Dear Hon. Adriana Lagrange, Minister of Education,
Recently you have made public comments, including on the Danielle Smith Show (December 17, 2019), that Support Our Students Alberta has not sought a meeting with you like other groups have. Presumably, you hope to undermine the concerns of Albertans by suggesting that their concerns are illegitimate without a closed-door meeting.
Our answer is simple: we are public education advocates who advocate in public; we have nothing further to present in secret, closed door meetings. Our position is transparent to all Albertans in the “10 Strategies for Equitable Public Education” which is available on our website. We have included it again here for your convenience.
It is true that we have not requested a meeting with you, nor have we requested a meeting with a sitting Minister of Education for the previous three years. We would like to clarify that Support Our Students Alberta is not a lobby group, we are a citizens action group. Our goal is to inform, organize and equip Albertans so that if and when they decide to meet with you, their MLA, their trustee or their school staff, they are well informed on what universal, equitable and accessible public education means for Albertans.
If you do feel your policy position could be influenced from hearing the voices of concerned Albertans directly, we urge you to listen to the over 5,600 Albertans who have written letters to you through our letter-writing campaign. The vast majority have not heard a response from you or their MLA’s. Many have requested meetings to no avail; those few who have met with MLA’s have been met with indifference. We yield to them, Minister.
10 Strategies to Achieve Equitable Public Education
If you require further information please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
In the meantime, we will continue our work equipping Albertans and advocating for public education.
Team SOS Alberta
On Thursday December 12, the Ministry of Education hosted an invite only roundtable in Calgary about the upcoming Choice in Education Act. In attendance was the Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange, MLA Rajan Sawhney, ministry staff and the invited public. One of the attendees sent us their insight into the event and we are pleased to post their thoughts here.
I'm the parent of a Grade 7 and Grade 10 student in the Calgary public system. I was invited to attend a session with the Minister of Education to discuss "Choice in Education." I thought it was a curious engagement to be having at this time in Alberta when I've never once heard a parent say they wished they had more choices in Calgary. I've heard people with concerns over class sizes, and now that my children are in the latter half of their schooling, I've heard many concerns about space and capital planning. Choice is not something on anyone's mind when we can already access everything from a girl's school, science school, arts school, language schools, a ballet school and even a hockey school - the list of choices seems endless.
I was nervous about attending the engagement because I had talked myself into thinking my views were unique. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not one person in the room (except for the politicos) wanted to discuss choice. Everyone had the same concerns as my own. The parents in the room all understood the value of a good public education and were not happy with a direction that seems more about breaking public education than supporting it. The teachers and support staff talked about multiple needs in the classroom that were not being met by the current budget. They also talked about living in fear of teaching the mandated curriculum when a parent doesn't agree with the subject matter. Listening to that broke my heart. No one should have to go to work feeling like they are under threat for doing their job.
I have always felt my children are getting a good education in the public system. They have teachers who go out of their way constantly to provide experiences that enrich and shape who they are as people. I worry what happens when we've minimized the attractiveness of teaching so much by either reducing respect for the profession or not keeping up with the cost of living that no one wants to go into it. I understand that receiving a public service costs money; I also know that we can do a lot collectively by pooling small amounts from each citizen through taxes.
I have so many more questions from the engagement session than answers. The Minister told us that the province is spending the same amount on education as before ($8.7 billion). When we asked how does that take into account increased enrolment, she said that per student funding remains the same. But if you are not increasing your budget (or rather, decreasing it), how can those two things be true? Math seems hard for the UCP. We also asked about the need for an audit of the CBE when one was done two years ago. She said the first one wasn't done in-depth enough. But why wouldn't you use the same company (KPMG) to dive deeper since they already have the foundation? How can a new company adequately audit a $1.2 billion operating budget from scratch in just one month?
I'm glad that parents showed up for the engagement session, but there seemed to be only four not connected to teaching. We need to remember that the government listens to parents; they can brush off people connected to the school system too easily. We need more people to speak up so that government knows we're watching. Send an email, attend an event, share information on social media. Our actions have an effect, and we must never forget that other people around the world don't have the opportunity to be a free as we can in expressing our dissatisfaction. Stand up for what you believe in, and take five minutes to write an email to your MLA. Be a role model for your children, and exercise your democratic rights!
