Education in Alberta

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As with any Canadian province, the Alberta Legislature has (almost) exclusive authority to make laws respecting education. Since 1905 the Legislature has used this capacity to continue the model of locally elected public and separate school boards which originated prior to 1905, as well as to create and/or regulate universities, colleges, technical institutions and other educational forms and institutions (public charter schools, private schools, home schooling).


The first schools in what is now Alberta were parochial, that is, they were organized, owned and operated by Church clergy, missionaries, or authorities, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. A nominal fee was often charged for the attendance of students at these schools, and the fee was more often waived, as an act of charity or as an act of proselytizing, or as an act of local solidarity.

The first "free" school (which would now be called a public school) in what is now Alberta, was established in the hamlet of Edmonton, in the Northwest Territories, in early 1881. The school was established before the Northwest Territories had a Territorial Assembly, and before there was any law for the Territory respecting schools, or local government, or local taxation. The people of the hamlet of Edmonton elected trustees to govern the establishment and operation of the school, and submitted to an informal local taxation entirely on the basis of local solidarity.

Between 1883 and 1905 a system of education developed in Alberta by which public education was available in every community once the local population initiated its introduction; and separate school education could be provided subsequently, provided certain conditions were met. This system, by which public education was to be universally available and separate school education available under certain conditions, was the system which the federal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier enshrined in the constitution of Alberta (the Alberta Act) in 1905.

There are forty-two public school jurisdictions in Alberta, and seventeen operating separate school jurisdictions. Sixteen of the operating separate school jurisdictions have a Roman Catholic electorate, and one (City of St. Albert) has a Protestant electorate. In addition, one Protestant separate school district, Glen Avon, survives as a ward of the St. Paul Education Region. The City of Lloydminster straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, and both the public and separate school systems in that city are counted in the above numbers: both of them operate according to Saskatchewan law.

The most recent significant development in the governance of education in Alberta has been the emergence of Francophone education authorities in response to the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982). There are five Francophone authorities in Alberta. In the south a public Francophone authority and a separate Francophone authority share coterminous boundaries. In the north there are three authorities which provide both public and separate school education. The Francophone authorities, together, cover the province, but they are not required to provide Francophone education from place to place, except where numbers warrant, and it is the responsibility of the board of the authority to decide whether numbers warrant.

For many years the provincial government has funded the greater part of the cost of providing K - 12 education. Prior to 1994 public and separate school boards in Alberta had the legislative authority to levy a local tax on property, as supplementary support for local education. In 1994 the government of the province eliminated this right for public school boards, but not for separate school boards. Since 1994 there has continued to be a tax on property in support of K - 12 education; the difference is that the mill rate is now set by the provincial government, the money is collected by the local municipal authority and remitted to the provincial government. The relevant legislation requires that all the money raised by this property tax must go to the support of K - 12 education provided by school boards. The provincial government pools the property tax funds from across the province and distributes them, according to a formula, to public and separate school jurisdictions and Francophone authorities.

In addition to the property tax collected, the provincial government allocates money, each year, from the General Revenue Fund, for the support of K - 12 public and separate school education. In the case of the money drawn from the General Revenue Fund, it is also used to provide full financial support for charter schools, a type of public school that does not charge tuition (and receives the same funding per student that a public district school would receive). Private schools and homeschooling receive some funding, but parents will pay a substantial portion of the cost.

Public and separate school boards, charter schools, private schools, and some home schoolers follow the Program of Studies and the curriculum approved by the provincial department of education (Alberta Education). Public and separate schools, charter schools, and approved private schools all employ teachers who are certificated by Alberta Education, they administer Provincial Achievement Tests and Diploma Examinations set by Alberta Education, and they may grant high school graduation certificates endorsed by Alberta Education.[1]

Since 1994 all boards with a civil electorate (public, separate, Francophone) are funded almost entirely by the provincial government. School boards may, and many do, allow the school administration to levy fees for books and special materials, special programs or services, etc. Such fees range from $20.00/student/year (more or less) to $750.00/student/year. Fees in many of the province's school boards cost between $100 - $150/student/year.

