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Public Education During a Crisis: Five Alarm Bells about the ‘Choice in Education Act’

Part 6: Five Alarm Bells about the ‘Choice in Education Act’

On May 28, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange introduced Bill 15: Choice in Education Act.

The bill expands on a previous Kenney government initiative brought forward by the Education Act which came into effect September 1, 2019.

As a quick precursor to the Choice in Education Act, it's important to note that the Education Act changes lifted the cap on charter schools in Alberta. Previously charter schools in Alberta were restricted to a total of 15. At that time (and there continues to be) 13 charters schools in the province, the majority of which are in urban centres. The Education Act also allowed charter schools, which are privately run, to own property (a change from the School Act). This means public dollars can now be used to build private equity. 

When announcing the Choice in Education Act, Minister Adriana LaGrange revealed that no new applications for charter schools have been submitted since the cap was lifted in September.


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Bill 15: Choice in Education Act 

Bill 15: Choice in Education Act, 2020 continues the Kenney government’s agenda of privatization, weakening unions, and attacking our public education system. The legislation goes further in promoting the expansion of charter schools in Alberta by removing several regulations and oversights. 

The five most concerning pieces of the bill include:

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1 - Requirements for Charter Schools Rolled Back

Charter schools will no longer have to meet the original requirements set out in the Schools Act (the act under which charter schools were originally introduced), such as:

Existing: School boards were granted the right of first refusal for proposed charter school programming. Charters were obligated to approach the local school board to determine if the proposed program could be first offered as an alternative program under the public school board.

With Bill 15: The charter school proposal goes directly to the Minister of Education for approval. Eliminating the right of first refusal for public school boards.

Existing:  Board Procedures Regulation with specific rules on board meetings, policies and procedures, by-law requirements and quorum applied to charter school operators.

With Bill 15: Excludes 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. 

2 - Introduction of Unsupervised, Unfunded Homeschooling

Unsupervised and unfunded homeschooling will now be allowed in Alberta. 

Existing: Only supervised and funded home education programs, either under the public or private umbrella were allowed.

With Bill 15: Introduces the option for an unsupervised, notification-only, non-funded home education program. These programs are not required to follow the provincial curriculum and these students will not receive an Alberta High School Diploma

3 - Introduction of Vocational Charter Schools

Vocational charter schools are coming to Alberta.

Existing: Vocational charter schools were not included in the previous legislation.

With Bill 15: Allows for the implementation of vocational charter schools. Vocational schools are often code for academic streaming. The bill contains no clarification if vocational teachers will require teaching certification.

4 - Exemption of Charter Schools From Joint Use Agreements

Charter Schools will be exempted from Joint Use Agreements meaning they can use public dollars to own real estate and exclude the public from accessing those facilities. 

Existing: Joint use agreements existed for charter schools in Edmonton and Calgary. Joint use agreements are often referred to as “shared use or community use” agreements.  Currently many charter schools lease ‘surplus’ public school facilities for $1/yr.  Joint use agreements ensure that the public keeps access to facilities being used by charter schools that are funded with public dollars.

With Bill 15: Exempts charter school operators from the application of new joint use and planning agreement requirements. This combined with the Education Act change allowing charter companies to own real estate and infrastructure means Charter companies can now use public dollars to own buildings that the public has no right to access

5 - Exclusion of Key Sections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Section 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is included in Bill 15, but the legislation fails to include the important sections 26.1 and 26.2 of the declaration which provide essential context. A concerning decision in regards to the right of children to have an education.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Section 26)

26.1 Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

26.2 Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

26.3 Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.


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What does it all mean?

The changes made by Bill 15: Choice in Education Act, are clear attacks on public education. 

The amendments outlined above clearly aim to promote and encourage the expansion of charter schools in Alberta by deregulating their application process, by eliminating board and governance procedures and by removing joint use agreements. These amendments are meant to incentivize and facilitate the introduction of more charter schools in Alberta. The result will be a weaker public school system, weaker public education unions, and a diversion of funds from public schools to a private system. 

Bill 15, under the guise of parental “choice” is a clear attack on public education, on publicly elected school boards, and undermines the rights of the child. 

This legislation rolls out the welcome mat for charter schools in Alberta in an unprecedented way.

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Four Ways to Take Action 

So what do we do!? 

Take action now to prevent Jason Kenney’s attacks on our public education:

  1. Watch our recent Webinar examining the Choice in Education Act.
  2. Sign up to watch Backpack Full of Cash, an important documentary on the attacks on public education.
  3. Submit a video or photo to Support Our Students’ online campaign. 
  4. Tell your MLA you opposed Jason Kenney’s attacks on public education, including the lay off of 20,000 Education Workers, by using the CUPE Alberta’s tool.

 

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*The Alberta Federation of Labour is producing a blog series which looks at what happens to public education during a time of crisis. We will evaluate what the Alberta government is doing during this global pandemic, and examine how governments can choose to either strengthen our public system, or use a time of crisis as a catalyst to attack, undermine, and privatize our public education. This is Part 6 in the series.