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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.

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