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We have a new home!

February 23, 2010

The PSBAA’s School Act Review blog has a new home! It is now hosted on the PSBAA’s website at http://schoolactblog.public-schools.ab.ca

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Why delay the new School Act? Here are three possible reasons

February 8, 2010

Recently, the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta received an email from Alberta Education stating that a new School Act would not be introduced until the Fall sitting of the Legislature. Until receiving this email, school boards, stakeholders, and members of the public had been operating under the premise that new school legislation would be the focus of the Legislature’s spring sitting. This is no longer the case.

In the email, the deputy minister in charge of Alberta Education explains that an “overwhelming response to [the department’s] work and the need to strongly align the many departmental initiatives with new legislation” are the reasons behind the delay. He also notes that “I have benefited from the dialogue to date and look forward to further discussions.”

There are three ways to interpret the department’s email, none of which seems more compelling than the others. Thus, each interpretation of the email deserves a careful consideration before any conclusion can be formed about the future of Minister Hancock’s School Act review process. After all, any new piece of legislation – no matter how it is written and when it appears in the Legislature – will have a monumental impact on the capacity of school boards to run the province’s education system and serve their students, your children, and our communities.

One explanation is that Alberta Education has sent this email to buy more time for tweaking and drafting within the department. Throughout the School Act review process, Alberta Education has appeared to operate largely independent of the Minister’s consultations with school boards, stakeholders, and the public. This might explain why the email has characterized the extension of the process as an “overwhelming response to [the department’s] work” and not an overwhelming response to Minister Hancock’s invitation for undirected input and public dialogue. This might also explain why Alberta Education needs the entire spring and summer to “align the many departmental initiatives with new legislation.” If this is indeed the proper interpretation of the deputy minister’s email, the Public School Boards Association is decidedly unsupportive of this delay. New school legislation must be directed by public dialogue and stakeholder consultation, not by an Alberta Education-led management process.

Another interpretation: Minister Hancock has decided that the School Act review process would genuinely benefit from several additional months of consultation with school boards, stakeholders, and the public. The Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta is hopeful that this is the correct interpretation, and we are encouraged that the deputy minister has “benefitted from the dialogue” and “look[s] forward to further discussions.” As the dialogue and consultation moves forward, the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta will continue to keep Albertans up to date through this blog.

A final interpretation is that the government leadership, the government caucus, and cabinet have moved to keep new school legislation off the Legislature’s spring agenda. The government has reason to be concerned about its popular support. As a result, a kind of “don’t rock the boat – especially when the boat is listing” mentality could have discouraged the introduction of major legislation during the Spring sitting. A new School Act opens up several sensitive issues that could become incendiary. Do separate school systems for Catholic and Protestant minorities continue to hold relevance in the 21st century? Should private schools operated for private profits receive any amount of public funding? These are but two of several hot topics in which an uncomfortable government may not want become embroiled.

The Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta holds the view that positive initiatives with positive outcomes are the best ways to ensure citizen satisfaction. When the ship of government begins to list, it is not always enough to simply hold still and hope for a current that will carry you out of danger. It takes a concerted effort to regain balance and right the ship on an even keel. A new School Act that genuinely reflects the public’s vision of the future of education in our province could be precisely the kind of initiative that rebuilds support and reconnects a government with its citizens. Of course, for this to become the case, the government has to hear from its citizens that the School Act review is an important initiative. So, if you feel strongly about the future of education in Alberta, we encourage you to write to Minister Hancock, Premier Stelmach, and your MLA and express your desire to continue an open, consultative School Act review. Their contact information is available here.

Every Good Law Starts with a Good Preamble

January 21, 2010

Although the School Act Review process is officially behind the closed doors of the Alberta Education, members of the PSBAA are continuing to develop proposals for the Minister’s  consideration during the next round of public consultation.

The underpinnings of any important legislation should be clearly stated as a preamble so that those referencing the Act can have a clear understanding of the context and intentions of the provincial government at the time of enactment.

