What if EPSB was powered by 100% Renewable Energy?

What if the Edmonton Public School Board was entirely powered by renewable energy?

In addition to the numerous ecological benefits, in an environment of economic uncertainty, committing to renewables maybe a sound fiscal strategy to avoid upcoming budgetary stings– carbon pricing, coal phaseout and other market vulnerabilities.

The educational opportunities to embrace solar micro-generation on our school roofs are fascinating, and should be considered as an in-school educational opportunity. The chance to be a part of a new economic diversification project would be very aligned with our Career Pathways plan.

We would not be the first school district to take this step. As reported by CBC, 25 schools pooled their purchasing power and bought themselves a wind farm to power 50o schools around Alberta.

For a large urban district like Edmonton Public Schools with over 200+ school buildings, this is a very exciting possibility. Check out this video:

As reported by Green Energy Futures:

Five hundred Alberta schools are powered by the wind. Twenty six school districts pooled their purchasing power to get long term price stability and they have a wind farm built by BluEarth Renewables to show for it.

The fiscal case merits further examination.
Embracing ecological sustainability is a topic we regularly hear is a priority for our students. I would also encourage you to check out a white paper presented by Queen Elizabeth calling for climate change strategies and utilizing green energy in schools. This is the inspiring story of Alberta students who held town halls with none other than the Premier of Alberta and then wrote a white paper on how Alberta schools can take action on climate change in the curriculum and on schools in the form of solar or energy efficiency projects. Here is a quick video summary:

Teacher Bargaining, ASBA and a proposed 50% cut to ASBA Membership fees

Teacher Employer Bargaining Association (TEBA)

I spent this afternoon with the (TEBA) Teacher Employer Bargaining Association today in Red Deer. Now that bargaining has been centralized/formalized, a new teacher bargaining process has started through TEBA. Due to confidentiality guidelines, matters pertaining to land, labour, and law are to be kept confidential.

Chinooks Edge School Division provided us a letter today that they gave to the Minister urging any matters settled should remain fully-funded by the provincial government in order to ensure current levels of service.

I don’t have much to add at this time, except to update that conversations are underway.

ASBA Spring General Meeting 2016

Tomorrow it is the ASBA Spring General Meeting in Red Deer. This is the annual budget meeting when the 61 members school boards of the ASBA come together to pass a budget. With our advocacy being done via board-to-board collaboration like funding for Syrian Refugees, and TEBA established as the bargaining vehicle, this budget is effectively a subsidy from our classrooms. It will be interesting to see how much has changed, if anything, since I resigned as ASBA Vice-President this time last year over concerns over fiscal accountability.

At Edmonton Public we delegate and share our board, committee, and representative work. While our ASBA concerns are unanimously shared by all 9 EPSB trustees, given my passion for strengthening our provincial advocacy opportunities, I’ve been board chair spokesperson on this file but our concerns are certainly unanimous.

EPSB PROPOSES 50% ASBA MEMBERSHIP FEE REDUCTION:

With the unanimous support of the Edmonton Public School Board, we will be proposing a fifty (50%) membership fee reduction in the annual ASBA membership fee paid by school boards.

Given the significant concerns school boards have had over the last few years, this is an opportunity for the ASBA to demonstrate fiscal accountability, restore more money to school boards, and reduce the feelings of ill-will by some of the members that feel “held captive“.

There are a couple of other proposals we will be bringing forward if time permits which will help enhance accountability of the ASBA such as a new “benefit plan” membership plan category, and providing an audio recording of ASBA board meetings.

FOLLOW ALONG

The ASBA meeting is public and open to the media—Red Deer Sheraton Hotel. Details here: http://www.asba.ab.ca/sgm-2016/.

I’ll be trying to live tweet under #asba or #asbaSGM16 for my board colleagues back in Edmonton.

ASBA Budget 2016 SGM 2 ASBA Budget 2016 SGM

Education Act delay is a very good thing.

I was very pleased to hear the news today that Minister Eggen is delaying the proclamation of the Education Act and would encourage him to do so indefinitely.

Personally, I have always felt that the idea of a wholesale new Education Act felt to me like a more politically motivated exercise on the part of former Ministers– I never really understood the justification that “we need a new Act because the old Act is old”.

In practical terms, this means school boards, parents, and community members continue to have predictability under the School Act. The evidence from national and international comparisons demonstrates that Alberta’s education system is among the best in the world. That sort of performance only exists when there are capable school boards, strong and wise government support, and a legislative scheme that promotes and enables the very best from our education professionals in the classroom. We have one of the best educational jurisdictions in the world and it was unclear to me what the proposed Education Act would contribute that School Act amendments could not.

Minister Eggen now has a unique opportunity to put the Government’s values into legislation, not by proclaiming the Education Act, but by retaining and continuing to amend the School Act after the fashion ably done by your government in the recent past. Just a few examples are the new student code of conduct (section 12), mandatory support for GSA’s (section 16.1), a more balanced view of parental involvement (section 16.2), guidance on bullying prevention (43.1 and 45.1), and moving the provisions relating to giving notice to parents regarding religious and sex ed instruction from the Alberta Human Rights Act to the School Act.

My advice to Minister Eggen would be to honor the feedback given by stakeholders in the Education Act process by making systematic, thoughtful, individual amendments to legislation. Proclaiming the act as-is without amendments could have been a very risky move and a cause of significant turmoil.

