It has been an especially busy month for education choice in Alberta, given the recently tabled Choice in Education Act, as well as dealing with ongoing concerns with the new funding framework.
PCE Executive Director Donna Trimble also had the opportunity earlier this month for an extended television interview on Bridge City News, highlighting the updated section on our website about Health & Sexual Education.
All this information and more follows below in this month’s newsletter!
Explore the new Choice in Education Act with PCE
Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) has taken time to analyze the text of Bill 15, the Choice in Education Act, tabled on May 27, 2020, in order to help equip parents and citizens with a better understanding of the more substantive changes being proposed to the Education Act.
Overall, the amendments brought forward in Bill 15 represent steps in the right direction.
However, the degree to which genuine choice is actually supported through these changes will be highly dependent on forthcoming regulations and implementation of practices going forward.
PCE is pleased to see the insertion of two new statements included in the preamble:
- WHEREAS parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that may be provided to their children;
- WHEREAS the Government of Alberta recognizes public schools, separate schools, Francophone schools, private schools, charter schools, early childhood services programs and home education programs as being valued and integral in providing choice in education to students and parents;
We look forward to seeing tangible examples of how these statements of intent will be reflected through concrete actions going forward.
Bill 15 removes the legal requirement for a home education program to be “under the supervision of a board or the person responsible for the operation of a private school accredited under section 29(2)”.
The removal of this clause opens up the possibility for a new home education option, which is being described by the government as an “unsupervised, notification-only, non-funded home education program”.
However, how this option actually plays out in practice is entirely dependent on changes to regulations, which have yet to be released.
A statement from Alberta Education’s summary document (copied below) seems to indicate some new parameters will come into existence - likely through regulation, since the wording does not actually appear in the changes to law proposed in Bill 15:
“Annual notification of the intent to homeschool will be required as well as submission (not approval) of a home education plan/program that demonstrates sufficient opportunity to achieve, to an acceptable level, appropriate learning outcomes.”
Based on the above wording, several key questions arise:
- To whom will the annual notification be submitted?
- Who will determine whether the home education plan/program demonstrates “sufficient opportunity to achieve, at an acceptable level, appropriate learning outcomes”?
- If a plan/program does not meet the above stated criteria will there be a requirement to revise the plan/program? If not, then what is the purpose of the government stating these specific criteria and qualifications?
While PCE applauds the government on this step to open up a new choice on the education landscape, we are concerned about whether the option could be undermined, depending on how the above questions are resolved in regulation and practice.
It is worth noting that most of the specific parameters governing home education (funding, responsibilities, evaluation of student progress, etc.) will continue to exist in regulation, not law. Regulations, unlike legislation, are not subject to the increased transparency, accountability and scrutiny which arises when laws proceed through debate and voting in the legislative assembly.
This means that changes to home education will continue to be made primarily through a stroke of a pen at the behest of the Education Minister and will remain highly dependent on who occupies the Minister’s chair, especially when it comes their commitment to, and understanding of, home education.
As such, ongoing vigilance regarding regulatory changes will continue to be necessary.
CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATION PROCESS
Bill 15, if passed, would remove the requirement that charter school applications can only be submitted to the Education Minister “if the board of the school division in which the school is to be established has refused to establish an alternative program under section 19”.
Removal of this clause is a welcome change as available options should be driven by the needs of students and not the dictates of public schools.
PCE applauds the government for taking this important step to open up more options for students, though we do have two concerns.
First, the text of Bill 15 states that the “Minister shall, in accordance with the regulations, provide notice of the application for a new charter school and the proposed programming” to the other school divisions and charters in the geographic area.
However, in the summary provided by the government, there is a further specification that the Minister would also need to “discuss the potential for the establishment of an alternative program before a charter school application could be considered.”
We are uncertain as to why this extra clause is provided in the summary, but not in the actual text of Bill 15, and hope additional onerous regulations and qualifications will not be layered onto the legislation later that could contribute to undermining its intent.
