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St. Albert-area trustees question Choice in Education Act

“Giant step in wrong direction,” says Becigneul

A new bill meant to promote parental choice in education is a “giant step in the wrong direction” that will take money away from public and separate schools, said a St. Albert board chair.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange tabled Bill 15, the Choice in Education Act, on May 28.

The bill, if passed, will amend the preamble of the Education Act to say “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that may be provided to their children” – essentially the same words already found in Sect. 32 of the act.

It would also make it easier to create a charter school (a non-profit school that teaches the Alberta curriculum in a non-traditional way). Instead of having to ask a local school board to consider an alternative schooling program before applying for a school charter, people would be able to ask the education minister directly, at which point the minister would discuss an alternative program with area schools before considering the new school.

Right now, parents who homeschool a child get provincial dollars to do so but must be supervised by a school board or accredited private school, which will evaluate the kid twice a year. Bill 15 would let parents homeschool without provincial cash or supervision if they submit an education plan to the province.

LaGrange said a recent provincial survey found about 62 per cent of Albertans were satisfied with their current amount of educational choice. She was not sure if this bill would lead to a rush of new charter schools and had yet to receive a request to create one. (Alberta has 13 charter schools.)

Kenney said Alberta had saved $1.8 billion in the last eight years through school choice in the form of homeschooling and independent schools.

“Choice means competition, and competition means better outcomes.”

Kenney said this act would help address the backlog of roughly 14,000 students waiting to get into charter schools.

Bill unnecessary, say trustees

On Facebook, Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools board chair Joe Becigneul wrote that this bill was “a giant step in the wrong direction” that would accelerate the privatization of education.

Private schools can charge tuition on top of receiving provincial dollars and, like charter schools, can pick and choose their students, Becigneul said in an interview. Creating more charter schools – for which he didn’t perceive a huge demand – would put more financial pressure on all schools that received provincial funding.

Public schools already offer considerable choice in education, much of which is parent-driven, said St. Albert Public Schools board chair Glenys Edwards. Locally developed courses and the Logos and Cogito programs were all examples of alternative learning programs in St. Albert created in response to local demand.

“We believe our schools are driven to provide a high level of education not by competition but by interest,” she said.

“We do not see the need to divert funding out of the publicly funded system to support private schools.”

In a press release, Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling criticized the bill’s plans to let parents homeschool kids without supervision.

“Unsupervised home education should be a concern to all Albertans. A child’s right to a quality education must not be sacrificed in the name of parental choice.”

Bill 15 will be debated and voted on later this summer.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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