The status quo is not broken: the School Act works. Make your own amendments in a measured and thoughtful way. Your focus is needed on many more pressing concerns. While there are numerous areas in our education system myself and other education activists, constituents, teachers, principals and parents would like to improve (school health, nutrition, wellness, achievement, FNMI, ELL, arts, early learning……) the solution to these issues isn’t a wholesale replacement of our governing legislation. Predictable legislation and predictable funding go hand in hand.

Now… about new schools for Edmonton…

BACKGROUND

The letter I received this afternoon: (June 3rd, 12:25PM)

Over the past several months, I have been conducting an extensive review of the Education Act and its proposed regulations. Throughout this process it has become clear to me further discussion and collaboration is needed on specific policy shifts that would take effect should the Education Act be proclaimed.

As such, the School Act will remain in effect for the 2016/17 school year. This legislation has served Albertans well, and will continue to do so.

In the coming months, I will engage our education partners to further discuss education legislation.

I truly appreciate the time and effort you and your organizations, as well as many other Albertans, have put into the Education Act to date. A wealth of information and insight has been gathered and will, I assure you, continue to be put to good use as we continue our legislative review.

In the coming months, I will have more information about the format, timing and scope of future discussions regarding the Education Act. In the meantime, I would ask that you share this information, as you deem necessary, with students, parents and others impacted by the School Act remaining in effect.

Lastly, I want to restate that our government is committed to the education of our children. We demonstrated this through the providing of stable and predictable funding in Budget 2016, funding that we know will be put to good use as our attention shifts to the 2016/17 school year.

I thank you, as always, for your contributions to K-12 education in our province. I believe, by working together, we will ensure that legislation will continue to meet the needs our students.

Sincerely,

David Eggen

Minister

Aloha! pt. 2: Is the ASEBP a service of the ASBA? If not, why is ASBA membership required to access health plan services?

Once again questioned about transparency and expenditures, the ASBA tried to distance themselves and deny responsibility for the actions of the ASEBP:

Alberta School Boards Association vice-president Mary Martin said the benefits plan is an independent organization that should make its own decisions about disclosing expenses.

ASEBP Service

From the ASBA Bylaws and Budgets document

This is contradictory, considering the ASBA has made it clear that they consider the ASEBP to be a service of the ASBA and changed the rules after thirty four years of operations to require ASBA membership to participate in this benefit plan.

We understand that they did not sign off on the Hawaii trip, but as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation notes in their blog post:

Considering the ASBA seems to be in charge of holding the ASEBP board accountable, is the fox guarding the hen house?

The ASEBP board is made up of five appointees from the ASBA and five appointees from the Alberta Teachers Association (the teachers union). When an Edmonton Public School Boards trustee asked for more information about ASEBP expenses and travel, the ASBA voted the request down.

According to Janz, ASEBP board members created their own policy that encourages each of them to attend one conference per year through their international umbrella org.

(Note to self: come up with CTF policy encouraging me to go to Hawaii every year. Pitch to boss. Try not to get fired.)

So, will the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan board make their per diems, expenses, travel and compensation public? Will the Alberta School Boards Association make them disclose this information? Will the Alberta government make the benefit plan organization subject to freedom of information requests?

Perhaps there’s a perfectly reasonable justification for sending taxpayer-funded ASEBP board members on trips to Hawaii and “significant out-of-province travel” for “professional development.” But that case must be made to taxpayers. 

ASEBP ServiceAll of this again begs the question: why are school boards required to be members of the ASBA to access the benefits of the ASEBP? Furthermore, Can a School Board Leave the ASBA?

Edmonton Public School Board is not alone in our frustrations. Sturgeon School Division recently wrote in support of repealing rules that require ASBA membership to participate in the ASEBP:

CLEASE_H_ASEBP_May 13_2016

Aloha! Why are ASBA-appointed ASEBP board members going to Hawaii, where else are they traveling and how much are they paying themselves with our public education dollars?

These are simple questions, but thus far have been met with silence— or worse— resistance and hand-washing from the ASBA Board of Directors— the body who appoints these same trustees.

The ASBA leadership has told us that they consider the ASEBP “to be a service of the ASBA” and continue to require school boards like EPSB to be members of the ASBA to be eligible to receive employee benefits through the ASEBP plan. Yet when it comes to holding the ASEBP accountable for international travel, they aren’t interested. The ASBA wants to have it both ways.

At the May 17th, Edmonton Public School Board, I reported the following information:

May 17th Alberta School Boards’ Association Update (ASBA): At ASBA Zone 2/3 (April 22nd/2016) we received a presentation from the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan (ASEBP) and learned that ASBA-appointed trustees to the ASEBP participate in significant out-of-province travel including such locations as Hawaii for professional development. 

It is unclear to us how much they are traveling out of province or country, what per diems the ASEBP has set for themselves, or if they would be willing to disclose their expenses (just as school boards are required to do so). The ASBA has informed us they consider ASEBP a service of the ASBA so we expect the ASBA to assist us in establishing a heightened transparency and assurance. We will send a follow-up letter requesting more information and we will report back to the board when we learn more. 