Second, there continues to be a qualification in Bill 15 stating that an application for a charter can only proceed for “a learning style, a teaching style, approach or philosophy or pedagogy that is not already being offered by a board of a public or separate school division or Francophone regional authority operating within the geographic area in which the charter school will be located” (emphasis added).
The concern with this wording brings to mind the experience shared by a parent who communicated that the programming his child received in a science charter school was entirely incomparable to the programming received in an alternative science program in a public district.
Limiting options to charters because an alternative program already exists creates undue restriction to innovation and accessibility to additional education options. Forms of education delivery should compete on an equitable playing field and exist solely based on their capacity to meet the needs of students, without measures of protectionism favouring government-run schools.
Notably, “vocation-based education” options are purposefully separated from the above list, presumably meaning these charter applications can move forward regardless of whether similar programming exists elsewhere in the area.
PRIVATE (INDEPENDENT) SCHOOLS
There is a new statement proposed in Bill 15 stating: “Private schools are recognized as being important in providing parents and students with choice in education.”
To ensure this importance is reflected in tangible action, PCE urges the Department of Education be intentional and proactive in reaching out directly to the diverse range of private school authorities, as well as those on the frontlines of these settings (students, parents, staff and administrators), to better understand their unique context and ensure a growing minority of students continue to have access to the settings where they are thriving.
It is important to recognize that large government-run school divisions and the ATA have a disproportionate capacity to push their needs forward by virtue of their massive market share and what works for these settings will not necessarily transfer to smaller scale education contexts.
PCE appreciates that the government's proposed legislative changes seek to clarify their commitment toward genuine education choice.
We now await the specific regulatory measures and clarification of practices which we hope will ensure the intention of the Choice in Education Act is fulfilled.
To all the supporters of PCE, thank you for your contributions to this important work, especially all of the feedback you provided in the fall/winter through the choice in education engagement survey (results of which have been provided by the Alberta government).
There is no doubt that this government’s commitment to choice in education in Alberta was strengthened through your efforts alongside PCE over the years as we've advocated for an excellent, quality-oriented, choice-driven education system which recognizes parental authority.
Concerns with new funding framework
Since the release of Alberta's new funding framework in mid-March, PCE has been working diligently to inform the Department of Education about how new funding mechanisms within this framework undermine certain education options in Alberta. We have appreciated the government's willingness to engage in a wide range of consultations to gather feedback.
There have been some encouraging changes over the past couple of months, though unfortunately several outstanding issues remain.
We’ve emphasized the urgency of making corrections as soon as possible because both schools and families are making decisions now for the next school year and we are deeply concerned that several options have already been restricted due to the pressures created by the funding framework.
In the coming days PCE will provide a more detailed summary of concerns with the funding framework and the ways in which it undermines genuine education choice. We hope the Department of Education will mitigate these concerns in the interests of supporting student success in Alberta.
Exploring other K-12 education options in Alberta?
As this unusual school year draws to a close, many students and parents are thinking about options for next school year. Given concerns with COVID-19, some are even exploring education contexts they hadn’t previously considered.
That said, PCE invites families to peruse our section “K-12 Education options in Alberta” for links to information about a variety of different education options.
PCE Bridge City News interview about health & sexual education
Thank you to Bridge City News in Lethbridge for hosting an extended interview with PCE Executive Director Donna Trimble during their May 13th broadcast, focused on PCE's updated Health & Sexual Education section.
Watch the interview by clicking here or on the picture below:
PCE is hiring: Apply for position of PCE Executive Director
On May 21, 2020, PCE Executive Director Donna Trimble released a statement announcing her resignation effective August 31, 2020 and thus launching PCE's search for a new Executive Director.
We invite you to read Donna's full statement, as well as access a link to the job posting on our website: PCE is hiring: Apply for position of PCE Executive Director
As a non-profit organization, Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) depends entirely on the voluntary donations of citizens to carry out its mission of advocating for excellence in education through maximum parental choice.
To continue this extremely important work, PCE appreciates any financial support that you may be able to contribute at this time. You can become a monthly donor or make a one-time donation through the options listed on our donate page.
Thank you to each person who helps make this work possible!