Shifting meanings: The struggle over public funding of private schools in Alberta, Canada

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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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How to Cite
Winton, S., & Staples, S. (2022). Shifting meanings: The struggle over public funding of private schools in Alberta, Canada. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 30, (15).
Special Issue: Critical Policy Analysis in Education
Author Biographies

Sue Winton, York University

Sue Winton is a critical educational policy researcher, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and Co-Director of the World Educational Research Association’s International Research Network on Families, Educators, and Communities as Educational Advocates.  Her research examines policy advocacy, influences, and enactment. 

Steven Staples, York University

Steven Staples is a recent graduate of the Master’s in Leadership and Community Engagement Program at York University and a policy researcher and advocate with interests in public education, health care, international relations and labour. He is the former Director of Research and Education for the Ontario Federation of Labour and is founder of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs. Currently he serves as the National Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Canadian Health Coalition.