Parents for Choice in Education has read and reviewed the educational policies of as many parties as possible during the current election. We will begin by examining the platforms of the chief contenders, the New Democratic and United Conservative Parties. We will then look briefly at the minor parties: those unable to field a full slate of 87 candidates in this election.
These remarks are not intended as endorsement of, or opposition to, any particular party. It is strictly an analysis of their varying educational policies.
New Democratic Party (NDP) Platform
The New Democratic Party did not produce a detailed educational policy. Their policy section is focussed primarily on attacking the United Conservative Party’s record. Since their platform is small, it can be examined in detail. We will cite their statements, with commentary.
"Since 2019, 36,000 more students have enrolled in Alberta’s schools, but the UCP has failed to hire a single additional teacher. They’ve underfunded education and haven’t built schools where they’re most needed."
There appear to be multiple errors of fact in this statement.
First, according to the official student enrollment numbers, this is only true if you consider overall student growth from 2018 (not 19) to October 2022. Of that 36,000-student growth, almost 7,000 are students in home education – who are not looking for more teachers. The public system has grown by a little less than 21,000 students, not the 36,000 the NDP is trying to claim.
Second, most of that growth occurred during the current school year – unprecedented growth, in fact. From October of 2018 to October of 2021, student enrollment grew by roughly 15,000 students, from 730,375 to 745,770. The NDP messaging is, in other words, cherry-picking statistics to torque the truth to their point of view.
Third, the enrollment growth during 2018 to 2021 was almost entirely in home education, which grew by almost 9,000 students, and private schools, which enrolled almost 8,000 more students. Public schools grew by only 5,000 students. In fact, fewer students registered in public schools in 2021 than had registered in 2019.
The NDP platform implies that UCP did not increase funding to keep up with increased enrollment. This is not true. While funding did dip dramatically at one point, this was in 2020, when student enrollment dipped by more than 8,000 students – and there were 11,000 less in public and separate schools alone. Of those students, most were accommodated via videoconference, which meant that aides could not be used. Aside from that year, funding has risen steadily (as has per-student cost) from 2019 to 2023.
"An Alberta NDP government will invest in supporting students, and education. We will fund every student and classroom, setting targets for classroom sizes. We will do this by hiring 4,000 more teachers and 3,000 educational support staff."
It is simply false to claim that the Province can hire more teachers. That’s the job of local school boards, not the Minister. The only way to make good on this promise (short of abolishing local school boards) is to issue targeted grants specific to hiring. These grants would require considerable work to apply for, administer and report on, which diminishes their value to the local school board. As one journalist pointed out during Notley’s press conference on education, the hiring itself is also easier said than done.
In this respect, Smith’s plan to simply give more money to local school boards and let them spend it on their priorities is more promising. Where Notley promises to hire teachers, it is not clear that she plans to offer more total funding than is in the (costed) UCP budget. And, if that money is tied up with her requirements, there is no assurance that it will be entirely appreciated by local school boards.
In similar vein, a final NDP promise remains to be considered:
"An Alberta NDP government will build and modernize schools where our classrooms are the most overcrowded."
They do not specify which schools in the policy document, although a letter sent to PCE indicates that they wish to build or modernize 125 schools. They do not indicate where their priorities specifically lie.
The lack of specificity of the NDP’s plans encourages onlookers to think that they may have some sort of ulterior motive. That fact that Notley appears to have promised to defund private and charter schools, while NDP candidate Cathy Hogg literally led a campaign to defund Catholic education, suggests that their agenda is not hidden, and may be as dire as anyone could fear.
Simply put, the NDP appears to have two completely different Education campaign platforms. One is the rather anodyne one, which claims that their opponents shortchanged the education system, and promises to spend more money. The other is the one that they promise key supporters such as the Alberta Teachers’ Association or the Public School Board Association – commitments to defund educational choice, and force unwilling families to send their children to the public system. It would be helpful if the NDP could provide more clarity with a more complete policy suite.
United Conservative Party (UCP) Platform
The UCP platform on education emphasizes their actual achievements on education:
• increased education spending,
• built new schools,
• developed a unique funding model that they believe makes it easier to get funding into the classroom
• improved transportation funding
• Developed a new K-6 curriculum on a Hirschean model (although their Social Studies curriculum was abandoned)
• A Public Charter School Hub to support educational innovations.
• Finally, they promise that:
• “A re-elected UCP government will continue to champion the importance of school choice and allowing parents to decide the type of education that is right for their children and their needs.
The United Conservative platform statement engenders some confidence. The combination of a record of supporting parental rights (at least to some degree) together with a promise to do so in the future is encouraging. In an environment where their only serious opponent appears to promise the destruction of educational choice, UCP clearly has the better education policy.
Minor Parties Opposed to Parental Choice
Green Party (41 Candidates) Platform
The Green Party promises to collaborate with unions, create a curriculum based on the input of “subject matter experts and stakeholders,” end funding for private schools, and “merge all Catholic and public schools together.” Separate Catholic schools would (of course) be defunded. The document does not stipulate who their “experts” are, or who their “stakeholders” are, which gives cause for concern. Parents for Choice in Education identifies parents as the stakeholders when it comes to educating their children. This is the most radical and extreme of the anti-choice platforms presented.
Liberal Party (13 Candidates) Platform
The Liberal Party wishes to “prioritize funding for public schools over private schools,” and “return Charter Schools to their intended purpose.” Presumably, this means that private schools would be defunded, and Charter schools would be returned to the control of the nearest public board, as they originally were. PCE believes that this amounts to the wholesale dismantling of Charter schools across the Province, and the dislocation of over ten thousand students.
Alberta Party (13 Candidates) Platform
The Alberta Party promises to “freeze” funding to private and Charter schools. Presumably, this means they will cap enrollment.
They promise to make sure that curriculum development is done by teachers (that is, by the officials of the Alberta Teachers’ Association).
They also promise to make “Comprehensive School Health, Anti-Racist and Trauma-Informed Education” part of the “Core Curriculum.” As with the NDP, the lack of specificity tempts the reader to suspect ulterior motives.
Minor Parties Supportive of Parental Choice
Buffalo Party (1 Candidate) Platform
The Buffalo Party does not have developed policies. In keeping with their principle of decentralization, they announce that they believe “in parental leadership, not top down, government dictated education.”
Wildrose Loyalty Coalition (Hinman) (16 Candidates) Platform
While they do not have an elaborate policy platform, their website does say:
We trust parents and will protect their rights to make decisions concerning their children.
Wildrose Independence Party (2 Candidates) Platform
Wildrose has one of the most substantial policy suites of the minor parties, with 22 points under K-12 education. Their promises include a Parent’s Bill of Rights: however, they have a broad spectrum of ideas, that are not limited specifically to parental rights concerns.
The Independence Party (14 Candidates) Platform
Their policy platform commits them to “parental leverage,” meaning that funding follows the student, and parents will have educational options that match their kids’ needs. They also promise a “back to basics” approach to remove identity politics from schools.
Advantage Party of Alberta (4 Candidates) Platform
The Advantage Party has one of the most extensive educational policies of any minor party. It includes a section that commits to support for school choice (at least to the extent of maintaining the status quo).
Independents for Alberta (2 Candidates) Platform
While this is not a formal political party, their website mentions “the importance of choice in education and the importance of parental engagement in the education of their children”
Solidarity Movement of Alberta (Pawloski) (38 Candidates) Platform
Advertises “Faith, Family, and Liberty,” but has no specific policy commitments as of this writing.