To that end, the PSBAA is developing a draft preamble. The following proposed Whereas clauses are under consideration by the members of the Association.

Members of the internal educational community and the broader community – the public — are invited to give consideration to these clauses and provide feedback.  The Association welcomes feedback, and you may want to copy other provincial associations with your feedeback.

Members of the Legislative Assembly – especially the Minister of Education — would also welcome feedback.  To reach them click here. Choose the M.L.A. you want to reach, and get the contact information.  The link is on the upper left hand corner of the biography.

Any new education Act should be founded upon the community’s (the public’s) current beliefs and understandings about roles, responsibilities, accountability and commitments to public school education.

The PSBAA hopes to engage all Albertans in the discussion to determine what the preamble to new School Act legislation should include. We have already received suggested changes from some of our members.

Please let us know how these draft Whereas clauses might be improved or if they accurately reflect what Albertans believe is the platform for public school education in Alberta.

Possible “Whereas clauses” for the School Act (or new school legislation)

(The purpose of the first whereas clause is to make it clear that education is an essential public good, for citizens and for the community.  This is why legislation is vital.)

# 1 Whereas excellent education for each and every person is the primary basis for free and effective citizens and for a strong and enduring democratic community, and

(The purpose of the second clause is to make it clear that parents have a fundamental right to be involved in the education of their children.  At the same time, children are not chattels of their parents:  the right of parents has to be exercised with the best interests of the child in mind.)

#2 Whereas parents have a right and responsibility to make informed decisions respecting the education of each of their children, bearing in mind the best interests of each child, and

(The purpose of the third clause is to reassure the provincial government, and others, that the exclusive constitutional authority of the provincial government is acknowledged:  at the same time, the statement is made that the provincial government “chooses” to regard the government of community as being in two parts, provincial and local”)

#3 Whereas in Alberta the Legislature of Alberta has exclusive constitutional jurisdiction to make laws respecting education and chooses to regard the government of community as being in two parts, provincial and local; and,

(The purpose of the fourth clause is to make clear that, in providing for education in the province, public school education is first and foremost, and public school education has three vital characteristics:  it is inclusive, it is a deliberate model of a civil democratic community, and it is substantially governed locally in every community by people who are locally elected.)

#4 Whereas it is in the public interest and a matter of important public policy to provide public school education that is inclusive, a deliberate model of a civil democratic community and substantially governed locally in every community throughout Alberta by people who are locally elected, and

(The purpose of the fifth clause is to make it clear that public school education exists to serve, equally, the student and the community.)

#5 Whereas public school education focuses on the student in the context of the community, and public school education exists to serve, equally, the potential of the student and the community, and

(The purpose of the sixth clause is to acknowledge the constitutional provisions for separate and francophone education.)

#6 Whereas, notwithstanding its primary commitment to public school education, Alberta acknowledges and upholds the provisions of the Constitution that allow and enable separate and francophone education, and

(The purpose of the seventh clause is to remind all readers that separate school education is a civil authority, not a parochial institution.  Such a clause would reassure separate and francophone supporters that the PSBAA is not using the review of the School Act to advance a confrontational agenda.)

#7 Whereas public school education , separate school education, and francophone school education are all provided under the auspices of a civil education authority, and

(The purpose of the eighth clause is to reassure the provincial government that the Association acknowledges their public policy position and their constitutional authority to allow private, charter and home schooling.)

#8 Whereas Alberta also allows and enables private education, including, but not limited to, charter schools, private schools, and home schooling

Therefore…

Inspiring Education, Alberta Education, the School Act review

December 9, 2009

Last Friday, December 4th, Alberta Education hosted a meeting that included members of the Steering Committee for Inspiring Education, members of the Working Committee, additional elected representation from various provincial associations, and most of the members of the Alberta Education School Act Review Project Team.  The Minister was in the room for the entire meeting, and made comments from time to time.  His contributions were appreciated by everyone.