You can read our letter requesting more information here:ASEBP Zone 23 (April 25 2016) ASEBP Zone 23 (April 25 2016)

EPSB Trustee Nathan Ip put forward a similar version of our request for more information to the ASBA Board of Directors on May 12th. We were frustrated to hear that the ASBA Board of Directors voted down his request for more information especially in light of the significant concerns we have raised about their own transparency and accountability for student dollars.

As half of the ASEBP board is appointed by the elected school trustees of the Alberta School Boards’ Association Board of Directors– both of which are funded by public dollars – we have a fiduciary duty to ensure that as elected officials and as members of the ASBA are confident in the appropriateness and efficacy of all our expenditures. That includes the conduct of those we appoint to represent us on committees, task forces, or external organizations.

We don’t even know what we don’t even know. Maybe there is a very good reason why a conference should be attended in Hawaii. I say: disclose the travel and expenditures and let the public be the judge! All of the Minister of Education’s travel is disclosed. And expenses. School Trustee expenditures are disclosed– yet I can’t find disclosure from the ASEBP.

Background:

The ASBA appoints 5 of the 10 trustees to the ASEBP Board.

Current Alberta School Boards’ Association appointees include: (https://www.asebp.ab.ca/about/governance.html)

  • Karen Holloway, ASEBP Chair (since January 2014)
    • ASEBP Trustee January 2008-present
    • Karen is also an elected School Trustee with Clearview School Division 71
  • Gerry Martins, ASEBP Trustee January 2011-present
    • Gerry is also an elected School Trustee with St. Albert Public School District No. 5565
  • Drew Chipman, ASEBP Trustee January 2009-present
    • Drew is also Assistant Superintendent, Corporate Services Foothills School Division 38
  • Christopher Cook, ASEBP Trustee April 2014-present
    • Christopher is also an elected School Trustee with St. Paul Education Regional Division No. 1
  • Heather Welwood, ASEBP Trustee January 2014-present
    • Heather is also an Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) Consultant
    • Heather is also former ASBA President 2007-2010 and no longer serving as a school trustee.

The ASEBP Board also has five trustees appointed by the Alberta Teachers Association.

I requested information from ASEBP Chair Holloway (April 22nd) and we have not received any response from them or indication they are responding to our request for this information.

  • The ten ASEBP Board members are encouraged through ASEBP policy (which they create themselves) to attend one conference per year through the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (https://www.ifebp.org)
  • One ASBA trustee went to Hawaii this year for the American IFEBP conference. They did not indicate how many had gone to the Hawaii conference in previous years.
  • It was unclear from your responses where the other 9 trustees went this year or which conferences ASEBP board members attend. Past conference locations include: 
2015 Hawaii, 2014 Las Vegas, 2014 Florida, 2012 San Francisco, 2010 Hawaii.

The unwillingness to indicate something as obvious as travel and expenses clearly leads to the larger question of compensation in general: what is the total compensation package, including honorarium, expenses, per diem, and any other form of compensation that an appointed trustee receives? And what about senior staff?

Next Steps

We continue to remain vigilant in advocating for appropriate use of student dollars by the Alberta School boards Association. Given the inappropriateness of previous conduct by the ASBA, we continue to remain diligent in applying a heightened level of scrutiny to their expenditures in the hope that we can strengthen the organization through transparency.

  1. If the ASBA President and Board of Directors will not assist us in finding out these answers, we may need to contemplate disciplinary action or a motion of censure at the upcoming June 6th Spring General Meeting. Are we at the point where school boards have to try and FOIP their associations in order to discharge their responsibilities for fiduciary oversight of public funds?
  2. If the ASBA-appointed ASEBP Board will not disclose how much they are paying themselves and how much they are traveling, then we may need to explore other options such as a recall vote, suggest a review of them by the Alberta Legislature Public Accounts Committee, review by the Superintendent of Insurance, or appeal to the Minister of Education for assistance.

(Continued: Aloha! Part 2: is the ASEBP a service of the ASBA? http://www.michaeljanz.ca/2016/05/aloha-pt-2-is-the-asebp-a-service-of-the-asba/)

Public Dollars Should Remain in Public Schools

Public Education

Update April 23rd, 2016:

The EPSB Board of Trustees approved my motion as amended. The new amendment read:

That the Board of Trustees reaffirm its commitment to Alternative Programs within Edmonton Public Schools and continues to advocate that the provincial government should phase public funding away from private schools and reinvest it in public education. Furthermore, that the Minister should incorporate charter schools into public school boards.

This replacement motion still encapsulates our principled position on this issue, but also reminds our parents that we are committed to the dozens of choice programs within our public framework.

The debate was very educational. I didn’t know this, but Ontario does not give any public subsidy to public schools. Another reader emailed me this:

The proportion of funding that private schools get is an arbitrary number. Prior to 1998, it was 50% (a proportion that is much more common in other provinces). Jim Prentice was part of a task force that then pushed the number to 60%: http://rabble.ca/…/1998-private-school-funding-report-puts-…

Today’s 70% funding level was made at a closed door caucus meeting held by the PCs in the dead of summer 2008 during the Calgary Stampede – a move surely meant to fly under the radar: http://www.teachers.ab.ca/…/Province%20increases%20private%…

It is interesting to note that the increases to funding had little effect on the proportion of students that attended private schools. I’m quite sure that parents opt for private school independently of how much public funding they receive and that rolling back the funding level would not drive students back to the public system en masse.

