Alberta Education has agreed to reinstate funding to the province’s largest provider of homeschooling programs provided it improves its financial and governance oversight.
The government and Trinity Christian School filed an agreement with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Grande Prairie on Jan. 5, ahead of an application from Trinity for a judicial review of the government decision to close the school last October. The Cold Lake school, which supervises the home schooling program for 3,500 students across the province, was the subject of an Alberta Education review last summer that alleged a number of financial and oversight mismanagement issues.
The Jan. 5 agreement will see the government appoint a financial administrator to oversee Trinity’s finances for at least one year and will remove Trinity’s sister organization Wisdom Home Schooling Society from any governance role, decision-making authority or financial management related to Trinity’s operations.
Alberta Education’s review alleged that Trinity failed to appropriately supervise home education students because it didn’t employ teachers to conduct student evaluations and, instead, transferred 90 per cent of the funding it received from government to Wisdom. While Wisdom did contract certificated teachers as “facilitators” to supervise home-school programs, Alberta Education said that approach was “inconsistent with legislation,” which calls for the supervising teachers to be employed by the school authority. Under the new agreement all teachers will be Trinity employees.
Education Minister David Eggen believes the agreement offers stability for students and ensures that government funding is being used to support students.
“I stand behind the actions we have taken in this matter and officials will now move to assisting Trinity with developing governance and accounting practices that are at the standard expected by Alberta taxpayers,” he said.
“I think it’s a good resolution to the action and to the issues that the parties have both raised,” Trinity lawyer Jay Cameron said to the Edmonton Journal. “I think my client is satisfied. I think that the agreement that’s been reached is balanced.”
At the time the closure was announced, Trinity and Wisdom denied any wrongdoing and launched court action to affect the decision. In early November, they were granted an injunction to continue operating, albeit without government funding. Court was set to begin hearing the application to review the government decision this month. This agreement adjourns that legal action, although either party can return to court if it feels more assistance is required.
Allegations contained in a government report that was released when it closed the school included suspect land and building lease arrangements, as well as a number of improper employment contract arrangements. Alberta Education stated that the “boards and administration of both Trinity and Wisdom are largely represented by two families” and that collectively members of those families had been paid $2.76 million in compensation over three years. The report also said that Wisdom had accumulated $988,000 in unpaid funds that were intended for parents to purchase school supplies.
The Jan. 5 agreement does not discuss the merits of the allegations of past financial mismanagement that were raised in the Alberta Education review. The RCMP told the Edmonton Journal that an investigation is still continuing into the financial operations of Trinity and Wisdom.