The Inspiring Education Steering Committee still has nothing to share, publicly, about their perspective on governance and/or policy.  (They will meet again in Calgary, on Thursday, December 10th, but we don’t expect anything more to become public after this meeting. )

Alberta Education is hosting a closed web-site where members of the Steering Committee and Working Committee (and others who attended the meeting)  can share ideas, questions, and perspectives about the next education Act.  Both the Minister and the Department made a good faith undertaking to explore ways in which such a site could be opened up to the general public.

At the end of the meeting, three important issues remain unsettled.  The first issue is that the Inspiring Education initiative is building on the five core “values”  that were prescribed by Cabinet.  The Steering Committee has added a sixth value, excellence, but they haven’t made any other modifications (additions, etc.) to reflect suggestions from members of the Working Committee or citizens (in the course of the community conversations).  For example, integrity and respect are missing from the list of core values even though they were prominent in community conversations.  Citizenship is described as a core value, but democracy is omitted.

The second unsettled issue is that the Inspiring Education initiative is being implicated in the review of the School Act, even though participants in the community and provincial conversations were not focused on either governance or policy.  The primary purpose of new legislation will be to provide a governance and policy framework for our education system.  Important questions relating to governance and policy were not asked or considered in the course of the Inspiring Education conversations, but these conversations arenow being referred to as a guide for the creation of new legisation.

The third unsettled issue is that there is considerable momentum for an improvement to current trends and the status quo, rather than a dramatic change corresponding to the changes we experience daily in so many aspects of our lives.  For example, it is suggested that the language of the current Act should be retained as much as possible, because it has been interpreted by the Courts, and so its meaning is not subject to much uncertainty.   It seems that there is a desire to be bold and audacious, as long as it doesn’t invite any risk of uncertainty.  And indeed, we have an educational system that is excellent by many measures.  Perhaps we don’t need bold and audacious thinking, in which case we shouldn’t be holding out “bold and audacious thinking” as our stated goal.

It seems clear that the Minister wants a process that is as open as possible, a process that invigorates democracy.  Some of the participants in the meeting left feeling encouraged that we have made progress in our push for an open and transparent process:  we should continue to push the envelope.  At the same time, there are also powerful forces of inertia, inclined to favour further centralization, incremental improvement, and systemization to the exclusion of the public.

We face the same challenge over the substance of new legislation.

The only antidote to inertia is more public involvement.  The review of the School Act needs to be expanded; more Albertans must become engaged in the process.  It is important for people to think beyond the program of studies and the curriculum.  It is important for citizens to ask themselves how they want their education system governed, and how we can build a system in which the schools today and tomorrow will model democracy, bring communities together, and facilitate local self-determination and self-government.

Stop the Cuts, Start the School Act review

December 7, 2009

Over the past month, much has been made of impending cutbacks to education funding in our province. Three of our stakeholder colleagues have launched a Stop The Cuts campaign that has captured the attention of Albertans and their MLAs. As a result, education funding became a central issue during this Fall during question period at the Legislature (click here, here, here, here, here, and here to read some of these exchanges). Opposition MLAs also tabled thousands of signatures on petitions and letters urging the government to refrain from cutting education funding.

The Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta is very encouraged to see Albertans and their elected officials passionate about public education. We firmly agree that a well-funded public education system is the cornerstone of our province’s future prosperity. Strong schools and strong communities build on each other’s successes, and public education is an investment that pays far more than it costs.

If there’s one thing more important than funding, however, it’s the structure of our education system. Among other things, structure tells us how funding decisions get made. Structure tells us who gets to spend education funds. Structure tells us who determines what level of funding is appropriate. Structure tells us where these funds come from in the first place.

The Minister of Education is currently in the process of rewriting the School Act and he has indicated that the structure of our education system is on the examination table and up for debate. The Minister needs to hear what Albertans have to say about structure, not just what they have to say about this year’s education budget. The Stop the Cuts campaign has generated tremendous political energy towards public education, and it is vital that this energy is carried forward into the School Act review process. The outcome of this process will affect classrooms and communities for decades to come, and only the energy of Albertans will ensure that new legislation creates the structure they want.

