The Sweet Seventeen (Part 1)

These elite private schools charge over $10,000 a year in tuition--yet they still get millions of dollars in public funding

There are 182 private schools in Alberta. But only 17 of those are what we describe as “elite” private schools — charging over $10,000 per year in annual tuition. There’s broad public support for defunding private schools in general -- but  it’s the “Sweet Seventeen” elites that we should start with.

Published on March 12, 2018

The reason is simple: regular Albertans shouldn’t have to pay for luxury facilities that are only accessible to the rich. Instead, that public funding — at least $29 million a year — should be invested in the public system: schools, playgrounds, teachers.

With that in mind, you’re probably wondering where these elite schools are. So here's the first half of our two-part look at Alberta's seventeen most expensive private schools.

Edge School for Athletes

This sports-focused K-12 private school in Springbank — just west of Calgary — operates in a 170,000 square foot campus with two NHL-sized hockey arenas, two NBA-sized basketball courts and high-end facilities for dance, golf, soccer and track and field.

Tuition ranges from $13,000 to $18,270 per year for each of the 278 students, depending on grade level. But there are plenty of additional fees too — it costs between $12,000 and $16,500 per year for hockey programs. That could feasibly raise per-student costs to almost $35,000 per year. But that’s not enough for the Edge School for Athletes, which also takes a top-up from the provincial government of nearly $1.5 million annually. Since 2010, it has pulled in $7.7 million in public money.

River Valley School

Located in the Calgary community of Bowness, this K-6 school professes to “nurture and develop the innate love of learning that is in each and every child so it remains at the core of who they are throughout their lives.” To be sure, its website features highly staged and produced photos of students who do appear to love learning.

But that comes for a huge price: $7,830 per year for half-day programs for three-year olds, and $13,900 per year for full-time programs between junior kindergarten and Grade 6. River Valley also offers the Arrowsmith program — a controversial approach for students with learning disabilities that focuses on “neuroplasticity” — for $26,260 per year.

The 240-student school also charges a non-refundable $2,500 registration fee. According to its last CRA filing, River Valley School receives over $1.5 million per year from the province. Since 2010 it has received over $8 million.

Rundle College

With 1,068 students, Rundle College in southwest Calgary is one of Alberta’s largest private schools. About one-fifth of those students attend Rundle Academy for students with learning disabilities. The society governing these programs has been the largest private beneficiary of public subsidies in recent years, receiving nearly $48 million from the province between 2010 and 2017; our FOIP request revealed that in 2017 Rundle received over $7 million.

The K-12 school’s website brags of “small class sizes, dedicated teachers who are committed to making a difference in the lives of individual children, and reasonable tuition with no bonds or membership fees,” -- where “reasonable tuition fees” means between $12,300 and $17,625 per year.

You might remember Rundle College from when they were in the news in 2012 for denying a student the right to form a Pride Club.

West Island College

Located in southeast Calgary — right next to the city’s largest farmers’ market — West Island College teaches 544 students between Grade 7 and 12. Its website pledges to “unleash the potential of passionate and creative problem solvers, ready to contribute to a better world.”

Between 2010 and 2017, West Island College received $18 million in provincial public subsidies -- $3 million in 2017 alone. In total, the school has $5 million in cash, bank accounts, and short-term investments, with land and buildings worth $16 million.

West Island charges between $16,120 and $16,320 per year, as well as a $3,500 per student capital improvement fee. That’s in addition to a $3,500 family membership fee, and annual per-student instruction resource fees of around $1,100.

Edison School

Founded in 1993 by two parents, Okotoks’ K-12 Edison School now has an enrollment of 229 students. Since 2010 it has received $8.1 million from the Alberta government -- yet it charges between $7,000 and $10,500 per year.

Edison’s website boasts of the school’s “intimate rural setting” and average class sizes of 12 students. Uniquely, it also lists badminton as the most popular sport at Edison, with every student from Grade 1 to 12 playing the sport during class time; school principal Billy Gilliland won gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. In addition, every high school student — which Edison calls “Upper School” — participates in a yearly dinner theatre musical production.

Banbury Crossroads

Explicitly named after the nursery rhyme “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross,” this private K-12 school in southwest Calgary has a small student enrollment of only 58 students. However, it has still received $2.4 million from the Alberta government since 2010.

Tuition fees range from $10,000 to $12,000 a year. Additional costs include a registration fee of $350 and “instructional material fees” between $250 and $450, depending on grade.

The school’s peculiar website — designed to look like the text is on old, yellowed parchment — reports that it’s a self-directed learning school that is the “embodiment of certain philosophical beliefs and practices” about education.

Webber Academy

We’re already exhaustively profiled Calgary’s Webber Academy here. In short, it’s one of the most elite of the bunch, charging up to $18,800 per year and a $6,000 enrollment bond but still received over $5 million in public funding in 2016-17. It’s a perfect example of the absurd excesses of public funding of private schools.

Renert School

This K-12 private school is located in northwest Calgary and it’s own website makes no bones about the type of students it targets. “Renert School is best suited to children who possess strong academic skills and who are easily able to manage grade level expectations… Renert School is not suited for students with severe learning disabilities, attentional issues, or behavioural problems.

Established in late 2013 by Aaron and Moshe Renert, the school teaches just over 300 students and has received $3.9 million from the government in subsidies between 2010 and 2017. In 2016/17 alone, it received $1.3 million in government grants.

The colourful building is advertised as a “hybrid school and community centre,” including a sizable jungle gym and studio spaces for martial arts, music and dance. The lease cost $1 million in 2016/17, representing 22 per cent of the school’s total expenses. While tuition rates aren’t publicly available, calculations suggest average fees are around $13,000 per student.

North Point School for Boys

This single-gender K-9 private school, located in southwest Calgary, is one of the newest to the scene, opening its doors in 2014. As a result, it’s still small — with only 63 students and some $200,000 in government grants for the 2016-17 school year. However, the school plans to continue “aggressive marketing and recruiting to grow our base” and eventually expand to a second location.

The school emphasizes elements such as experiential learning, Socratic teaching and outdoor education. North Point is headed up by Brent Devost, who founded the aforementioned Edge School for Athletics in 1999 and has been highly involved in hockey coaching.

Curiously, the school’s resources page recommends a series of books and videos by Christina Hoff Sommers, a far-right critic of feminism and resident scholar of the libertarian American Enterprise Institute.


Our look into Alberta's elite private schools continues in Part II of The Sweet Seventeen.