Heading into this new school year, we have a new law, the Choice in Education Act, and a new set of regulations pursuant to that law.
First, a quick explanation: didn’t Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) already review the Choice in Education Act? Yes, we did!
And when we did so, we mentioned “the degree to which genuine choice is actually supported through these changes will be highly dependent on forthcoming regulations”.
So how did the regulators do?
First, we should celebrate the new Home Education Regulation for what it is: a huge win.
Alberta, already the flagship for education choice on this continent, waves the flag higher.
Alberta has always set the tone for true, robust choice by allowing home education students access to at least some of the tax dollars intended for their education.
Now, with the addition of a “Notification Only, No Funding” option, championed principally by AHEA, only three other North American jurisdictions clearly keep the overall barrier to entry lower than Alberta (namely Oklahoma, Indiana, and New Jersey). Yet even then, as in most other jurisdictions, there is no option to access funding.
Clearly, Alberta families should be proud that our province now offers a broader array of choices for families who elect to home educate.
Meanwhile, Alberta also continues to lead the way on charter schools.
In an early stroke of the regulatory pen, Minister LaGrange lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the province. With the Choice in Education Act, the requirement for a government school board to approve the charter is also lifted. Just as it would be unusual for a new, innovative donut and coffee shop to be required to ask permission from the local Tim Horton’s to open, so too charters should be able to operate without concern that being too competitive and innovative could prevent their charter from being approved.
Additionally, we are pleased to see that “vocation-based education” charters are exempt from protectionist requirements.
If competition is the aim, then a charter should not be punished for competing more directly with a public school. If innovation is the aim, then a public school should not be protected from pressures to innovate.
Oversight to Remedy
While PCE is pleased to see a broader array of options for home educators, we also see the need for improvements when it comes to specific wording related to the authority to investigate and terminate a home education program.
When it comes to a supervised home education program, the Regulation states that a home education program can be terminated if the overseeing board or school has concerns that a student is not making reasonable progress or achieving applicable outcomes, or that the parent providing the program has not met the requirements.
However, before such a termination can take place, numerous provisions are spelled out explicitly in the Regulation (section 8) that must be followed, including that:
- the notice must be in writing
- the notice must contain reasons
- a termination must be made in consultation with the parent
- a termination must give due consideration to the previous evaluations of progress, age, grade, level, and abilities of the student
The concern is that these same provisions are not explicitly written into the new section pertaining to the new “Notification Only, No Funding” (NONF) option (section 1.2).
In fact, the current wording for this new option gives an appointed bureaucrat, namely the Executive Director of Field Services, extensive powers of investigation when “there is, in the opinion of the Director, reason to believe that the home education program is not being provided in accordance with this Regulation or does not provide reasonable opportunity for the student to achieve the applicable outcomes…”
Furthermore, if the parent providing a NONF program “does not cooperate fully with the investigation” or “if after the investigation is complete the Director is not satisfied that the program is being provided in accordance with this Regulation” then this bureaucrat “may, by notice in writing to the parent, terminate the home education program”.
Drafting errors are often honest mistakes made by legislative counsel for the minister responsible, therefore we would expect that this oversight is remedied as soon as possible to ensure that all parents will be afforded access to the same due process before their home education program is terminated, regardless of whether they are accessing a supervised home education program or the new NONF option.
That said, PCE will bring this concern forward to the Minister, requesting that the same clauses in section 8, pertaining to a supervised home education program, will also be included in section 1.2, pertaining to the NONF option.
It is inconceivable that an associate board or private school - with more experience evaluating home education outcomes, more local knowledge of the home student and parent, and more skin in the game of the student’s success - justifies more checks and balances against their much more limited powers than a distant bureaucrat with oversight of an entire province.
We should be proud of Alberta continuing to set the pace in the race for education choice. We should give credit to the thousands of grassroots voices who gave shape to these advances for our movement and the several dozen MLAs who listened to those voices.
We trust Minister LaGrange can recognise that parents are the experts on the learning outcomes of their children and the education professionals they may voluntarily select are more, not less, competent to judge the learning outcomes of their children than a distant bureaucrat.
Therefore, PCE will bring this concern forward to Minister LaGrange, calling for checks and balances on bureaucratic power to investigate and terminate “unsupervised” home education programs that are, at the very least, on par with the limits on associate boards and private schools to terminate “supervised” home education programs.
We encourage families who are so inclined to exercise the Notification Only, No Funding choice to show it can be used responsibly by Alberta families with the lightest possible regulatory touch.