Government should create incentive for all education systems in Alberta to cooperate to benefit students

Now that Alberta is in the midst of a provincial election campaign, we would like to share our three-point wish list for K-12 public education in Alberta.

Elections mean lots of promises and funding announcements, and K-12 education is no different. We appreciate all the debate and ideas, because it’s critically important to talk about the future of education in Alberta. We are educating the next generation of Albertans to take their place in society, and locally-elected public school board trustees are responsible for carefully managing public funding dollars to meet the education needs of their local students and communities.

So far in this election campaign we have heard proposals to cap class size, increase the number of educational assistants and support for inclusive education, and improve education for Indigenous people. We will always welcome more funding to benefit our students.

For the 2018-2019 school year, Alberta Education funding for K-12 education is $8.4 billion.

Whether the issue is class size, meeting complex needs, providing more teachers and educational assistance, more resources in the classroom, more schools, more funding for student transportation, or how we administer education in the province – education funding is complex, and individual election promises only address part of the equation.

Therefore, point one of our election wish list is that the government would increase the role and responsibility of locally-elected school boards, and reduce the emphasis on education funding that targets specific initiatives. Targeted funding sounds like a good idea, but it actually restricts public school boards from being able to meet the unique needs of students within their local communities.

Point two is for the government to recognize that our public schools are the only ones that welcome and accept – unconditionally – all students in society. This is a wonderful privilege, but it also means public schools face unique financial challenges to meet that responsibility – challenges not faced by other education systems in Alberta and costs that are often not covered with the provincial funding dollars received.

Point three is for the government to provide a real incentive for all education systems in Alberta – public, separate, francophone, home school, charter schools and independent schools – to cooperate better with each other, to improve educational opportunities for students while reducing costs. Such cooperation – of which there is very little at present – could include sharing school buildings and administration staff, combining delivery of specialized services, and eliminating multiple and already-duplicated student transportation routes and networks.

How should K-12 education funding be changed to meet the needs of 21st-century students in Alberta? How will locally-elected school board trustees be active participants in this process, and how will we, our students, educators, families and communities be consulted? These are some of our questions, and we look forward to hearing from all parties on the answers.  

Cathy Hogg
President
Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta

Together for Students Campaign

In my previous post, I shared a bit about my philosophy as president of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta (PSBAA). Now, as promised, I want to share more about the Together for Students campaign – how it came about and what we hope to accomplish with it.

 In 2015, PSBAA member school boards made One Public System the first priority in a three-year work plan. The wording in that plan was to “Promote the formation of a single, public inclusive education system in Alberta.”

 Our wording has since changed to One Inclusive System. This was done in an effort to communicate that One Inclusive System means change for us ALL. While the members of our Association have shared our concerns with many people over the years, it was decided that – with an election around the corner – it was important to launch this campaign to raise awareness of how education tax dollars are being spent. This would enable taxpayers to have informed discussion around the topic of education going into this election.

 Our province funds more educational systems than any other province in Canada. Services are duplicated and inefficient, communities are becoming fragmented and funds are being divided, meaning students are ending up with fewer learning opportunities, rather than more. The province thought choice among school systems would improve educational outcomes, but it hasn’t. It was important to us also to shed light on the notion of “choice” in that what we have today is school choice – not parent choice.

 When separate schools were established to protect minority rights, it was not to establish a publicly-funded competitor for public schools. If it had been designed to be competitive, neither party would have the ability to discriminate in student admission and hiring. Nor would either system be able to avoid the most sparsely-populated areas where it is most costly to operate.

 Alberta is an increasingly diverse province, and parental “choice” is being dictated by religion, location and income. Catholic parents, parents in large urban settings and wealthy parents have more “choice”. I don’t believe that taxpayers would be satisfied knowing that their tax dollars open more doors for other peoples’ children than their own.

 In the 2018-19 school year, the Alberta government is spending $8.4 billion on K-12 education. That’s a lot of money, but the conversation isn’t about whether we have enough funding – it’s about making the most of the funding we have, and eliminating duplication and inefficiency. Having said that, today we have a different Alberta and we know that change has to come. It is important that we are the architects of that change.