 I had a great discussion with one of my parent friends yesterday about private facilities that receive special needs support. I think it is crucial to distinguish that some private schools are very class-based and charge thousands and thousands of dollars of annual tuition. There are others that are publicly subsidized religious schools teaching a very specific denomination or faith. To me these are very clear examples of where church and state should be separated or where giving millions to the millionaires is not warranted. With the third example of special needs school sites, as I stated below, this points to a greater need for public investment in the public school system so every child can receive the education they deserve.
I also had another interesting discussion about public oversight and the lack of transparency from Private/Charter schools. Going beyond the idea that they should be supervised by all citizens (like the public or catholic system), they should also have to be subject to FOIP and the same public disclosure regulations that all other school boards are.

 

With the review of the Education Act, now is the time for Premier Notley and her cabinet to ensure that public tax dollars are best being allocated to support public education.

I support the elimination of public subsidies to private schools immediately. But if the Minister isn’t ready to go there yet, as a compromise position, the minister could phase out the subsidies over a reasonable period of time.

Either way, this is an area that requires review by the Ministry of Education, especially considering there is a new Education Act and severe budget pressures.

This Tuesday (April 19th, 2016) we will be debating my motion:

That the Board of Trustees reaffirm its commitment to the provincial government that public funding to private or charter schools should be phased out and reinvested in public education. (link to Board Package)

Based on the dialogue I’ve been having with parents, I thought I would try to pull together a blog post with some of the background and arguments on this subject I have been hearing:

Understanding the debate:

As was reported in the Calgary Herald, Alberta is the only province to fund charter schools, which receive the same per-student funding as public schools, but don’t qualify for infrastructure and maintenance funding. Private schools are eligible for 60 to 70 per cent of per-student funding.

For clarity, in Alberta public education typically means Public, Separate/Catholic, and Francophone Schools. I seek to continue to support the plethora of choice programs we have within the public school system (French immersion, Mandarin Bilingual, Cogito, Judaic, Islamic, Christian, and dozens more…) but I take exception to our system subsidizing private school education with public tax dollars.

Facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, Premier Notley and Minister Eggen will be carefully trying to figure out how to preserve public education funding in future budgets. The first place they should start is phasing  the $200* million dollars from Private schools back into public education. (*unclear how much funding in totality goes to private schools. I’m examining this year’s funding manual)

Subsidizing private school tuitions is essentially incentivizing a decision that a stakeholder was going to make anyway. This is a frustration I regularly hear from parents and school council members who complain to me about this school segregation. The public school is legally obliged to educate the highest need, most socio-economically challenged, and special needs students, while the private school down the road continues to pick-and-choose their students–and receives  public money to do so.

No one disputes the right of the private school to exist and the social status, ideological or faith reasons the parents hold to send their children to that school. We just remain frustrated that our schools pick up the public burden while they receive the public benefit.

My opposition is both philosophical (segregating and dividing society is anti-democratic and will have long term negative consequences such as in other countries) and logistical (impractical investment, duplication of administration).

Last week, Public Interest Alberta renewed their call for the government to end provincial funding for private schools and absorb charter schools into the provincial school boards. I agree with this call and would encourage you to read their release here:

“We need to direct public funding to schools that operate under democratically elected school boards, which operate with public accountability and transparency of expenditures, rather than to private entities with private agendas.” (said French)

“Private schools have a right to exist, but not to receive public funding,” French stated. “Last year the Alberta government gave over $200 million in public funds to private schools. These are difficult financial times, and that same sum of money could have been used to eliminate school fees for all parents across the province, provide school lunch programs for children living in poverty throughout Alberta, or pay for much-needed programs to support indigenous learners.”

French pointed out that Alberta’s school boards were on record as supporting this direction, with the Alberta School Boards’ Association having passed a formal motion in November 2013 calling on the government to reallocate to public education funding currently given to private schools, in order to better build “a viable, sustainable public education system.”

In terms of Alberta’s charter schools, French called for the government to end the experiment and bring the schools fully into the public education system. “Charter schools were introduced early in the Klein era with the promise that they would promote innovation and provide competition for the public system. Two decades later there are still only thirteen charter schools.  They haven’t delivered on that promise, and no other provinces have gone in this direction because charter schools are not necessary or helpful.”

French pointed out that Alberta has been recognized for developing a culture of school improvement across the province through the former Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI,) and charter schools are simply not needed. “Alberta has a well-developed system of support for alternative schools and programs within our public and separate schools, and Edmonton Public Schools in particular has demonstrated how to accommodate legitimate desires for choice and diversity within the public system.  It is clearly time for charter schools to be absorbed by school boards as part of the public education system, or to become private schools.”

They also posted this handy backgrounder worth reviewing:

Can a private school operator refuse to enrol my child? Yes. A private school operator can refuse to enroll a student. This is because the School Act does not require private school operators to provide education programs to every student.

Do private school operators offer special education programs? Private school operators are not required to admit students with special needs. However, once an accredited funded private school enrolls a student with special education needs, Alberta Education requires the private school operator to provide appropriate education programming for that student for the school year in which that student is enrolled.

