Seeking more choice in schooling

Alberta provides funding to its independent schools. It recognizes the importance to its residents and the benefit to its society in doing so. Nevertheless the discussion is still engaged there about how to refine and whether to expand such funding. (See the weekly GAJE update of April 8.)

Two weeks ago, on April 16, an op-ed appeared in the Edmonton Journal written by Jacqueline P. Leighton, a professor of educational psychology and a registered psychologist at the University of Alberta, entitled “Children should have the right to choose the school that suits their needs”.  Leighton responded to an essay by Mr. Ray Martin that appeared in the newspaper on April 13 in which he expressed his strong opposition to any expansion of the province’s inclusion of independent schools within the public purse. 

Martin portrayed the request to expand educational choice for parents as “ultra-right bias.” According to Leighton, he described the independent schools as “often [catering] to higher-income parents” and a “burden [to] our public school system.”

Leighton responded succinctly and forcefully to these statements by Martin.

“Mr. Martin provides no data to support his claims. These claims are falsehoods or to use a more recent term — misinformation unless of course he can show us the data that undergird these statements. Interestingly, a study cited by the Fraser Institute indicates that families who choose to send their children to charter schools are very similar to those who choose not to.

Because government funding in Alberta largely follows the student, families of all income levels have the gift of choice in their child’s education. And, as far as access goes, enrolment decisions for charter schools must be consistent with the Alberta Human Rights Act as explicitly written in the 2021 Charter Schools Handbook published by Alberta Education.”

Leighton puts paid to the false notion that the families whose children attend independent schools are elitist. Moreover, as Cardus research has established, these very same families tend to be at least as involved, if not more, in volunteer, civic and communal life than families of children in the “public” school system.

But then, Leighton concludes her rebuttal of Martin’s impressionistic, evidence-less opinion with an eloquent observation touching the very heart of the debate concerning the importance of governments’ offering  – within the very real limits upon governmental ability to do so – the very best education that is possible to our children.

“Why would we not want to give children the most generous and appropriate choices and stepping stones in meeting their potential and their goals? After two years of unpredictable disruptions to children’s schooling, we need to accept that some children may need different support now more than ever, and families may wish different experiences for their children.

It surprises me that some would not wish parents to have full choice in deciding what is in the best interest of their children. I do not see schooling choice as an example of ultra-right bias. In fact, I see framing schooling choice as ultra-right bias, as ill-informed about what is in the best interest of children. Choice in schooling is a basic recognition that children have rights, and may have different needs. Far from an ultra-right political bias, offering diverse experiences and support are assets to human development and wellness.”

In addition to the substantive arguments that Leighton has raised, GAJE also maintains that allowing the families of one religion only to have choice regarding the education of their children is unfair and unjust to the families of other religions. In addition, and no less important, GAJE also maintains that the perpetuation of such discrimination diminishes Ontario. How can we truthfully say that Ontario is a haven where the protective canopy of respect for human rights is applied equally to all minorities. Alas, we cannot.  

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Leighton’s article is available at: https://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-children-should-have-the-right-to-choose-the-school-that-suits-their-needs

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As readers of this weekly update know, GAJE has launched an application to try to bring fairness and equity to the Government of Ontario’s education funding. If you wish to contribute to the funding of GAJE’s lawsuit to achieve fairness and justice in education funding in Ontario, please click here.

For further information, please contact Israel Mida at: imida1818@gmail.com

Charitable receipts for donations for income tax purposes will be issued by Mizrachi Canada. Your donations will be used for the sole purpose of underwriting the costs of the lawsuit.

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Shabbat shalom

Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE),

April 29, 2022

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