Funding Education or Funding Transportation?

The following blog post was written by a SOS Alberta member from Calgary in response to some recent announcements made this past week from the Calgary Board of Education(CBE). The CBE is one of the boards in the province that charges families school fees, including fees for yellow school bus transportation and students taking public transit pay for public transit as regular transit users do. The CBE is also a board that emphasizes school choice by offering a range of niche or alternative programming from traditional learning to language programs. We would love to know from people in other parts of the province what their expectations are for transportation fees for the next school year and how has choice impacted their school board?

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Earlier this week the CBE sent out notices of bell time changes, amendments to busing fees and bus service changes.

Calgary parents have been told over the years that transportation costs for CBE have been increasing, while funding for it, has not.

We have been told that if we want a certain level of transportation service, we will have to pay for it.  

We’ve been told we have the right to choose alternative programs, and the busing that gets our children to them.

Many of us choose alternative programs, programs that are then victims of their own success. Some programs have grown to over capacity, so students are then reallocated to other schools, other neighbourhoods, ones not of our initial choosing.

We’ve learned last week that for some students, 8:00 am bell times mean waking up at 6am to ride a bus for one hour. Surely, not the best start for a robust day of education for children of any age! We are told these modifications are to accommodate the changes to the bussing schedule and to save money.

This week we learned that financial hardship will continue and be extended to more families because instead of $335 yellow bus service, some families will now pay $700/school year for Calgary transit as they no longer qualify for the yellow school bus. There is also not a rebate for students travelling by transit inside 2.4 km limit and no students in Alternative programs qualify for transit rebate.

We’ve been told over and over again, that busing students across the city for specialized arts program, TLC, science program or language programs are costly.  We know in some instances, one child can be bused to a specific alternative program on the other side of the city from where they live. Busing for one student can’t be cheap.

Calgary parents also learned this week, that the CBE will add to its current spider web of transportation woes, by opening yet another niche/magnet school. The High Performance Athlete Development Pathway at Bowness High School. We learned this week that rather than trying to address current busing problems, CBE has chosen to add to them.

SOS Alberta believes adding yet another alternative program to a system with already unsustainable transportation issues is problematic for many reasons;

  1. In our 2016 Annual School Survey, 45% of respondents reported no specialist physical education teacher. Of those who do, 42% are assigned less than 1.0 FTE (part time) in the school represented. Many parents across the CBE have been told there simply aren’t enough funds for specialist phys ed teachers particularly at the elementary level and so their phys ed program runs without a specialist. Most elementary schools supplement their PE program and lack of phys ed specialist by fundraising thousands of dollars every year to bring in programming to compensate for this lack of quality programming. SOS Alberta affirms our position that the goal of public education is to provide rich curriculum that includes quality physical education programming for all its students.
  2. This niche high performance athlete program will have access to specialized coaches, sports therapists, and psychologists while many schools don’t have a specialized physical education teacher, much less on site dedicated expert mental health counsellors. Many students struggle to access proper resources for learning disabilities, physical accommodations and ever increasingly mental health resources. Is an elite athletic high performance program the best place to be diverting resources? It is, if you are concerned with competition but not if your priority is comprehensive education for the greater population.
  3. Busing continues to be a financial burden to the CBE. Calgarians have consistently been told by the CBE that transportation funding has significant shortfalls that they struggle to cover. This is why, Calgary parents are told, user fees are charged and increase year over year. However, rather than attempt to address the root issue, CBE adds to the problem by introducing more niche programming. Unless all elite athletes reside in the NW near Bowness, transportation will be required. And it will cost money, money they KNOW, as they have known for years now, ISN’T COMING. CBE is continually choosing to fund transportation OVER education.
  4. SOS Alberta’s position remains, that niche programs like the High Performance Athlete Development Pathway at Bowness High School arise as a direct result of competition. When private schools receive public funding, public schools are forced compete for those same dollars. It does not go unnoticed that the premise of this niche school is very similar to The Edge private school just west of Calgary. The CBE has chosen to compete with The Edge, by offering like programming instead of strengthening the system that affects the most Calgary students. All while many of our children, including students in the wider Bowness community itself, continue to NOT receive the necessary resources for physical education. Is a niche school, and what will ultimately become an exclusive program, the best place to be serving the wider public education population who are suffering because of space crunches, under resourcing, millions of dollars of deferred maintenance, long transportation times and ever increasing fees?
  5. SOS Alberta will also make the assumption, with a strong degree of confidence, that our most underprivileged students, those living in and around the poverty line, will be less likely to have been exposed to the type of extracurricular and costly activities that will qualify and prepare them for such a program. Particularly when they aren’t even introduced to sport in any meaningful way in elementary school. Again, our survey revealed many children are being left undiagnosed, untreated and under resourced because of financial constraints. We don’t see how this program will contribute to solving these existing issues.

