Over the past week the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) has held public meetings for parents at alternative programs affected by recent bell time and transportation changes. These were not public engagement sessions, they were information sessions. Opportunities for the CBE to inform families of the decisions made on behalf of families, affecting their children.
For years, the CBE has promoted programs of choice. As recently as last week the CBE announced a new program of choice an elite athletic program at Bowness High School. They have built an intricate system based on choice, what is really a system based on competition. Programs of choice also termed alternative programs compete for students from all across the city. These programs including the regular program compete for students and for funding.
The thing with competition is it's great, while you’re winning. But eventually, in time, everyone loses.
Choice, is only a choice until it becomes unsustainable for the CBE to provide. And this has been happening all over the city for years.
Families have exercised their choice only to eventually have their children moved from one school to another, put in a school lottery, have programs and schools close, siblings separated due to boundary changes, bell times modified and fees increased.
These are only some of the changes to programs of choice that have happened over the years including:
CBE is telling Calgarians these changes are a result of provincial legislation under Bill 1. Always stating the important reminder that the CBE is actually not obligated to get your child to school if you choose one of the programs they've been offering and selling to students and families. However, school boards are to a large degree autonomous. Many school boards across the province do not offer alternative programming at all and certainly not to the degree offered in Calgary. It is the obligation of Alberta Education to provide education equitably across the province. It has been the CBE’s autonomous decision to continue to offer AND PROMOTE programs of choice in a manner it cannot sustain.
The past few years at the CBE have seen a year over year increase in school fees and financial burdens and barriers placed on families across Calgary. Just 7 years ago, bussed students did not pay noon supervision fees. Then, bussed students were required to pay that fee. Shortly thereafter, bussing fees increased from $300 to $335 per student per year with the elimination of the family cap. Now, the CBE will increase costs for some families to send children on city transit to schools up to $700 student per year. And when these fees increase, we are told those decisions are “operational” decisions not open for engagement to the public. Thereby creating an environment in which our children's education is a consumer good rather than a public/civic responsibility.
You are told you have CHOICE: Which is great until they decide to take it away from you.
Fees continue to increase: It’s manageable until it's not financially viable for your family anymore.
Transportation changes: Seem fine until you see multiple bus transfers, changes to bell times and separation of siblings and it just won't work for your family.
This is not Public Education, this is PRIVATIZATION of our public system.
Students/Families have been sold an illusion. A choice that has fine print. *Available until such time as the provider deems fit. Parameters subject to change at any time
What is the solution? Can CBE families find something agreeable and manageable for fall 2017? Should parents boycott all fees? Should families return to community schools? Should Calgarians collectively protest at the CBE? We, SOS Alberta are open to suggestions.
But we believe, that we should no longer be divided by programs, left to defend our choices, pitting one program against another, neighbour against neighbour and instead, collectively oppose these changes that threaten our communities. The implication in this plethora of choice is that some schools are better than others and a program of choice is superior to a regular program school.
Perhaps, we should be considering the longer term solution of emphasising the value of community schools and demand a rich and diverse curriculum in every public school that includes languages, includes arts, includes athletics, and includes science. Perhaps our kids shouldn't have to choose. Perhaps public education should not come with an asterisk or fine print. Perhaps we shouldn't have to wonder every year what changes will make our children's and families experience in the system more financially, logistically and emotionally difficult. Perhaps we shouldn't let them lead us down this hole of privatization. Because the options before many of us today are not things we can buy our way out of, nor should we have to.