schools.

In a letter to the editor of the Calgary Herald in July, Hehr wrote, “it is time Albertans decide whether we want to separate our children on the basis of wealth and religion by subsidizing private schools or commit ourselves to the principle of equality of opportunity.” He claimed that public schools lead to “better outcomes for individuals and societies” and decried that students were refused entry to private schools on the basis of intelligence tests and disabilities.

Hehr had previously brought forward a private member’s motion, Motion 504, calling on the government “to implement a policy to eliminate public funding to private schools.” It was defeated in December 2012 in a 48-3 vote. Hehr’s Motion 503 was also defeated this April, which would have forced school boards to permit the creation of gay-straight alliances.

About 150 private schools in Alberta – a majority but not all independent schools – qualify for student grants of 60 or 70 per cent of what it costs to educate students in the public system. According to the Alberta Teachers Association, all but eight per cent of students are educated in the full public system.

Still, funding independent schools is controversial. In July, Hehr debated Cardus executive president Ray Pennings on the resolution “that all funding be cancelled to private and chartered schools.” Hehr asked: “When only people go to a school of the same beliefs, same thought patterns … how can that really lead to … the most vibrant society?”

Hehr also argued that the money funding private schools would be better spent on public schools, notably by helping poorer students who could not afford a private education rather than subsidizing families who would already be able to pay for it.

Pennings replied, “the data suggest that in learning to respect and get along with other people, the graduates of non-public schools are doing better in adult life than the graduates of public schools.” He also argued that diversity in education opportunities would encourage competition and ingenuity. Pennings gave the example of Finland, which provides parents with vouchers they can use in their school of choice.