SOS Alberta is calling upon the CBE to stop competing with the privatization model. It is not only never ending, but has served to create an enormous web of transportation challenges and diverts resources from community schools with more complex demands. We recognize this is issue is not isolated to the CBE. Our provincial funding model has created this system of competition by funding private and charter schools, something Alberta does more than any other province. Multiple years of chronic provincial underfunding has lead boards to find various ways to attract students. Certainly the fact that schools designated as “alternative programs” also allow for associated fees. This gives schools boards an additional source of income and is likely a factor in choosing to promote niche programs. However, Albertans are now witness to the effects of trying to compete has on public education. It’s most obvious results have been increased fees, longer bus routes and inconsistent year over year scheduling. We are placing an increasing financial burden on families and are impacting the educational experience of our children. We must start addressing the needs of Calgary students equitably by providing rich and diverse curriculum that INCLUDES music, arts, science, languages AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION, in or near communities to ALL schools. This is how we will address transportation issues. This is how we fund education over transportation.

To date, Calgarians have failed to hold the CBE to account.

Many parents did not speak up when noon supervision fees were implemented.  

Many said little when family caps were eliminated.

Many didn’t strongly oppose bus fees rising from $300 to $335

Many didn’t oppose the loss of subsidies for transit passes.

Where is the line?

For many, this year they will pay $700 instead of $335 for transportation. We urge you to consider, the line will be drawn when we as citizens draw it. Firmly. Because we have been shown the CBE, year over year, are more than willing to step right over it.

 

Backpack Full of Cash Canadian Premiere

We are pleased to announce SOS Alberta will be presenting the Canadian premiere of the award winning documentary film Backpack Full of Cash

Narrated by Matt Damon, this feature-length documentary explores the growing privatization of public schools and the resulting impact on America’s most vulnerable children. Filmed in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Nashville and other cities, it takes viewers through the tumultuous 2013-14 school year, exposing the world of education “reform” where public education – starved of resources- hangs in the balance. ​”

We will be screening the film in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Red Deer. At each screening we will host a Q & A panel discussion. In Calgary we are very excited to announce that the producers of the film, Sarah Mondale and Vera Aronow will attend and be part of the discussions after the film.

Tickets for Calgary and Edmonton screenings are  now available on Eventbrite at the links below

Calgary Thursday May 25, 7:00pm at the Globe Cinema

Edmonton Saturday May 27, 7:00pm at the Art Gallery of Alberta: Ledcor Theare

Lethbridge Sunday May 28, 7:00pm at Sterndale Bennett Theatre

Red Deer Thursday June 1, 7:00pm at Welikoklad Centre Screening Room

Support Kids, Support GSAs

 

At SOS Alberta we support GSAs. We support the right of students to form GSAs in their schools. Its the law and GSAs help create a positive school culture. GSAs are about community building and supporting kids. We also agree that parents do not need to be informed when their child has joined a GSA at their school. GSAs are social clubs akin to leadership club or amnesty international club or even a book club. Parents are not being excluded. Parents are a valuable part of the school community and there are many ways for parents to be involved. If parents want to know what is happening at their kid’s school there are many ways to find out. Talk to your kids, your relationship with your child will be the best measure of what they disclose to you. Talk to your school’s principal if you have questions about the school or board policies. Join your school council, get involved. If you have questions about GSAs and why privacy is an issue there are many great resources available. We have started to compile some here: GSA Resources. Take the time to listen to the voices of people who are involved in GSAs.

