School Choice: Year in Review and Look Ahead

PCE recently came across a post on an American education blog - a school choice 'year in review', looking at trends in education and school choice south of the border. It's worth a read.

Meanwhile, here in Alberta, school choice has been a major political issue this year.

For the most part, we advocates of school choice have succeeded in our objectives. There are, however, emerging challenges and threats which will require continuing vigilance by supporters of education choice.

Here are the developments of the year, as we see them at PCE:

1. The year began on a rough note for education choice. Premier Alison Redford pushed forward with an education act which would have significantly limited parental authority. At the time, this legislation had the support of the official opposition in the legislature, as well as the NDP. Many people expected the premier to also introduce full-day kindergarten, eliminate or substantially reduce standardized testing, and repeal legislation protecting the parental right to opt children out of classroom lessons on certain controversial subjects.

2. In response to these events, parents mobilized, led largely by home educators. Rallies at the legislature about the new proposed Education Act drew thousands of people. The government decided to delay the passage of the act until after the provincial election.

3. Many parents feared that the PC government simply hoped to bring back the same version, or even a more extreme version, of the Education Act after the election. As a result, many long-time PC voters defected to the Wildrose Party. Various campaign missteps forestalled Wildrose success in the end, but the polls suggested that Alberta’s PC government faced a serious threat. Although education was not a major focus of discussion during the election, it is clear that concerns about the Education Act played a major role in the decisions of many voters.

4. Over the summer, education choice advocates saw the need to develop an umbrella organization, uniting home educating parents with alternative and independent school parents, charter school parents, and Catholic-school parents into a coalition of people supporting school choice and parental authority in education. Through these discussions, our organization emerged. Parents for Choice in Education ensures that no group within the school choice world will ever have to fight alone - we help to build a united front and ensure that education choice and parental authority are maintained, protected, and enhanced.

5. In the fall, with a much stronger Wildrose presence in the legislature supporting education choice and with education choice advocates on the move everywhere, the PC government decided to re-position themselves on these issues. The government brought forward a new Education Act which both removed the anti-school choice provisions in the previous act and included specific mention of the importance of parental authority in education. The new act was applauded by education stakeholders across the spectrum, and received overwhelming support in the legislature.

While things seemed to have moved in a positive direction this year, there are still clouds on the horizon for 2013. These include:

1. Full-day kindergarten – we’ve written elsewhere about how full-day kindergarten could be used as a tool to undermine parental authority. Despite significant fiscal pressures, the government has still said quite recently that they want to move forward with it. Education choice advocates need to fight to ensure that full day kindergarten is not imposed on unwilling families and communities, who might prefer that their children experience a more gradual transition to going to school.

2. Liberal attacks on independent schools – the Liberals recently put forward a motion to pull funding for independent schools. Pulling funding from independent schools would take school choice away from low and middle income families and create a situation of extreme inequality in education. We believe that education choice should be available to all, not just the rich.

3. Attacks on choice at the school board level – in many ways, the new Education Act which the government introduced this fall punted some of the key controversial issues in the earlier version down to the school board level to deal with. As such, parents and education choice advocates need to become more involved in school board politics. Over the next 10 years, PCE expects that the most important decisions about education in Alberta will be made at the school board level – a level of government plagued by low voter turnout and a lack of scrutiny. In the coming year, Parents for Choice in Education will seek to play a significant role supporting the election and re-election of school board trustees who believe in parental authority and education choice.

Thank you for supporting Parents for Choice in Education. If you like what you’re reading here, we would encourage you to take the next step and join us. We will need your support in the battles ahead.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!