Public Interest Alberta noted that this not a new position for public school boards, and Edmonton Public Schools was one of a chorus of school boards who supported eliminating funding for Private schools in 2013 at the Alberta School Boards’ Association:

“Public boards are being strapped a bit for cash and we’re trying to do more with less,” said Helen Clease (ASBA President)… “We don’t have an issue with there being private schools,” Clease added. “But we believe that the public dollars should go to public schools where every child can have access to that education.”

– David Howell, “Private school funds under fire,” Calgary Herald, Nov. 21, 2013

Charter schools were established in an era where there were not choice programs in public school systems. As you can see by the choice offerings in Edmonton or Calgary Public schools, there are dozens and dozens of programs already available within the public system. Charter schools were also intended to produce research — which to my understanding has not been produced. These charter schools could be easily re-incorporated back into the oversight and efficiency of the larger public administration umbrella. Millions of dollars are being spent on duplicated administration of the Charter schools that would not be necessary in the public system.

Quoting David Climenhaga:

“Alberta is the only Canadian province that funds charter schools, which are generally defined as ‘alternative’ schools that receive government money but are really just private schools that are subsidized by taxpayers. There’s a good reason we’re alone on this. It’s a bad policy that takes money from taxpayers to bankroll often dubious and poorly monitored specialty programs, many of which cherry-pick students on such grounds as how likely they are to succeed and how much money their parents have. Practically speaking, it also takes money away from public education. Alberta’s charter schools, which often try to deny their teachers fair pay and union representation, continue to receive the full per-student grant provided to public and separate schools.” David Climenhaga, AlbertaPolitics.ca, April 3, 2016

According to Understanding Canadian Schools (4th Ed) – 

All provinces have at least a few independent (also called private) schools. An independent school can be defined as a school that is not governed by a public school board, and that is selective about whom it admits as students, whether the selection process is based on grounds of ability, religion, or some other criterion. Students are usually charged tuition fees. Most private schools in Canada are religious in orientation. (p. 159)

A few of the arguments on the issue:

1. Private Schools provide a private, not a public good. Private Schools should have a right to exist– but not to receive any public funding.

All Alberta communities are entitled to strong publicly funded schools supported by the public purse, and accountable through elected school boards. It is a basic right and a responsibility of government to provide it to all citizens.

In every community in Alberta there is a public school that, by law, is required to take your student. That means that every student who currently attends a private school has a desk waiting for them at their local designated public school. If their parents want to make the choice to send their children to a different school, or study abroad, or send their children to boarding school in another province, they should have to pay the full-freight of doing so themselves. That is their families choice.

If you ran a business and were unhappy with the local police department, you would have a right to add your own security system, but that would be at your own expense. Just as companies who want additional or alternative security pay for it themselves, so should families who wish to pursue additional education services. If you aren’t happy with your own local library branch, I shouldn’t have to subsidize 70% of your book purchases at Chapters.

Again, I’m not calling for the elimination of Private or Charter schools, merely the public money subsidizing operations. should be used to subsidize the expensive tuitions. Currently Private School tuitions range from $5000 per year to $50,000 or higher. It is unclear to me if there is even a relationship between private school tuition rates and the public subsidy they receive. A reduction in public funding would not automatically mean a tuition increase. It is unclear to me where there profit margins are. Anytime they need to generate more revenue, they can charge their users more. Private schools are also eligible for corporate sponsorships to augment their revenue.

2. Social fragmentation.

There are some who believe that these segregated schools produce negative societal consequences by isolating the “have” from the “have not” kids, and there is extensive research in the United States about the role that private schools play in inequality. There are also some who challenge that Private and Charter schools in Alberta are not teaching the Alberta Curriculum and may not be following provincial legislation in areas such as Bill 10 (Are there Gay Straight Alliances for students who wish to form them?) or comprehensive sexual health education (are they adhering to the fact-based resources available on teachingsexualhealth.ca?).

There are more who have more articulately criticized problems with private schools (leaving out the poor, disadvantaged and special needs children, the high parent tuitions, undermining the democratic fabric of our community, social fragmentation and elitism, and state funding of religion to name a few).

As the late Joe Bower wrote:

James Moffett coined the (unofficial) mantra of private schools with select admissions to be: “Send us winners and we’ll make winners out of them.” 
Alfie Kohn puts it this way: “Institutions that get to choose whom to admit tend to look for the applicants who are good bets to succeed: those who seem smart and compliant, will require the least time and effort, and are most likely to make the school look good. And that means those who most need what your school has to offer are turned away.”
As bad as schools with select admissions are, I can think of few things more morally bankrupt and intellectually indefensible than publicly funded private schools with select admissions. 

 

3. Why are we giving a public subsidy for private choice?

Or then-MLA, now MP Kent Hehr:

“I believe our public school system is an excellent place for kids to learn,” he said. “If people do not want to take part in the public school system, that is their right. But it’s not a corresponding right for the taxpayers to fund that choice for a religious or cultural option.”

Last year, the NDP followed in the steps of the  Tory Government designated $226 million for private schools. Those are public tax dollars from the public education system, designed to education and support all students, given to private school operators as a subsidy. That’s millions of dollars that could support our public school students– many of them who need it the most!

Why are we giving away public tax dollars for the education of private school students and families. We the taxpayers have already build the roads, the schools, the libraries, the community halls, and the hospitals. Why should we now be cutting an enormous cheque to families who could enrol their students in the public  classrooms available to them tomorrow?