Show your support for students and GSAs by wearing one of our buttons. If you would like to order buttons use the order form at the top of the sidebar.

 

 

Pay Now or Pay Later – Navigating ‘The System’

 

How does under-resourcing of our public education system manifest in the day to day experiences of Alberta students and families? We hear often from students and parents about their school experiences, navigating the process of addressing special needs, learning challenges and inclusion. One of our supporters has kindly shared with us her daughter’s and her family’s experience navigating ‘the system’.

I just received a copy of a private assessment I paid for to see if my daughter has progressed any since being diagnosed and coded with a learning disability 2 ½ years ago and was very angry and frustrated by what I read. As I had suspected, she had not progressed much except she now can identify more sight words. My daughter is 10 years old and still reads at a kindergarten level and writes at a grade 1 level at best.
She has a learning disability in reading, writing and math and AD/HD. What I don’t understand is how much do our children have to fail in order to get the targeted, appropriate help they need so they can succeed? My child is very intelligent and if given the proper support I know she can do great things.
Why do I have to pay for a private specialist for something she is supposed to be getting in school? What happens if I can’t afford to do that like many Albertans? Is my child less important than those whose parents can afford it?
I have been waiting for the Education system to help her, and as I wait she falls further behind. I am now forced to find a way to get her that targeted, appropriate help myself as she will be 4 grades behind next year and counting. We can’t afford to have anymore throw away years. The next hardest decision will be what will my family have to sacrifice to give my daughter her basic human right to an education?
Groceries? Summer Camps that build her self esteem and confidence? Technology tools she needs at home that are not provided for at school so she can learn?
My heart breaks for my daughter that the system is failing her and we as Albertans are letting that happen. We need to get children screened earlier for learning challenges and get them the help sooner so they don’t have to fail so miserably before we give them a branch to save them. Why should parents have to beg for supports, resources and timely assessments or obtain them privately? Why aren’t we providing every child with the right to a good education and giving them what they need to reach their full potential?
We need to make Education a priority in our province and we need to fund it properly for it to work. It’s either pay now or pay later in health care costs, justice system and social services costs. These children end up on drugs to cope, in jail or on social services as they are either under employed or unemployed because they drop out or don’t have the skills required like reading or writing. 
We can’t afford to put off funding Education because we can’t afford it. Our future depends on it.
Children don’t stop growing and the need never goes away.
-Alberta Parent
Our biggest priority is giving space for Albertans to share their perspectives on education issues, please feel free to share with us your thoughts. If you have something to share please let us know, info@supportourstudents.ca

 

Last week we released Levelling the Playing Field: A Comprehensive Resource Audit of Alberta Schools reporting on the results of our 2016 Survey of Alberta Schools. One of the most significant issues reported to us by school administrators was how schools are facing significant challenges because of the increasing complexity of Alberta classrooms. Our analysis showed that there was a deficit and disparity across the province in special needs specialization and training for staff including both teachers and support staff. Principals spoke of not being able to adequately meet the needs of students because they either do not have the resources available or available resources are inadequate. This was an important reality for principals to share and their perspective will continue to inform our advocacy.

 

Levelling the Playing Field

In the fall of 2016 we launched the first annual Support Our Students Alberta Survey of Alberta Schools. A survey was sent to every school in the province that receives public funds and today we are pleased to present our report, Levelling the Playing Field: A Comprehensive Resource Audit of Alberta Schools, full report available to download below.

Special thanks goes to all the school administrators who took the time to complete the survey, we look forward to working with you again on this year’s survey! Sharing the voice of your school enhances our ability to advocate for Alberta students.

