We are supporters of school choice in Alberta and we enjoy helping families find the ‘best-fit’ school or school system for their child and family. We encourage everyone to do their own research but we recognize that it can be hard to decipher all of the options available to Albertan families. There also seems to be a lot of misinformation regarding school choice in Alberta right now. We are always happy to share our personal experiences and understandings of all school systems through a phone call or e-mail but to keep it simple, here is a quick summary:
1) Public - Designated neighbourhood schools are assigned to families based on where you live and are fully funded by the Province. There is a secular emphasis in neighbourhood public schools but students from all faiths, backgrounds, abilities and needs are accepted as long as they are within the designated location boundaries. A network of neighbourhood public schools are operated by large school Boards such as CBE or Rocky View. Some fees for certain activities and services are allowed but not tuition. May include speciality programs within certain schools such as language immersion.
2) Public Separate - Catholic public system (often referred to as “the separate system”). The student or a parent should have a Catholic baptismal certificate but, if there is space, they will also accept some non-Catholic students (up to the discretion of the individual schools). Designated neighbourhood Catholic schools are usually assigned to families based on where you live and are fully funded by the Province. They are a network of schools operated by a large Catholic school Board. Some fees for certain activities and services are allowed but not tuition. May include specialty programs within certain schools such as language immersion.
More information regarding Calgary’s Catholic (separate) schools is available at: https://www.cssd.ab.ca/about
3) Charter - Stand-alone specialty schools in the public system founded by an individual or group that has successfully engaged with the challenging process of writing their proposed charter and submitted it to Alberta Education for approval. Students must apply and be a good fit with the charter's mission (ie. an all-girls school accepts only those who are girls, a charter for an arts academy requires an audition or portfolio, or students applying for a gifted charter school must be qualified by a psych-ed assessment). Often, there are waitlists for such schools. Some fees for activities and services are allowed but not tuition. Charter schools are almost fully funded by the Province and are operated by an independent Board of directors appointed or elected by the school community and/or founders of the school.
More information regarding charter schools is available at: https://www.alberta.ca/charter-schools.aspx
4) Private/Independent - Stand-alone specialty schools in the independent system. Individuals, special needs groups or faith-based groups invest personal time, funds and resources to start a school of choice and must operate without any Provincial funding for their startup year plus one full operational year. If choosing to be accredited by Alberta Education and in order to be eligible to apply for partial-funding after the first year of operation, many steps, interviews, and ongoing monitoring and audits must take place. Any Provincial funds received after being accredited cannot be used to purchase or rent facilities or for a school’s capital costs.
Both unfunded and partially-funded independent schools need to charge tuition and fundraise heavily to pay for operational costs, staffing and enrichment. Typically, significant fundraising in excess of tuition is especially important in their first few years. Ownership, when not renting, of any school building and land is always funded by the organization/school, private donors or the original individuals who started the school. Often these schools work hard to fundraise for bursary programs and will try to offer financial aid programs for lower income families where possible. These schools are allowed to independently interview and select their students at the start of each year based on spaces available, staffing and resources although the selection process should align with the school's mission and vision.
Independent/private schools can be faith-focused, special-needs focused, language-focused, passion-focused (sports, fine arts, trades-focused, outdoor education etc.), or academic focused. Notably 96% of private/independent schools in Alberta choose to be inclusive, accepting students from diverse backgrounds as well as those with a wide variety of special needs or have unique programs within their schools for specific special needs.
Independent/private schools fall under two major categories:
a) Registered private (unfunded, low monitoring, low regulations).
b) Accredited private (unfunded or partially-funded by government, mid monitoring, mid regulations).
Independent/private schools can also be:
Designated Special Needs Schools (partially-funded, caters to a specific special needs population and 100% of students must have that special need).
ECS/Kindergarten (unfunded, partially-funded or fully funded independent early learning programs).
Private/independent schools must be governed by a Not-For-Profit Organization and its Board of directors, of which at least 50% are parents with students attending the school. For-profit schools are not permitted in Alberta.
More information regarding accredited and designated special needs independent schools is available at: https://www.aisca.ab.ca
5) Homeschooling - All homeschooling students in Alberta must be registered with a willing school Board or homeschooling Board. Homeschooling can be unfunded or partially-funded, with some funds going directly to the family and other funds to the homeschool Board based on the option chosen by the family such as: teacher-directed programs, blended programs, online programs, parent-led programs, unschooling and world schooling. Not all schools or school Boards offer home education options but there are many faith-based homeschool Boards as well as secular homeschool Boards who both typically welcome students of all faiths, backgrounds and needs.
Newcomers may also find the following website helpful when researching the various educational options offered in Alberta and Canada: https://arrivein.com/daily-life-in-canada/the-school-system-in-alberta/
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