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The government of Alberta, Canada, has provided public funding to eligible private schools since 1967. This policy has always been contested, and in this article, we explain how we applied concepts from argumentative discourse theory and its attendant methodology, argumentative discourse analysis (ADA), to trace the debate over the policy since 1990. Argumentative discourse theory posits that policymaking involves struggles for discursive dominance wherein actors try to convince others to view the policy issue in a particular way. Drawing on 158 media articles, interviews, and secondary sources, we show that although some of the actors in the dispute have changed – and changed sides – their arguments have remained fairly consistent. However, their arguments’ meanings – and of the policy itself – have changed as the dominant discourse in the province shifted. Specifically, in response to the rise and predominance of neoliberalism in Alberta, supporters redefined the policy to fund private schools with public money as one that promoted choice and competition that would improve schooling. Opponents, on the other hand, recast the policy as part of a larger government effort to privatize public education. We demonstrate that argumentative discourse theory and ADA can be used to support the goals of critical policy analysis.
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