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The Government of Alberta recently introduced Bill 15 the “Choice in Education act” which they claim is intended to offer parents in Alberta more “choice” in how their children are educated.
According to the Government of Alberta the Act is intended to “strengthen Alberta’s successful history of educational choice, including public and separate schools, Francophone schools, charter schools, independent (private) schools, early childhood education and home education.” The Act is supposed to achieve this goal by amending the current Education Act to:
- affirm that parents have the right to choose the kind of education they feel is best for their children
- support the creation of new charter schools, including vocation-focused charter schools
- protect the status and funding of independent (private) schools
- provide new options for parents who choose to home school their children
- allow a person to bypass the school board and apply directly to the Minister to begin the process to establish a new charter school
- allow for an unsupervised, notification-only, non-funded home education program
- exclude charter school operators from being subject to the Board Procedures Regulation as they are societies or companies registered under Part 9 of the Companies Act
- exempt charter school operators from the application of new joint use and planning agreement requirements between school boards and municipalities
The Alberta School Council Association further claims that the bill will:
• Affirm parents have primary responsibility for the education of their children
• Add to the preamble of the Education Act recognition of Section 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
• Protect the status and funding of independent schools in legislation given that they save the public education system $168 million annually. (They provide no source for this claim)
• Facilitate the creation and operation of new charter schools by
• Lifting the cap on the number of charter schools
• Lifting charter school enrollment caps
• Allowing charter schools to own property
• Treat charter schools as priorities above other possible uses for surplus public-school infrastructure
• Support and encourage an expansion of alternative programs in the public system
• Respect the constitutional right to separate schools
• Maintain funding for independent schools and home schoolers at current levels
• Encourage the sharing of busing and infrastructure where appropriate, while respecting the distinctive nature of both systems
• Amend the Education Act to implement the Leadership Quality Standards
• Ensure that requests from parents for blended home school programs are facilitated
This Bill has drawn criticism and concern from Public Education Advocates across Alberta, including Edmonton Public School Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks who said she is concerned that the legislation would make it easier to start a charter school.
“At Edmonton Public we have concerns about that because we know that charter schools don’t actually have to take every student that applies and although they receive the full funding that a public school would receive, they aren’t publicly accessible for all students the way public schools are,” she said, “That sort of setup is a threat to public education and the valuable dollars that are required in public education.”
Despite Lagrange’s claims that these changes would not benefit private or religious schools, we’ve already seen that funding changes made by the UCP do exactly that.
“This year, private schools received a four per cent funding increase while public boards received about two per cent less. This is unfair and inequitable,” ATA President Jason Schilling said.
The Education Minister, however, claims she’s just giving Albertans what they want, despite her own survey returning 50,000 responses resulting in 61.6% of Albertans who responded to Lagrange’s satisfaction stating that they were satisfied with the amount of Educational Choice in Alberta and 59.1% stating that they were satisfied with the information available about school choice in Alberta. These results, of course, do not include the 2,357 survey responses Lagrange excluded because she deemed them “too similar” to include, she also didn’t like that they were from people associated with “SOS”, also known as Support Our Students Alberta, a public education advocacy group which Minister Lagrange referred to as “A private interest group trying to hijack the survey”. One of those responses was probably from me. Jason Kenney believes that this proposed legislation is important because there are special interest groups and political parties in Alberta who “undermine” the rights of parents to choose how their children are educated. “This legislation won’t let them do so in the future,” Kenney said.
Shockingly, Lagrange and Kenney had no such concerns about religious groups that encouraged their members to advocate for Bill 15.
Leo Gaumont, Founder of Education Unlimited. (Still image from his youtube video “welcome to the 2017-2018 academic year”)
As if concerns about funding distribution and administrative and academic oversight weren’t enough, the fervent support we’re seeing from religious schools is even more concerning. The Canadian Centre for Home Education welcomed Kenney as its keynote speaker for the closing banquet of the 2018 National Home Education Conference in Edmonton (Ted Byfield, founder of The Alberta Report also gave a speech).
According to Press Progress the 2018 conference was sponsored by:
Wisdom Homeschooling is a group that made headlines in 2016 after it was shut down by the province over allegations of fraud, “financial irregularities” and misuse of public education dollars. An audit found that Trinity Christian School Association had outsourced its homeschooling operations to Wisdom Homeschooling Society, which was founded in 1995 by the then associate principal of Trinity. The audit found that the 2 families responsible for the alleged mismanagement compensated themselves in excess of $2.76 Million over a three year period.
A former student of Wisdom, which provides resources for homeschooling parents, also raised questions about its credibility as an educational organization.
Classical Conversations is a company headquartered in the United States (NC) which calls itself a “Classical Christian Community” and features heavy handed religious teachings.
Education Unlimited which was founded in 1999 and “functions as a home Education management system” for Harvest Baptist Academy to provide services to families without using provincial accreditation. They tout their organization as recognizing “the authority and responsibility of parents” and encouraging them in “the training of their children at home”.
Harvest Baptist academy gained public attention for refusing to adhere to GSA policy. When interviewed, Brian Coldwell, Chairman of HBA and Pastor of New Testament Baptist Church said that he has a duty as a pastor to refuse GSAs in his two schools. He said his schools would not comply with the law and equated the rules to religious persecution.
The Alberta Home Education Association claim on their website that “AHEA has been working with the Minister’s Office and Alberta Education throughout this process.” The AHEA also has ties to the Home School Legal Defense Association and even advertises those connections on their website, they actively ran a campaign against Bill 24, which grants privacy and protections for students who join gay-straight alliances. In fact, the group encouraged its supporters to contact Kenney directly and voice their opposition to the GSA bill.
The Home School Legal Defence Association is run by Peter Stock, who founded a far-right group called Canada Family Action, which claims their mission is to “mobilize, train and activate Canadians in defending and promoting Christian principles in Canadian society”. He also wrote an article for the now gloriously defunct news magazine “The Report” which boasted such “writers” as Kenneth Whyte, Ezra Levant and Lorne Gunter, about how he believed that legislation introduced to expand the definition of spouse to include same sex and common law partners would lead to a “polygamist society” in which immigration would become an issue (?) and quotes Jason Kenney as saying that “When the supreme Court invented a constitutional right to sexual orientation, a right based on sexual conduct, they opened the door for polygamists, advocates of incest and others to claim the same status as homosexuals.”
The CFA also promotes the idea of conversion therapy on their website and called for a “values test” for films shot in the province after “Brokeback Mountain was shot here.
UCP MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills Nathan Cooper (you know, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta), another member of Canada Family Action, drew scrutiny in 2017 when it was revealed he hosted a CFA podcast with guest Dr. Scott Livey who helped draft Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act which proposed making homosexual acts punishable by death. The “Honorable” speaker, indeed.
In my humble opinion, this Bill appears to be about diverting resources away from Public Education in Alberta, making private options look more appealing to the public by comparison, and eroding oversight for independent and religious schools in the name of “parents rights”.
Considering everything else that’s going on, it seems very on brand for them, doesn’t it?
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