Alberta affirms importance of independent schools

While our attention has been focused on pandemic concerns and more recently on the social and civil tumult in the United States, many of us may have missed an interesting piece of news out of Alberta.

On May 28, the Government of Alberta tabled a bill to enshrine more choice for parents in choosing the system of education for their children. In introducing Bill 15, Education minister, Adriana LaGrange, said the government was strengthening “the idea that parents have the right to choose the type of education their children receive.”

The initiative by Alberta is aimed primarily at facilitating home-schooling. It also eases the path for the opening of charter schools in the province. It therefore does not apply in all respects to the concerns GAJE has raised. However, Bill 15 does reinforce the importance of independent schools in the Alberta educational structure.

The bill specifically states that independent schools are “important in providing parents and students with choice in education.”

Minister LaGrange reinforced that statement in her press remarks:
“Private or independent schools have played a very important role in choice for parents in this province and I do believe that they felt that they were not valued but threatened under the previous government.”

According to a CBC report posted by Lucie Edwardson on May 28, LaGrange said the proposed educational changes would not result in increased funding for independent schools. “They still only receive 70 per cent funding and they do not receive any capital funding.”

But Minister LaGrange did elaborate upon why the government made the effort to reference independent schools in the bill despite the fact those schools were receiving no additional funding. “This is strictly true to give them the comfort and to reinforce what we heard from parents… that they value the choice and that they see independent schools as a very real choice that they want to make for their children.”

Michael Van Pelt, president and CEO of Cardus — a Canadian faith-based, public-policy think tank — extolled the initiative by Alberta. “If COVID did something, it showed us that we need flexibility in educational formats and educational approaches, and the bill does that, too,” he said.

It should be also be noted that in 2018, Cardus produced the report Better is Possible, which found increased independent school enrolment in Alberta would help spur public school improvement and accountability.

The very same arguments aimed at Alberta about spurring public school improvement and accountability can surely be directed at Ontario. And can one imagine how different the funding situation would be for our community if the Government of Ontario contributed 70 percent of the schools’ non-capital fund needs?

Ontario is stuck in an educational policy mire. For reasons of politics, Ontario governments have refused to extricate themselves from that mire. Reasons of justice and fairness have not impelled successive Ontario governments from taking the proper policy steps. Perhaps reasons of educational excellence, financial efficiency and budgeting accountability as implied in Alberta’s model will inspire them?

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Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom

GAJE

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