Three main themes emerged from our findings, specifically around health, specialization and fundraising. Some examples of our findings are:

Health:

  • 58% of respondents reported a nurse as “not available” for their school
  • 36% of urban respondents reported a nurse as “not available” for their school
  • 71% of rural respondents reported a nurse as “not available” for their school

Specialization:

  • 70% of respondents reported NO Teacher Librarian in their schools
  • 45% of respondents reported NO Physical Education Teachers in their schools
  • 95% of respondents reported NO Health Teachers in their schools
  • 52% of respondents reported NO Special Education Teachers in their schools

Fundraising:

  • 13% of urban respondents indicated raising more than $50,000
  • 4% of rural respondents indicated raising more than $50,000

“More kids are coming to school with ADHD, diagnosed and not yet diagnosed, anxiety disorders, psychological effects from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, trauma, and other family issues. Kids are exposed to, and are even doing, drugs at an alarming rate. Kids are suicidal and self-harming. We have a FSLC come 1 a week. Easily half the kids that need to be seen are not because of time restraints. We could easily employ a counselor 2-3 days per week. Yet, Educational Assistants are being cut back more and more; FSLC time is being cut back – FSLC’s are burning out because of the pressure they feel of not having enough time to help all these kids; kids are falling through the cracks; teachers are expected to do more and more all the time. No longer do they simply teach, they are EA’s, behavior specialists, learning support/resource teachers, counselors, psychologists, and life coaches. Often this is not only for the kids, but their parents as well. And we are surprised (well really we aren’t) when kids are unable to engage enough to learn. It is impossible to care about reading and math if a child just saw his mom get high before he left for school; or maybe she didn’t have any dinner or breakfast, and has nothing packed for lunch; or maybe he was punched by his step-dad walking out the door. I have parents coming to me in tears not sure how they are going to feed their kids, or clothe them for winter, let alone put a present under the tree for them at Christmas. I vent, but kids are dealing with more and more, but are receiving less and less help.”  -Principal (International Border Region)

Why I Support Fully Funded Public Schools and Not Vouchers

One of our supporters has kindly shared with us her thoughts about school choice and we are happy to share it with everyone here. We welcome all participation and if you have any thoughts about education issues you would like share with us we would love to share your voice too.

I’ve been advocating for a more equitable education system for a couple years now. Although I do the best that I can with what I have at the moment, I’m not ashamed to say that most of the advocating I do is as a keyboard warrior. The debate rages online between those who believe in complete and robust funding of public schools and those who would see us use a voucher (money follows the student) system. I firmly disagree with the voucher system and I’d like to explain why.

Contrary to what many might expect my objection is not grounded in its fiscal wastefulness. There are others who do object on that basis and they’ve done a marvelous job of articulating why. If you are a fiscal conservative, which I am not, I imagine you’d find these arguments somewhat compelling and I would urge you to explore them starting with the always expressive Luke Fevin: https://twitter.com/according2luke?lang=en https://www.facebook.com/according2luke/

My support of fully funding public schools comes from two major places: 1) the observation that public education has made more strides towards alleviating poverty than perhaps any other initiative in the history of human existence, and 2) the fact that public funds belong to the public. I’m not going to take the time to explore the first assertion here other than to direct those who object to the myriad of research on the subject:

Today, I’m taking the time to defend the second statement. Public funds belong to the public.

“My tax dollars……….” Insert whatever follow up you’d like there.  We’ve all heard it; it’s not an unfair turn of phrase. Every citizen is entitled to transparency and accountability from the public servants charged with allocating the money they’ve contributed to the public purse. But “my tax dollars” does not equal “my portion of public money” and unfortunately, too many people believe that it does.

The entire purpose of collecting taxes is that when people act as a collective, services are cheaper and more accessible to everyone. If everyone who is entitled to those services were to start demanding “their portion” of the monies that fund those services, everyone would lose the advantages of lower cost and access. And the withdrawal of those funds would be detrimental to those who lack the resources to compensate an underfunded system. Let’s think of this in terms of public libraries.