According to the AISCA, the lobby group for the Private schools, there are more than 100 private community operated kindergartens and more than 100 private schools in the province, educating approximately 4.5% of the K-12 students in the province. These students have opted out of the public system already and are paying additional tuition and fees. For these families if we removed the public funding that subsidizes their private tuition, some of them would stay at the schools anyway, while some would return to the public system. It would depend on how the private operators decided to adjust tuition as well as other factors. I don’t know if there is a relationship to the cost of their education to tuition charged.

4. Is there capacity within the public education system? Yes! Even if 100% of these students returned to our classrooms, we have room for those students in the public system, and would welcome their return. But if they wish to remain in their private school (which I believe most would because if cost was the motivator they would have gone to a public school in the first place), we respect their choice, but will reallocate the public subsidy back to the public classroom.

Imagine the impact on the most vulnerable students in Alberta if those dollars were reinvested in the public school system?

5. Do private schools save the public system money? No. There is a reason only a few other provinces provide public funding for private schools (and no other province has Charter schools). We would save even more money if those students were paying the full cost of their private tuition (without the 70% public subsidy) as demand for private school is relatively inelastic (regardless of the cost they would still purchase the product at their own expense).
In other words, we are paying them $226 million for something they would likely do anyway. These Parents chose the private school for status, philosophical or religious reasons– not to mention the tax receipt for tuition— over universal, free, public education.

If 70% allegedly saves the system money, what about 60%? or 50%? Or even 40%? A phased approach to reducing funding would keep more money in the system while respecting parent choice.

Returning to the social fragmentation argument– on a philosophical level, even if every single one of those students left their private school tomorrow for a public school desk, I would be prepared to cover the hypothetical slight cost difference because I believe in the fundamental mission of public education– social cohesion, social mobility, and societal advantages that it brings. Our communities are better off when we learn to live together.

6. Any system must have a reasonable limit on choice. Many school systems allow for choices already and as such if the public choice offerings are not sufficient for you and you want to choose a private school, that choice should be yours — including the financial cost. I fully support choices within the publicly funded system. Check out the offering by Edmonton Public or Calgary Public Schools— there are amazing programs within the public system.

Some schools are in very high demand. Some neighbourhoods even have lotteries. Some parents want teacher A over teacher B or program A over program B. But there must be some policy framework that is fair to everyone and isn’t just based on your family’s wealth. If their parents want to make the choice to send their children to a different school, or study abroad, or send their children to boarding school in another province, they should have to pay the full-freight of doing so themselves. That is their family’s choice.

7. What about private special needs programs? There are some who suggest that because certain private schools cater to the special needs students that they should also be given funding. I disagree. If government wants to improve outcomes, they should invest more in the public special needs programs rather than subsidize delivery to the private centres. If families still want to make that choice to go to a specialized site, they should pay the full-freight themselves. A good education shouldn’t be contingent upon your families capacity to pay expensive tuitions to private providers. as we have excellent programs already in our public system that these families can access.

This two-tier, pro-private school mentality is an archaic ideological relic of the culture of past Progressive Conservative Party governments. Restoring public funding to the needy students who need it the most would pay a far greater dividend in terms of our provincial well-being than subsidizing the tuition of those families who can afford to pay more anyway.

8. The NDP have not traditionally supported public funding for private schools. What have other political parties said?

The Alberta Party, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Greens have all called for an end to public subsidy of private and charter schools. Janet Keeping wrote this blog post on the Green Party of Alberta blog: 

In no country is this function of public education more important than here in Canada where we have one of the most diverse populations in the world.  Learning to appreciate, live with and make decisions together with others from very different backgrounds – perhaps most importantly, with children from families of very different degrees of poverty or wealth – is essential to keeping our society functioning in a sympathetically democratic way.  This is accomplished in large part through a public education system.

Private schools on the other hand segregate children along lines that inhibit the development of that democratic sympathy, for example, along religious, gender, cultural and wealth lines. 

Unfortunately, at this time, it seems that the NDP has no plan to roll back funding for private charter schools at this time: http://calgaryherald.com/news/politics/no-plans-to-change-funding-model-for-private-charter-schools-says-education-minister

9) What about other school boards or education advocates?
Private School funding is still a matter of controversy. I repost a comment from Bruce Pettigrew former Chair and Trustee with Rockyview Schools that he posted to the Calgary Herald Story:

I cannot understand why the Alberta taxpayer has to subsidize the private choice of a few people at the expense of the public good. Private schools and many charter schools are by their mandate and nature exclusionary. They ‘cherry pick’ their students, increase fees so they can deliver smaller class sizes, and then claim to be doing a ‘better’ job than the public schools which welcome all students regardless of ability.

The Alberta taxpayer gives out something to the tune of 275 MILLION $ for this small group. Granted it will be argued that these students would be in the public system if
they were not in private schools but I would counter that many would remain in the private/charter system regardless. As well I acknowledge that there are a few charter/private schools that take very difficult students but I believe with proper funding of special needs those students would be equally successful in the public system.