A Concerned Calgary Parent
My name is Barbara Silva and I am with Support Our Students Alberta, a public education advocacy organization! We are a citizen’s action group committed to fighting for a universal, accessible and well funded public education system.
Something this government is not interested in.
The other day, in an interview a journalist asked me if we are mad at this government - I'm here today to say that we are not mad.
We are furious.
We are furious on behalf of the child who wakes up sick every morning - worried about navigating a school where lack of support makes them feel unseen, and unheard.
We are enraged for parents who depend on transportation, hour long bus rides in lieu of costly before/after school care, whose costs have just doubled.
We are shocked that families are expected to fundraise for basic resources, like books, furniture, technology, playgrounds.
We are outraged that music teachers, phys ed teachers, art teachers, language teachers are now considered educational luxuries.
We are fuming, that part way through the school year, children who have built trusting relationships with their teachers will have those relationships broken in January due to cruel cuts.
We are furious that in the last 4 years, over 1 billion taxpayer dollars have left the public system to subsidize the private one, and that this party, right now, is debating that that funding should actually increase.
These are immoral decisions made by this government -
This is now a question of educational justice.
So don't ask us to compromise with Jason Kenney.
Don't ask us to negotiate at the expense of Alberta’s children
We see his plan
We know where he is taking public education.
We know Kenney wants to break unions, weaken public service and divide communities.
We know that while they debate a 100% voucher right now, we already have a 70% voucher system in Alberta.
We know he wants you to think about teacher's two months off, instead of the 10 months of dedicated, committed work they put in year over year.
Kenney thinks teaching is a vocation.
We know it is a calling.
Kenney wants you to see education as an individual commodity.
We know it is a common public good.
He wants to attack public education at every opportunity.
We will meet him there every time, to defend it.
We are here to say we are public education proud.
We are community builders, not breakers.
We support students,
We support teachers.
We support public education and we will not stand by and let this government sell it to the highest bidder.
This is the moral issue of our generation - how we stand up for children’s right to public education.
Today is just the beginning, join us.
Choose public education.
SOS Champions! We have had a very busy and productive week thanks to all your engagement. We can feel the momentum building. At time of writing over 3500 Albertans have sent their elected officials their thoughts on the budget and the Choice In Education survey. This means, collectively, over 11,000 letters have been sent across the province. This is why this initiative is important, it allows us to measure the movement, and better still, to grow it.
The question we are asked most is, “What now?”
We cannot stop taking action. This is what oppressive, austerity driven governments fear the most. That the people, citizens, will take collective action.
So here are a few ways YOU can take ACTION in your community. And PLEASE include us in your action - so we can document all the ways Albertans are engaging in their democracy and standing up for public education. This means tagging us in tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram posts. Email us to let us know what you are working on or if you have questions or ideas - individual action is great, collective action is effective!
ACTION 1: This week is Constituency Week! That means your MLA's will be in their local offices for the week! What a great time to engage in democracy!
We urge you to visit your MLA and do any/all of the following:
If you are feeling sassy, tell them SOS Alberta sent you 😉
Here is a link to your MLA's constituency offices!
If you haven't sent a letter to your MLA, Minister of Education ADriana Lagrange and Premier Kenney yet, expressing your disappointment about the 2019 Budget, please use our online tool to do so!
If you haven't filled out the Choice In Education Survey, please use our online tool to do so. The online response is a protest response to a seriously flawed and biased survey produced by the government. Our protest response includes I Choose Public Education as the main response to each question. The submission can be previews on the website before submitting!
ACTION 4: Organize a watch party. Sometimes, maybe even most times, the greatest movements build from conversations in living rooms, coffee shops and community halls. Hosting a viewing of Backpack Full of Cash is an excellent way to keep this momentum going. This documentary is eerie in its foreshadowing of what privatizing public education looks like. It is the clearest cautionary tale we have.
We currently have three bookings for the month of November, please contact us if you are interested!
ACTION 5: Send us the correspondence you receive from your school regarding budget cuts and fundraising. We need to be able to talk about the actual ways schools and students will experience these cuts.
