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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