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