Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says private schools in Alberta will have to report private sources of revenue to the province, despite what government staff and one of her cabinet colleagues said hours earlier on Monday.
"Independent schools in Alberta will still be required to report to Alberta Education information related to private sources of revenue, including tuition," LaGrange said in an emailed statement Monday evening. "This will continue to be required as part of the audited financial statements they provide to Alberta Education annually.
"This legislation, and the regulation we will be drafting will remove the requirement to report tuition/fee information using a specific Alberta Education-developed schedule. This is an example of how we are removing unnecessary red-tape in the education system."
Bill 21, the Red Tape Reduction Statutes Amendment Act, 2022, proposes changes to 15 pieces of legislation from nine government ministries. The bill was introduced in the legislature on Monday.
On Tuesday, LaGrange added that new regulations will also compel private schools to publicly post their audited financial statements.
"We're going to actually have more accountability, more transparency, and for the first time, independent schools will have to put their financial information online as well as provide it to their parents," she told reporters at the legislature.
Materials provided to reporters on the bill, including emailed statements, said the government will reduce requirements for private schools to report how much they charge for tuition if a new red tape reduction bill is passed by the legislature.
Despite what reporters were told by staff on Monday, officials in LaGrange's office said Tuesday that independent schools will still have to report tuition revenue to the province but will no longer have to report tuition rates using a form.
That came despite statements Monday by Tanya Fir, the associate minister for red tape reduction, that the government doesn't need to know the tuition amounts as they are a private source of funding.
"Our focus of this bill, again, is increasing that accountability around the use of public taxpayer dollars, not private dollars," Fir said during a news conference before the bill was tabled in the legislature Monday.
Private schools receive 70 per cent of the per-student funding that Alberta public schools receive.
John Jagersma, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges of Alberta, said Tuesday some of the forms the government require schools to complete are too prescriptive. For example, he said some schools charge different tuition amounts of multiple children attend from the same family.
Jagersma said schools should only have to publicly report on how public funding is spent, and would prefer to report revenue from tuition and fundraising just to parents and the province.
Sarah Hoffman, the NDP Opposition critic for education, said the UCP government is deliberately hiding how much these wealthy private schools make in tuition payments from parents.
"As contributors to private school funding, Alberta taxpayers should have a right to know what other revenue streams those schools have and what their balance sheet looks like," she said.
Brad Lafortune, executive director of advocacy group Public Interest Alberta, is concerned about the government's push toward private and charter schools while under-funding the public education system.
"Every single dollar that goes into a private system is a dollar that's taken out of the public system," he said. "And the provincial government shouldn't be prioritizing the expansion of private schools and private school funding at the expense of public education."
The ministries of Environment and Parks, Health, Children's Services, Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development, Municipal Affairs, Service Alberta and Treasury Board and Finance are also seeing legislative changes in the name of reducing red tape.
Bill 21 proposes changes to the Provincial Parks Act and Public Lands Act to allow the government to come up with recreational uses specific to certain areas to avoid one-size-fits-all policies.
A spokesperson said the legislation would allow "place-based provisions that better consider the needs of local and regional stakeholders" but would not take precedence over requirements in existing legislation.
Other changes proposed in Bill 21 include:
Allowing Rural Electrification Associations (REAs) to purchase other REAs and expand their operations.
Moving regulation of some aspects of pharmacy operations from government to the Alberta College of Pharmacy.
Redacting addresses and contact information from candidate disclosure statements for municipal and school board candidates.
Currently, the minister of municipal affairs has the power to fire a municipal council or its chief administrative officer after a viability review. Bill 21 would give the minister new tools in dealing with recalcitrant councils, including placing dollar limits on their spending decisions.