Clear Water Academy going private saves Albertans roughly $1 million dollars

Getting Clear Water Academy off the public dime is saving Albertans a lot of money--but there's more to be done

Finally, some good news.

Last year we brought your attention to Clear Water Academy, the public school that looked and felt like a private school. It charged $12,000 a year in fees and it charged a $10,000 family bond but somehow it was fully funded by Albertans. We now know what this arrangement is coming to an end.

Clear Water Academy started out as a private school but in 2013-2014 it joined a separate school board, Christ The Redeemer Catholic Schools, an Okotoks based school authority that governs 16 schools in southern Alberta. By joining the publicly funded separate school board, they went from getting the highest private school subsidy in Canada at 70 per cent to getting full 100 per cent operational funding — all while still charging $12,000 per student.

(If you want to learn more about the differences between public schools, Catholic schools, private schools and alternative programs read this primer to understand Alberta's byzantine education system)

But next year, Clear Water Academy is going back to being a private school thanks to the efforts of Progress Alberta supporters and recent legislation named Bill 1 or An Act to Reduce School Fees. This bill eliminated fees for educational supplies, materials and transportation — and also prohibited the charging of instructional fees.

In a letter from October 2017, Christ The Redeemer Catholic Schools (CTR) explained that it had decided with Clear Water to “dissolve their relationship” as a result of the legislation.

“The financial model of the cooperative relationship is no longer viable,” the letter read. “The new regulations hinder CTR’s ability to use school fees to pay for non-instructional expenses, and this makes the operation of Clear Water financially challenging.”

This is huge, and a big win for public education. And we couldn’t have done it without people like you emailing, calling and putting pressure on their MLAs and the minister of Education. Without that pressure there’s no way that the government, the school board or the school would have acted.

Of course this announcement doesn’t mean the school is closing. It just means that it will be receiving 30 per cent less public funding on a per-student basis. There are 393 students attending Clear Water Academy this year. Using a crude estimate that assumes high school students take an average of 37 credits a year, that likely equates to Clear Water Academy receiving just under a million dollars less per year from the Alberta government.

That’s nearly $1 million that can be put towards fixing up old schools or hiring new teachers or support staff in the publicly funded system. But it’s not enough. Clear Water Academy shouldn’t be receiving any public money. We should be defunding all elite private schools in Alberta.

The Clear Water fiasco shows just what’s at stake when education funding isn’t properly managed--there can be a lot of money involved and the temptation to soak up public funds is high. And if you were upset by what Clear Water got away with, what’s happening in the private system--where there’s even less oversight--is even more shocking.

But the resolution of this mess shows us something positive too: that we can get results from this government if enough of us speak together. On Clear Water we showed our receipts--provided clear proof of the problem--and enough regular Albertans spoke up to support our message that the government had to listen.

Across Alberta there are seventeen private schools that each charge more than $10,000 a year in tuition, yet still receive government funding. Clear Water represented about $1 million of misspent public money--these schools are sucking up nearly thirty times that each year.

So with that in mind--and remembering that the last time we all spoke up we did get results--we urge you to join us in the next step: calling on the Alberta government to stop subsidizing elite private schools. Click here to use our online tool and add your voice!