ACTION 6: Get involved with your school council or other parent groups - better still, send us the contact information for your school council so we can build capacity via that network. This is very difficult and labour intensive work for us to track down every school council contact information (email). If everyone can send us theirs, then many hands make light work.
ACTION 7: For those of you who have contacted us about connecting with SOS AB in Edmonton, please email Yeginfo@supportourstudents.ca and our Edmonton organizer will reach out to you shortly!
ACTION 8: Communicate with us. SOS is a network, and we need to hear from you as much as you from us. We are small, and run on passion and donations - but we are more effective when communication flows.
The greatest strength we have is knowing we are not alone in our support of Public Education. And we ARE NOT ALONE, 94% of Alberta students are in public schools. Let’s not let them down.
While Alberta’s education system has unique traits, it is following a non-unique predictable path towards privatization, one that is being employed around the world. In this presentation from the 2018 Parkland Institute Conference we explore the current system, how the marketization of it is not unique and is entirely predictable, why this privatization strategy has been so successful and inconspicuous, and what we can do to return to true universality.
Amber Stewart is a Calgary parent and former school board trustee with the Calgary Board of Education (2013-2017)
I was seven when the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome opened in theatres. I was too young to see the PG-13 flick but throughout my childhood, it was part of pop culture. Tina Turner was a bad ass and it was the days before Mel Gibson made questionable choices.
Thunderdome is much like the state of school fundraising in Alberta today.
Every time a school completes a grant application or sends home another request for students to sell something, it feels like a silent crowd is chanting, “Two men enter, one man leaves”. Like Thunderdome, there is one winner and many losers, and the competition is fierce.
The competition for grant funding is fierce. Some grants receive hundreds of applications and only have funding for one or two recipients across Canada. More and more, grants are moving toward a most-votes-wins style that is more like a popularity contest than a measure of most needed. I can’t blame the organizations that structure grants this way – they also have limited resources and it is only natural to want to see a return on investment in the form of clicks to their website.
The competition for parent dollars is fierce. If you have children in more than one school or involved in extra-curricular activities, expect a constant stream of fundraisers coming home in the backpack. Buckle your seatbelt – you will never again worry about how to renew your magazine subscriptions, what book of coupons is the best or where to buy wrapping paper. You will have a continuous supply of bacon, steaks and cookie dough in your freezer. And your social calendar will be dotted with casinos, silent auctions and bottle drives. Every holiday will have options of flowers or chocolates and occasionally, you will even get an invitation to a cheque writing party.
The competition for corporate sponsorship support is fierce. With many non-profits looking to supplement donors that have dried up during the downturn of the economy, companies large and small are receiving more and more requests. Corporations must choose between supporting local projects (like school playgrounds), Calgary-wide initiatives (like the United Way) or national campaigns (like the Canadian Red Cross). All while balancing their own books during an economic recovery.
Although the competition is fierce and can feel like a fundraising Thunderdome, it is only open to those with the ability to compete. There are many schools where volunteers are scarce, and money is limited. There are just not enough hours in a day or bodies around the table to apply for grants, organize fundraising events or approach sponsors. These groups are almost always the loser in the fundraising Thunderdome.
Ultimately, the fundraising Thunderdome has an impact on students. The focus has shifted from raising a bit of money to support field trips and “extras” that enhance learning, to raising a lot of money to support basic needs like playgrounds. School councils dread the words, “We’ve been told we will need to replace the playground” nearly as much as, “Our student results are decreasing”. Increasingly, school councils are spending more time discussing grants and fundraising than students and learning. In the end, students always lose when the focus is forced away from learning.
The Alberta Government offered a ray of hope in July 2017 when they announced that new schools would each receive $250,000 toward a new playground – a huge step forward for schools and communities. However, the devil is always in the details. The funding only applies to schools announced in 2014 or later, meaning that the 8 schools in Calgary announced in May 2013 do not qualify. Nor do the countless schools that need replacement playgrounds.
As Tina Turner so famously sang it, “All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome”.
The 2019 Provincial election is in full swing and we at SOSAB often hear from citizens who are unsure of what to ask their local candidates about education issues. And as we did during the 2017 Municipal Election we have created an Education Issues Handbook, compiling the major issues we have heard from citizens and from our own research as public education advocates. It is a dynamic document that citizens can use to start conversations with their local MLA candidates about public education. We would like to offer the space of our website for these conversations.