 Alberta’s current school system was established more than 100 years ago, when there were about 186,000 people in the province. Today, more than 4.2 million people call Alberta home, from more than 200 birth countries and more than 100 chosen faiths. We are no longer just Catholic and Protestant.

 As our campaign chair, Pat Cochrane said, “Most people don’t realize our province’s current school system was established more than 100 years ago, in an agrarian society when one-room schools were the norm. Since then, our province has changed and grown dramatically. We don’t know what Alberta’s education system could look like in the future, but we do know it’s time to start that conversation.”

 In the absence of one system, it is still critical to inform Albertans about how their tax dollars are funding education. In a time where provinces across the country are questioning the need for trustees, this is a great opportunity to demonstrate our relevancy to our communities – after all, who else is going to share with them the intricacies of where their education tax dollars are going?

 The Together for Students campaign is not about saying that we are better than anyone else, nor do we accept anyone else’s claims that they are better than us. It is not about eliminating francophone or catholic education or choice. We believe we all have great schools and great teachers in all education systems in Alberta. We also believe that if the duplication of services was eliminated or minimized, there would be more dollars in the classrooms for programming and for resources to support the teachers in their important work.

 The campaign is about having a conversation about what one system could look like. If we truly respect the notion of choice, why would we not want to share the intricacies of the funding model and give Albertans the choice about what our education system could look like? It’s a conversation about finding efficiencies, finding ways to work together for all students, and bringing together the best of all worlds – sharing and collaborating together, respecting constitutional rights, providing true parent choice and coming together for students to offer more academic, athletic and life interest choices. 

 We believe we can do better. Regardless of where they live, the language they speak, their faith or how they learn, every student deserves equal access to the best possible learning opportunities. Every student deserves this conversation.

 For more information, please visit togetherforstudents.ca, and follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter. You can also email us to tell us what you think of the campaign, and education issues in general. 

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Happy New Year!

I love this time of the year. Much like the start of a new school year, the beginning of a new calendar year is filled with promise and opportunity. With those prospects in mind, I dare to dream and plan about what’s possible in the coming 12 months.

One of the things I dream about and think about is how we can support our students, and how our work as school board trustees is a privilege and an opportunity. Our deliberations, our meetings, our decisions – everything we do as trustees and as part of a school board helps create the foundation that makes possible a vibrant future for each of our students.

As a school board trustee, I love the work that I do with my own division on behalf of students – we all do. Whether we serve as a representative or on Executive Committee for this Association, our heart is for our community first: we always want to improve conditions and opportunities for students in our own divisions.

As President of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta, I have incredible opportunities every single day to help raise awareness about the importance of our work, and why we’re so passionate about it.

I’m often asked about what it’s like working on a provincial level. For me, it’s just a great feeling at the end of each day, knowing that the work we do provincially and the ability to bring forward issues and challenges – and talk about solutions – will benefit our individual divisions too. Being able to reach out have a conversation with the Minister of Education and other MLAs, all of the great speakers and professional development that we get – all of this we can bring back to our own communities to make public education even stronger and better.

As President, I’m really thrilled about being able to meet with all of our member boards and get to know each of our members. I leave every meeting with a greater appreciation for their goals and passions, as well as a better understanding of their division and their priorities. For me, this has been one of the real highlights of the past year and I look forward to getting to know more.

I’ve also really appreciated meeting with our non-member school board colleagues. We share a commitment to public education and a dedication to diversity, inclusion, choice and respect. Of course, in support of our work plan, I also share with them the benefits of belonging to PSBAA, and how we can strengthen our relationships and achieve our common goals by working together.  

We have a work plan – designed by our members – to which we are committed. We also have an ambitious campaign to get public education front and centre on the agenda of all the political parties as we head into a spring provincial election. We want to raise more awareness about exactly where our education dollars are going, and that’s one of the biggest goals for me.

We want to hear from you, too, over the next 12 months and beyond: what’s important to you, why you support public education, and how we can work together to strengthen our educational system and communities for the benefit of all students. This is precisely why we launched the Together for Students campaign – to start a conversation about the future of education in Alberta, and what that future should look like. I’ll share more thoughts on this in my next blog post but, in the meantime, please visit the togetherforstudents.ca website to find out more.

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