It’s been years since I checked a book out of a public library. Why? It’s just more convenient for me to buy them. There’s no time limit on reading them. I don’t have to wait in case my local library has to borrow it, and in the end, I get to keep my copy forever. I read a lot and I don’t use my local public library. But my tax dollars do fund my local library. Is this an injustice? Shouldn’t the tax dollars that I contribute follow the user and instead of funding a resource I don’t use, fund my own personal library instead? Of course not! First of all, I doubt that the tax dollars I contribute towards public libraries would even cover the cost of the next Song of Ice and Fire novel, even if it does take George RR Martin ten years to write it (har har, I’m so passive aggressive, but seriously dude, hurry up already). But even if they did, losing the tax dollar contributions of every tax payer who doesn’t use the public library would result in the closure of every public library. The entire purpose of coming together as a collective would be defeated and the only people with access to literature would be those who could afford to buy books. The same goes for the education system.

Here in Alberta, money is generally distributed to schools based on enrollment, but we do it that way because it’s a convenient and generally accurate way of determining need, not because those funds actually belong to the individual students. So when the parents’ choice crowd and other people who advocate a voucher system talk about “their child’s portion”, they’re talking about money that doesn’t actually exist. It’s not their child’s portion. It’s not my child’s portion. It’s public money that is supposed to be funding a public system that is accessible to the public. People are free to withdrawal from that system, just like I’m free to not use my public library, but they don’t get to take public money with them when they leave. It’s not theirs to take.

There are all kinds of reasons that parents may choose to not make use of the public system, but it is always available to them. Those who would look elsewhere need to take responsibility for their choice and fund it out of their own pocket, not from the public purse. And no, you don’t then get to exempt yourself from funding the public purse either. We all reap the benefits of public education merely by being surrounded by a knowledgeable population. That benefit is our collective responsibility to pay for, whether or not you attended a public school and whether or not you have children attending a public school.

Public education has been one of humanity’s greatest inventions. The positive impact of it is immeasurable and cannot be overstated. If we want to continue our upward trajectory out of poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance, we cannot allow individuals to chip away at this magnificent edifice, no matter how well intentioned they may be. Public money belongs to the public, not to individuals, which is why I do not support the voucher system.

M.

 

Women’s Rights Are Children’s Rights – Barbara Silva talks to the Calgary Herald about International Women’s Day

Our Communication Director, Barbara Silva was honoured to be included with three other amazing Calgary women , Mary Valentich, Hadiqa Jabeen and Sue Tomney all speaking about what International Women’s Day means to them in 2017. Amazing group of women.
Silva says children’s rights go hand in hand with women’s rights.
We recognize that when we impede women, we inevitably impede children. Our inability to confront or improve women’s standing in poverty means we are also disproportionately affecting children in poverty, and that’s something we need to address.

What does International Women's Day mean?

As the world recognizes International Women’s Day on Wednesday, we asked notable Calgarians what that means to them in 2017: Mary Valentich Professor emerita, U of C faculty of social work, women’s-rights activist “International Women’s Day gives all of us a chance to consider how we can make the world a better place, a more…

 

Bill 1 – An Act to Reduce School Fees

 

SOS Alberta’s response to Bill 1 Announcement

Support Our Students Alberta has long advocated for the complete elimination of all schools fees for children across the province.  It is in fact, the third point of our  Ten Strategies to Achieve Equitable Public Education

It reads:  Eliminate ALL barriers including all school-related fees (including, but not limited to, instructional materials, bussing, lunch supervision) and application procedures.

SOS Alberta feels strongly that fees and all barriers exacerbate inequalities in the system and in the wider society.  There exists a wide range and variety of fees around this province, with each school board implementing fees around bussing, noon supervision, instructional supplies and materials fees to name a few.  These fees can add up and become a real financial stress and burden on families.  As a result, Bill 1 will bring very real relief for many families, in particular, low income families who do not qualify for exemptions and who are struggling through difficult economic times.

We are very pleased to have been part of discussions surrounding the need and impact of eliminating and reducing school fees for children in Alberta. SOS Alberta has discussed the need to address this very significant barrier at every possible opportunity and appreciate this government listening to our concerns and suggestions.

Bill 1 is an important initiative showing a renewed commitment to public education, equity and most importantly to Alberta’s children.  We applaud the spirit of Bill 1, and recognize it is an important step towards eliminating all schools fees.  We look forward to continuing to be a part of that discussion, and advocating on behalf of Alberta children.