We are encouraging people to share the Handbook widely with friends and family, print it off and have it ready at the door for when candidates come knocking or take it with them to a candidate event.
Most importantly we would like people to add their own questions or perspectives. Every region in the province has a unique set of issues when it comes to public education and we would really like Albertans to share back with us and in turn share with other Albertans their thoughts or questions about what they think is important to Albertans when it comes to public education.
Class size is an issue that is an ongoing concern for us, in fact it was one of the first issues we organized around. Unfortunately, it is an issue that is still looking for leadership and solutions. We've written a letter to the Minister of Education proposing a targeted strategy in the spirit of the Own the Podium initiative.
November 21, 2018
Dear Honorable Minister of Education;
RE: Class Size Initiative
As you know, Support Our Students Alberta is a non-profit, volunteer run, public education advocacy organization. We formed in early 2015 around front line education issues like class sizes, transportation and under resourcing of schools.
The issues we formed around still exist today. One of the larger unaffected issues around education is large class sizes. As you are aware, no Alberta government has been able to affect positive change towards meeting the Alberta Commission on Learning recommendations of 2003.
The ACOL recommendations are as follows:
As you know we are nowhere near meeting these targets for Alberta students. As you are also aware, 3.3 billion dollars has been invested in class size initiatives, with no tangible success.
As a result, Support Our Students Alberta is suggesting the Alberta government implement initiatives that have proven successful in setting and meeting targets.
In 2004 in an attempt to improve Canada's performance in winter Olympics a non-profit organization was formed to improve our nations results in the games. The result was a multidisciplinary organization, that set timelines and targets. Own the Podium has been by most measures wildly successful in identifying a need, and then working towards meeting goals.
SOS Alberta feels strongly that money, like the 3.3 billion dollars already put towards class size initiatives would be better served if it followed the Own The Podium model.
A multidisciplinary, and multi-level initiative that includes the Government of Alberta, school boards, municipalities, public education advocates (like SOS), the ATA, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Child Services to create timed targets (school builds, staff hires and progressive targets for class sizes) following the existing Own The Podium model would best serve this long standing issue.
If the province and nation can make and meet emissions targets and Olympic targets, we should be able to do the same for classroom targets. #OwnTheClassroom
We would love to meet with you, Honourable Minister David Eggen to further discuss this possibility at your earliest convenience.
Many kind thanks,
Carolyn Blasetti, Executive Director SOS
Barbara Silva, Communications Director SOS
is series about current issues in education, Notes from the Playground gives a nod to the very early beginnings of SOS Alberta and where we first organized, as citizens talking to each other about one of the most powerful influences on our daily lives, our kids’ education. These are my thoughts on education matters this week, as always we welcome yours!
Carolyn Blasetti - Executive Director
Since Support Our Students Alberta began we have been concerned with the way schools consistently need to fill funding gaps through fundraising. There are few other issues more top of mind for Alberta parents than fundraising. Visit any school council or parent fundraising society meeting and you’ll hear both parents and administrators discussing how to raise money for basic resources, supplies and even infrastructure for their school. Often the conversation about fundraising hijacks discussions about other school issues and concerns. No longer are parents talking about building their school community or what’s happening in the school’s classrooms this month, they are talking about running coupon sales, deciding how to spend thousands of dollars on school furniture, flooring or computers or books. Schools find themselves becoming dependent on the rise and fall of fundraising dollars. And this is only if they are a school lucky enough to have the capacity within their school community to have a fundraising society.
Last year we highlighted concerns around schools competing in corporate contests for basic educational resources like books. Our concerns went unheard by decision makers in both government and school boards. We shared these concerns again this year. This year again, schools in lower income neighbourhoods pleaded their case in corporate competitions so that their kids, in their schools, could have books. No one, not city councillors, not trustees, not MLA‘s, expressed any concern for the inequity and injustice of having to compete for resources.
Thankfully, Eva Ferguson of the Herald expressed an interest in this issue. What followed has been some engaged discussions around schools needing books and schools needing playgrounds. Our goal of starting a dialogue around fundraising as being a way to absolve the government of its responsibility to properly fund public schools was finally playing out in public discourse.
