Abuse allegations have put Sask. independent school funding in the spotlight. So how does it work?

Former students of the Christian Centre Academy, now called Legacy Christian Academy, say all government subsidies and tax breaks for the school and adjacent Mile Two Church must be halted until police and prosecutors have dealt with their abuse complaints and the government has conducted a full investigation of the school's practices. (Jason Warick/CBC - image credit)

Former students and opposition members have been calling on Saskatchewan's education minister to freeze government funding or shut down a private Christian school.

A CBC News investigation this month has brought to light allegations by more than 30 students who say they were subject to years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse by staff and leadership at the Christian Centre Academy, now called Legacy Christian Academy (LCA), and adjacent church.

The Ministry of Education announced changes to the registered independent schools regulations on Thursday, giving Minister Dustin Duncan the authority to appoint an administrator for the academy as well as two other private schools in the province. 

All of these institutions currently employ someone listed in the recent lawsuit brought by the former students of the Christian Centre Academy.

However, the ministry has not announced any changes to the funding of qualified independent schools in Saskatchewan.

Cutting funds to LCA would essentially mean the closure of the school, Duncan said on Thursday during a news conference.

"I'm not prepared to take that step to close the school," he said. "If further action is required, I will be taking further action."

Money for private schools dates to 2012

Overall, there are five categories of independent schools:

  • Registered independent schools.

  • Alternative independent schools.

  • Associate schools.

  • Historical high schools.

  • Qualified independent schools, such as Legacy Christian Academy.

Saskatchewan started funding qualified independent schools that meet provincial standards in the 2012-13 school year.

For example, these schools must be non-profit, comply with the province's curricula, allow ministry supervision and hire certified teachers, the province said in a news release in May.

In the same document, the Saskatchewan government announced $17.5 million in operating grants to 21 independent schools and four "historical" high schools for the 2022-23 school year.

This includes a hike of $2.6 million "to support increased enrolment and the creation of a new funded independent school category," the province said in May. "Final allocations will be reviewed and adjusted once actual September 2022 enrolments are confirmed."

Private school funding tied to funding of public schools

By comparison, the province says it has earmarked $1.99 billion in the upcoming school year for Saskatchewan's 27 school divisions.

On Thursday, Duncan said the funding boost to qualified independent schools for the upcoming school year is also tied to an increase of public school funding, since eligible private schools receive a percentage funding based on Saskatchewan's per-student average.

"We've increased funding to independent schools in the province … because more parents are choosing independent schools," Duncan said on Thursday during an interview on CBC's The Morning Edition.

"It's not me saying, 'I'm going to give extra money to this school or to that school because it's an independent school.' It's a function of where parents are sending their kids and a calculation based on what the overall pool of funding is for students."

How much money a private school gets is based on student enrolment numbers.

For example, qualified independent schools of up to 399 full-time students receive 50-per-cent of the provincial, per-student average.

"It's less money, actually, than would be attached to that student if they were going to a public school," Duncan said during the CBC interview. "So that would require actually additional money if these students that are attending independent schools were educated in the public system."

So-called "historical" high schools receive 80 per cent of the provincial per-student average. These types of schools are funded because of long-standing historical arrangements that were continued when legislation for independent schools began  in 1989, according to the province.

An incremental rate applies to qualified independent schools with 400 or more students enrolled.

All these institutions receive their provincial funding on an annual basis in order to cover some of the educational costs, the province said in May.

Legacy Christian Centre received more than $700K

The funding amounts for the upcoming school year are based on student enrolment in September last year, the province said in May. The rest is usually covered by tuition fees, meaning parents have to pay and might participate in fundraising efforts.

"I think there's room for both, [private and public schools]," Duncan said in Thursday's CBC interview. "We even have public boards of education and separate boards of education that have associate schools that do provide for parents a choice when it comes to where they want to have their children educated."

Legacy Christian Centre has also been receiving taxpayers money over the last decade.

According to the 2020-21 Saskatchewan government public accounts, Legacy Christian Academy received public funding of $736,274 in 2021. The previous year it received $699,587.

New independent school category

Institutions under the new certified independent school category will receive 75 per cent of the average per-student rate, according to Duncan and his ministry.

The province said in May it formed the new category due to the expansion and growth of qualified independent schools, creating a step between qualified independent and associate schools.

"They're larger, typically larger in size, than what you would see with a qualified independent school," Duncan said on Thursday. "There will be oversight that is put in place to ensure that there is a proper functioning of the management of the school."

Legacy Christian Academy would have met the criteria to be approved to become a certified independent school, the minister told CBC.

"We are not approving that pending the police investigation and the outcome of whatever happens after that," Duncan said.