The following blog post was written for and published in the Lethbridge Herald on November 14, 2018.
In late October, the Public Schools’ Boards Association of Alberta (PSBAA) initiated a campaign to consolidate all education into one publicly funded system. In essence, they are desiring one system that would effectively provide parents with no choice in educating their children. For those of us in Catholic Education, this is certainly not new. The threat to Catholic Education is part of our history and can be traced back all the way to Egerton Ryerson. However, the attacks and the rhetoric around this cause are becoming increasingly alarming.
From a quick glance this might seem like a great idea. Proponents will tell you that this could be a means of saving money, which could serve students better. The research, however, suggests that merging school districts could actually cost more to run. Remember when we moved to one health care board for the province? Money was certainly not saved and service was not impacted in the positive. Bigger does not necessarily mean better.
If you were to simply make judgments from what you read or hear in some media outlets, you would believe that the current education system is failing our students. The fact is that Canada still ranks as one of the best educational systems in the world and Alberta is leading in that charge. In the recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, Canada appears in the top 10 for math, science and reading. But more impressive is that our high standing is offered almost exclusively through public education to one of the most diverse populations in the world.
Parental choice would be lost if we regressed to only one publicly funded system. Currently, parents in the Province of Alberta have the ability to choose (within some parameters) which publicly funded school system (Public, Separate or Francophone) they desire for their children. Parents wishing to access the Francophone system must meet the requirements set forth in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For the Public or Separate (Catholic) systems, the parameter lies in residency, space and resource availability, as well as a desire for a faith based education or not. The opportunity to choose any of the three systems comes without the necessity of tuition fees, as is the case for private schooling. Parents desiring a faith based education rooted in the Gospel values for their children have the ability to access the Catholic system. This opportunity is provided to both Catholic and non-Catholic students. It is an option that continually motivates Public, Separate and Francophone divisions to provide an educational product that benefits students and the communities they live in, and also promotes system competition.
This healthy competition would be eliminated if only one system existed; and monopolies, even in education, are seldom beneficial to a population. Educational funding is based on student enrolment and therefore school divisions are continually seeking improvements to attract or simply maintain students. There is a natural competition that develops as each system strives to enhance programming and facilities. As each division seeks improvement, the bar is raised resulting in students and communities being the benefactors of this competition.
Just as important as the competition is the strong collaboration that develops through strong working relationships with neighbouring school divisions. These relationships create partnerships like dual credit opportunities, career planning and transportation that further enhance advantages for all students. The school divisions in Southwest Alberta have developed strong collegial relationships, as demonstrated by these partnership opportunities. Excellent practices have been shared, co-created and taught to one another to ensure that students in the area are receiving the highest quality of education available.
While some may view Catholic Education as an option it must also be recognized as a right since it is constitutionally protected. Catholic schools have been in existence for over 130 years in the province. It has and continues to serve the citizens of Alberta, both Catholic and non-Catholic, with high quality education. To lose this right, option or choice would not benefit our province and the students we educate and, in the end, that is what education is called to do!