A final note regarding Charter Schools. When the Charter schools were first proposed and charters granted they were to operate on the basis of delivering definable improvements for students as opposed the the public system. They were to be evaluated regularly by the Department and, if not delivering, the charter was to be revoked. I do not believe this has ever happened in Alberta (fraud and financial malfeasance excepted). Where is the accountability for the extra funding of charter schools?

Education leaders have long been critical of public subsidies for private schools. Here is a letter from 2008:

The Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS), the Association of School Business Officials of Alberta (ASBOA), and the Alberta School Councils Association (ASCA) jointly will be sending a letter to Premier Ed Stelmach expressing our concerns and requesting that he reconsider the decision to increase public funding for private schools.

The main message to the premier is this: Private schools can pick and choose students, do not have to follow the same rules as public schools and are not accountable to any elected authority. More privatization of our education system is the wrong path to follow, if for no other reason than it encourages inequity in the education of children.

From: Heather Wellwood, president, Alberta School Boards Association; Paulette Hanna, president, College of Alberta School Superintendents; Russell Horswill, president, Association of School Business Officials of Alberta; and Trina Boymook, president, Alberta School Councils Association

For further history into the connections between Jim Prentice, the PC Party, and Private Education, please see David Climenhaga’s excellent Backgrounder on this subject:

If you are looking for information from Alberta Education, please see: https://education.alberta.ca/parents/choice/private.aspx

To support other public education advocates trying to support strong public schools, connect with:
http://www.supportourstudents.ca/ and read their op-ed response: https://www.facebook.com/notes/support-our-students-alberta/open-letter-to-calgary-herald-editorial-board/1743550082592372


As always, I would like to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to send me an email: michael@michaeljanz.ca

You can also contact your local school trustee at www.epsb.ca.

Celebrating English Language Learners through lessons on Winter

Last week at the Edmonton Public Board Meeting we heard a presentation from our administration, our schools, and our students about helping students who are English language learners (ELL) be successful in Edmonton Public Schools.

Edmonton Public Schools is committed to providing welcoming, safe, inclusive and responsive learning environments for all students. We have been welcoming newcomers to Canada into our classrooms for years.  Our current ELL population is supported through multi-disciplinary teams in Inclusive Learning and four reception centres, for family orientations, assessments, consultations, coaching and professional development for teachers and staff. Community partnerships play a valuable role in supporting newcomers in our schools.

The number of students identified and coded as ELL, as of September 30, 2015, is 22,437. This includes 166 early learners and 1,625 Kindergarten students. This is an increase from 12 613 identified students in 2010-11.

These numbers continue to grow. The classroom of today looks very different than it did twenty years ago. Our schools are incredibly diverse with many students coming from many different backgrounds around the world.

Edmonton Public Schools is part of a city-wide coordinated response plan to support the Syrian newcomers, and for decades have been partners in welcoming refugee and immigrant students from around the world. I am very proud of the efforts taking place in our schools and the warmth the greater Edmonton community has shown to supporting these students and their families.

Please see a .pdf “winter language guide” made by students to help new students adjust to our Canadian winters:  (larger file, contact me michael dot janz at epsb.ca and I’ll email it to you) Older students helped create a multi-lingual guide to winter for future newcomers. A practical and humorous guide to have the most fun in the snow!

Please see our EPSB English Language Learners report: http://www.epsb.ca/media/epsb/ourdistrict/boardoftrustees/boardmeetings/2015-16/february16/03-SuccessforEveryStudent-EnglishLanguageLearners.pdf

All About Winter Booklet

 

All About Winter Booklet

 

 

 

 

 

Can a School Board leave the ASBA?

On Monday, the Edmonton Public School Board invites the 61 member school boards of the Alberta School Boards Association to restore school board choice in membership. We have put forward an emergent amendment for discussion, requesting that our employee health plan (the Alberta School Employees Benefit Plan) not require school boards to be ASBA members. For over 34 years this was the case– boards could access the benefit plan, but were not required to be ASBA members to do so.

Section 5.3.1 of the ASEBP Deed of trust was amended in 1994, adding a new requirement that in order to participate in ASEBP, a school board must either be a member of the ASBA, or be approved for participation by the parties to the deed.

This amendment does not align with the Alberta School Boards Association Act, which provides that ASBA membership is voluntary, not mandatory, and was made without the District’s approval, with the result that the Board feels that it has been deprived of its statutory right to choose ASBA membership, or not. This amendment was purely designed to artificially strengthen the ASBA and was politically motivated in nature. It does not enhance the benefits for employees or for boards.

EMERGENT MOTION:
1. Section 3-3.1(b) shall be amended as follows:

Membership in ASBA shall NOT be a requirement for boards to be eligible for continued participation in group benefits through ASEBP;

Current ASBA policy reads:

Association Partnerships 3-1 Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan (ASEBP)
The Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) takes the following positions with regard to the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan (ASEBP) Deed of Trust:
1 Membership in ASBA shall be a requirement for boards to be eligible for continued participation in group benefits through ASEBP;
2 ASEBP administration shall operate independently of the ASBA and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) by reporting directly to the ASEBP Insurance Board;
3 The ASEBP Trust shall be solely responsible for any liabilities of the ASEBP plans or operation; 4 The ATA and the ASBA shall refrain from appointing their collective bargaining negotiators to the ASEBP board of directors; and
5 a. Appointment of representatives from ASBA to the ASEBP board of directors shall be for a maximum of two successive three-year terms; and
b. Representatives from ASBA to the ASEBP board of directors may serve for more than two, three- year terms provided they are not successive.