Current issues for K - 12 (civil electorate) education in Alberta include, but are not limited to:

  1. the balance of power between school board trustees and the province
  2. the level of funding, which school boards tend to feel is inadequate
  3. disputes between the school boards and the province, over ownership and control of schools and local facilities;
  4. issues over who locally elected school boards, and their employees, are accountable to

Charter schools, private schools, and home schooling each have their own issues.

Approximately 600,283 students are educated in Alberta.

Education in Alberta is considered to be one of the best education systems in the world with the top PISA test results in Canada and second in the world in Science and Reading. [2]

Discovery learning, personalized learning and reform mathematics are being implemented by the education ministry, accompanied by much controversy.[3][4][5]


Alberta's oldest university is the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The University of Calgary, once affiliated with the University of Alberta, gained its autonomy in 1966 and is now the second largest university in Alberta. The University of Lethbridge has campuses in Lethbridge, Calgary, and Edmonton. Athabasca University focuses on distance learning. In September 2009, the Government of Alberta designated two colleges as universities, creating MacEwan University in Edmonton and Mount Royal University in Calgary.

There are 13 colleges that receive direct public funding, along with two technical institutes, NAIT and SAIT.[6] There is also a large and active private sector of post-secondary institutions, including DeVry University.

Students may also receive government loans and grants while attending selected private institutions. There has been some controversy in recent years over the rising cost of post-secondary education for students (as opposed to taxpayers). In 2005, Premier Ralph Klein made a promise that he would freeze tuition and look into ways of reducing schooling costs.[7] So far, no plan has been released by the Alberta government.

Organization and Legal Framework[edit]

The School Act[8] is an Alberta, Canada provincial statue governing primary education and secondary education. The Act authorizes the creation of and regulates public, separate, and Francophone school districts. Oversight of school boards across the province lies with the Alberta Ministry of Education.[9] Responsibility for oversight of the administration of individual schools lies with the district school board. The ministry has the ability to dissolve school boards, which has only happened twice in provincial history, as recently as 1999. One of the trustees who was a member of the 1999 dissolution was notable Alberta politician Danielle Smith, whom as of 2012 is the Leader of the Official Opposition.

The Post Secondary Learning Act[10] is an Alberta, Canada provincial statue governing post-secondary education. Government oversight for post-secondary education across the province lies with the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology.[11] This ministry provides funding to Alberta universities, colleges and other post-secondary institutions.

Alberta Initiative for School Improvement[edit]

The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) was an Alberta government initiative which sought to "improve student learning and performance by fostering initiatives that reflect the unique needs and circumstances of each school authority." [12]

Funding for AISI was suspended as part of the 2013 Alberta Budget.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Provincial government website about school diversity
  2. ^ "Alberta PISA results". Alberta's 15-year olds place among world's best in reading, scientific and mathematical literacy. Government of Alberta. Retrieved 24 September 2011. 
  3. ^ Hopper, Tristin (28 February 2014). "Does 'discovery learning' prepare Alberta students for the 21st century or will it toss out a top tier education system?". National Post. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Wente, Margaret (4 March 2014). "Canada's math woes are adding up". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  5. ^ Staples, David (26 February 2014). "Alberta government plans radical rewrite of education system: But based on the discovery math fiasco, parents and teachers should be wary". Edmonton Journal. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Post Secondary Education
  7. ^ University of Alberta - Ralph Klein promises tuition freeze
  8. ^ Alberta Queen's Printer. "School Act". Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Alberta Ministry of Education. "Ministry of Education Website". Retrieved 29 April 2012. 
  10. ^ Alberta Queen's Printer. "Post-Secondary Learning Act". Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  11. ^ Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology. "Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology website". Retrieved 29 April 2012. 
  12. ^ Alberta Initiative for School Improvement Official site
  13. ^ 2013 Alberta Budget Full text of the 2013 Alberta Budget

External links[edit]