The Public Schools Boards’ Association of Alberta has made several recommendations to the Minister regarding how funding decisions should be made and where education funds should come from. (Click here to view submissions from other stakeholders) As a matter of principle, we believe that funding decisions should be made as close to the classroom as possible by members of the local community. School boards are uniquely positioned to make funding decisions based on this principle. They are intimately connected to the needs and values of their communities, and they are immediately accountable to the parents and neighbours that elect them.

The PSBAA also believes, as a matter of principle, that local decision makers should have a financial connection to the communities they represent. Better engagement and better decisions will result when there is a sense that school boards invest community money rather than anonymous funds from the provincial treasury. Furthermore, creative and passionate citizens will be more eager to collaborate with their school board trustees when they can directly fund their own local ideas and initiatives. Finally, school board trustees will hold themselves to a higher standard when they can shake hands with the individuals that fund their schools. As such, the PSBAA has urged the Minister to return the revenue from education property taxes to locally-elected school boards without provincial government conditions and within a framework that assures equity across the province.

As always, the PSBAA would love to hear your thoughts and comments on our recommendations. Furthermore, we encourage all Albertans to contact their elected officials with their input into new education legislation. Your school board trustees and your MLAs want to know what you think about the structure of our education system. They want to hear what you have to say so that as the School Act review process continues, they can ensure that it enables the future Albertans desire.

Municipal districts and counties urge the provincial government to provide school boards with natural person powers in the new School Act

December 1, 2009

Two weeks ago, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Countries (AAMDC) adopted a resolution supporting school boards at their Annual General Meeting. The resolution, brought forward by the County of Stettler, is essentially the same as the one passed two weeks earlier by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Associations (AUMA). This underscores the general agreement between municipal districts, counties, villages, towns, and cities that school boards are an important form of local government that should remain responsible for local education priorities. Specifically, the resolution states that “local school boards can best deliver education services through increased authority with natural person powers” and urges the province to ensure that school boards receive these powers in new education legislation. (Click here for more information on natural person powers and how they would help school boards serve our communities)

The AAMDC’s support of natural person powers for school boards is a very positive development. Like their urban counterparts, municipal districts and counties have had natural person powers since 1995. These powers have inspired creative approaches to municipal issues and allowed these communities to exercise their full potential. Municipalities want their school board colleagues to enjoy the same opportunities and capacities. After all, both institutions serve the same communities, both institutions hold important community functions, and both institutions are equal partners in the fabric of local government. If natural person powers work well for one half of local government, it only makes sense to extend to them the other half.

The AAMDC is also not the first voice to suggest natural person powers for school boards. We made this recommendation in our School Act review submission to the Minister of Education in September, and numerous school boards and stakeholder groups (including 72% of school superintendents and secretary-treasurers) have echoed this suggestion in their submissions. The Minister and Alberta Education have spent the last month reviewing these submissions and this Friday, stakeholders will be presented with their rough draft of the new School Act. We are hopeful that the desires of Alberta’s school boards, education administrators, cities, towns, villages, municipal districts, and counties will be reflected in this rough draft with some indication that natural person powers will be extended to school boards.

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New Education Act – Sponsoring Municipality: County of Stettler No. 6

WHEREAS the Province of Alberta is undertaking a complete rewrite of the School Act; and

WHEREAS the Province of Alberta is gathering public input into education; and

WHEREAS across the province, municipalities feel that locally elected school boards are an integral part of local governance; and

WHERAS local school boards can best deliver education services through increased authority with natural person powers;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the AAMDC strongly support locally elected school boards and request the province ensure in the new education act that:

  1. School boards have the authority to responsibly undertake local education priorities and
  2. School boards are given natural person powers.

Member Background:

Approximately 30 days ago, Honourable David Hancock, Minister of Education, asked for input on revisions to the School Act. Minister Hancock went on to state that he would like to introduce a revised School Act in the spring session of the Legislature. As the spring session sits before the spring convention of AAMDC, another opportunity for municipalities to support local school boards may not be available if this resolution is not dealt with at the fall convention.