We subsequently pointed out that St. Peter Elementary School in Calgary is also currently competing in a national corporate contest for funds to build a playground because they do not have any playground at all. We were pleased that Minister Eggen responded to this situation by providing much needed funding to St. Peter Elementary School. However, the reality remains for many schools across this province that they do not receive enough funding for books, playgrounds, technology or other resources.
We find ourselves in the same position as four years ago when we began our advocacy, wondering why schools must fundraise for the most basic of resources? Knowing that schools in affluent high income neighbourhoods will not experience the same hardships and challenges of lower income communities. This dependency on fundraising and corporate donations creates have and have not schools, winner and losers.
Our goal as public education advocates has always been and will always be to build a system on UNIVERSALITY. Every Alberta child deserves a safe playground to play, every community deserves a place to build relationships with their neighbours, every child deserves books to read and every child deserves access to the same technology. We are very happy St. Peter Elementary School received funding for their playground from the Alberta government. But they are not alone. Since the announcement came out we have heard from multiple people about the need for a playground in their community public school. There is no reason that roughly $275 million a year should fund private schools when public schools go without. So while we are very thankful this particular story has had a happy ending, we know there is more work to do and we will reiterate our calls yet again for a review of the Alberta education funding model so that no student, no school and no parent must plead or compete with a corporation for basic educational resources.
Please feel free to share your experience with fundraising at your school! Comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This series about current issues in education, Notes from the Playground gives a nod to the very early beginnings of SOS Alberta and where we first organized, as citizens talking to each other about one of the most powerful influences on our daily lives, our kids’ education. These are my thoughts on education matters this week, as always we welcome yours!
Carolyn Blasetti - Executive Director
This week in education news, light was shone upon teaching resources and materials used by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre which contained outdated and racist interpretation of Indigenous people, communities and the impact of residential schools.
We at SOS Alberta agree wholeheartedly that Alberta classrooms are long overdue for an update to all aspects of the Alberta curriculum. However, the materials used by teachers and students at ADLC were not part of the current outdated curriculum. The test was part of a supplemental RESOURCE that teachers have available to them. These resources are meant to compliment curriculum, but are not the actual curriculum. Teachers can and do choose from a wide array of materials, in this case the materials were far from the only ones available. In the same way a teacher might opt to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Hatchet for a language arts class, the choice is made by the teacher or teaching team, curriculum does not mandate the reading of a specific novel. There will be no argument from us that the the Social Studies curriculum, in particular how Indigenous history and the history of colonization in Canada is interpreted, needs a massive overhaul but the distinction between what is curriculum and what are supporting resources is an important distinction to make.
This incident is a clear example of how systemic racism works. Teachers have CHOSEN to use this resource for 8 years and students have taken this test year over year. Educators failing to recognize that this document was devoid of Indigenous perspective and perpetuating a narrow, oppressive view of residential schools until a student brought it forward shows how deeply systemic bias exists. If not for this student, how many more years would this document have been circulated in Alberta Education?
While we appreciate the minister's response, we are disheartened by the obvious omission that this is in fact evidence of systemic racism. Calling this document hurtful and presenting it as a one off mistake as opposed to an explicit example of systemic racism does little to strengthen relationships in our community in accordance with the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Or in accordance with the Alberta Government’s own mandate that: “that current and future Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum includes student learning outcomes specific to First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and experiences, as well as content on the significance of residential schools and treaties. “ - Alberta Education March 27, 2014
It highlights the devastating impact on students and communities when outdated, biased resources are used and having educators ill prepared to teach perspectives which don’t follow the traditional eurocentric interpretation of Canadian history. We know the impact because we speak with students, parents, teachers, trustees and administrators daily, about the barriers that exist for marginalised students. That systemic bias within the education system is a reality for FNMI students, students of colour, disabled students and students in poverty. We applaud the student who bravely acted as an”agent of change” in bringing this forward, and hope that Albertans recognise this is NOT a unique incident and hope they will support initiatives that are working to change this.
As part of our advocacy we always hope to provide, actionable solutions:
Resources - A Starting Place for Teaching for Reconciliation: (Please feel free to suggest others or add in the comments)