School Boards are an integral part of local governance and their co‐operation with municipalities is essential to the future of our communities. Local school boards need to have the authority to undertake local educational priorities as they see fit. Part of that authority and responsibility lies with school boards having the ability to perform duties similar to those of a municipality through natural person powers. To allow the school boards more statutory flexibility and the opportunity to create new and innovative solutions to localized issues will help the education of our children reach new heights.

The County of Stettler strongly supports the school boards in their pursuit of natural person powers and urges the rest of the AAMDC membership to recognize and assist the important role school boards play in the strength and future of Alberta’s communities.

Deputy Minister of Education invites PSBAA to School Act review meeting on December 4th, 2009

November 12, 2009

The School Act review process is continuing forward with gathering momentum. This morning, the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta received an email from Mr. Keray Henke, the Deputy Minister of Education for the Province of Alberta, indicating that an all-day meeting will be held on December 4th, 2009. The purpose of this meeting is to “focus on the alignment of the findings from Inspiring Education and the work of the School Act review.” According to Deputy Minister Henke, this will be addressed in three ways:

  1. “Members of the Inspiring Education Steering Committee will present information on their proposed direction based on public input over the past several months, including the proposed vision and legislative implications.”
  2. “[Alberta] Education staff will share highlights of public submissions related to the School Act review and a proposed structural outline of new education legislation.”
  3. “Attendees will contribute their views on the information provided and the proposed structural outline of the new Act.”

The Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta looks forward to attending the meeting and engaging in a constructive and collaborative dialogue with other education stakeholders. This meeting will begin the important process of translating the future of education as imagined by Albertans through Inspiring Education into actual legislation. Specifically, the PSBAA looks forward to this meeting as the beginning of an inquiry into the role of local government in provincial education. This was largely absent from the Inspiring Education dialogue (click here to read our blog post on the subject), so we look forward to moving into a conversation not only about how and what Albertans will learn in twenty years, but about how education decisions will be made.

There is still time remaining for Albertans to offer their input. Four MLAs sit on the Steering Committee for Inspiring Education, and as such, they have been invited to the December 4th meeting. These MLAs are:

Aside from these MLAs, you can always contact the Minister of Education (Hon. Dave Hancock), or  contact your local MLA and urge them to stand up in your community, in their caucus, and in our legislature to reaffirm Alberta’s commitment to a public, community-governed education system.

Additionally, these individuals sit on the Inspiring Education Steering Committee:

  • Mark Anielski, President and CEO of Anielski Management Inc.
  • Dr. Sharon Friesen, President of the Galileo Educational Network
  • Mary Hofstetter, President and CEO of the Banff Centre
  • Dr. Wilton Littlechild
  • John Masters, President and CEO of Calgary Technologies, Inc.
  • Laurie Thompson, Teacher and elementary school principal, Kikino Métis Settlement
  • Anne-Marie Pham, Co-Founder of the Calgary Vietnamese Youth Group and Chair of the Vietnamese Canadian Youth Action Committee of the Vietnamese Canadian Federation
  • Dr. Jane O’Dea, Dean of Education for the University of Lethbridge
  • Lance Carlson, President and CEO of the Alberta College of Art and Design
  • Sharon Carry, President and CEO of Bow Valley College
  • Jim Gibbons, Superintendent of Schools for Chinook’s Edge School Division
  • Don Iveson, Councillor for Ward 5, City of Edmonton
  • Zuhy Sayeed, Early childhood education teacher, Lethbridge
  • Deborah Lloyd, Medicine Hat School District
  • Brent McDonough, IB Coordinator for Holy Trinity High School, Edmonton
  • Brant Parker, Principal of University School and Dr. Gordon Townsend School, Calgary

Any member of the Steering Committee would be glad to have a conversation with any Albertan about the School Act review.