This amendment would bring the ASBA back in conformance with the Alberta School Boards Association Act (which provides school boards the ability to leave the ASBA), and would make it more responsive to its member boards, leading to greater member satisfaction and a stronger ASBA. Lastly and most importantly, it would promote and honour local autonomy for all boards.

We will be proposing this emergent motion at 0900AM, Monday November 16th at the ASBA Fall General Meeting. Edmonton Public Schools has been actively advocating to the ASBA Board of Directors to undo the amendment requiring membership since June 2015(01 – June 3, 2015 Letter from General Counsel re ASEBP Deed of Trust).

We are optimistic that other school boards will support us, such as the board of Medicine Hat School District (below).

ASEBP Letter RE Edmonton Public Position

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our request letter:

Emergent Item (ASEBP)

 

 

 

 

Eleven education issues I expect to hit the news (fall 2015)

In a few weeks summer holidays will come to an end and the hallways of our schools will be filled with little feet once again. September always feels like the new year for me.

As a citizen and education advocate, I often get asked about what the “hot issues” will be this fall.  This is a combination of what I’ve been hearing at the BBQ circuit this summer as well as a few observations from the last couple of years. With another school year starting, here are some of the issues (in no particular order) that I anticipate may be on the radar this fall.

The Federal Election: This one might be more wishful thinking– that our federal candidates talk about supporting public education. It is likely that much of the mainstream media coverage will continue to be concentrated on the Federal Election. While public education is an area of provincial jurisdiction according to the constitution, there will be a few areas where federal attention could dramatically improve academic outcomes for our students. The first is the Federal government stepping up our commitment to aboriginal education. We have heard disappointingly little in the campaign dialogue this far about what our federal leaders will do to improve socioeconomic and educational outcomes for students. I support the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and would like to see more discussion on these issues during this election.

The EPSB By-Election: Since the election of former EPSB Trustee Sarah Hoffman to the provincial legislature, there has been significant interest from candidates in putting their name forward for EPSB School Trustee. The nomination date is Monday August 31st, 2015 and the  by-election will be held on Monday September 28th. I have spoke to about a dozen potential candidates thus far on the phone or in person and I thank all of them for their passion and enthusiasm for our public education system. For more information visit: http://www.epsb.ca/ourdistrict/board/about/wardgby-election/

So far declared candidates (that I can find websites for) include:

Bridget Sterling: (https://www.facebook.com/BridgetCampaign)

Ros Smith: https://voteforros.wordpress.com/

Gerry Gibeault: http://gerrygibeault.wix.com/gerrygibeault (Gerry has withdrawn his candidacy as of August 25th)

The Education Funding Framework: After the troubling provincial budget roll-out last year under Minister Dirks and Premier Prentice, Premier Notley and Minister Eggen fulfilled their promise of restoring the funding cuts. Over the last few years under the rural-dominated PC Caucus there were targeted cuts applied to the metro school boards. Calgary and Edmonton are not eligible for certain funding envelopes, such as small schools by necessity, that other school boards draw from. While I recognize there is diverse need throughout Alberta, our Metro School Boards do considerable heavy-lifting in our province and we need to ensure that equity and fair treatment is restored. As you can see from our Metro School Boards lobby document, we are uniquely challenged in terms of student growth, diversity, complexity, and special needs. (Metro Board Newsletter combined in .pdf)

The SLAs: After the controversial roll-out of the grade 3 SLAs last year, government and school boards will be carefully watching if this diagnostic tool fulfils its objectives. As a board, we have supported the SLA as a diagnostic tool to support student learning and assist teachers in developing appropriate interventions. Last year there were issues with the Grade 3 SLA implementation, so we’re grateful for any assistance Alberta Education can provide to mitigate any impact SLA administration might have on teacher workload. We’re also supportive of any changes that will make the SLA more effective for teachers and, ultimately, for students and their learning.

Teacher Negotiations: What format will bargaining take this time? Will it be local? Provincial? Or a hybrid model? With the current four-year contract expiring with the ATA in August 2016, discussions will likely start soon. Many Alberta School boards recently supported a call for a return to local bargaining initiated by Terry Riley, Chair of the Medicine Hat School District.

The Education Act Review: The Education Act will not be proclaimed this fall as planned. Personally I’m pleased that we will have another chance to look at the act, especially around some of the areas that may be problematic for us.

The Pre-Budget Consultation: I believe now is the time to end the public funding to Private and Charter schools in Alberta (so do other Alberta school boards for that matter) This money should be reallocated to the students with the greatest educational challenges. Secondly, I believe that as a revenue tool and a health promotion action, I support a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention is again calling for the province to implement this next step. My third request? Implement a Wellness Foundation in Alberta.

School Nutrition: This was a platform item in the NDP campaign. I support a comprehensive universal school nutrition program that would assist in addressing issues of poverty (no child should have to come to school hungry) while simultaneously educating students about healthy eating. A Universal School Food Strategy for Alberta – Alberta Policy …

Bill 10 implementation and supporting Transgender students: Out of 63 school boards in Alberta, how many of them have a Gay Straight Alliance in their district schools? Great controversy erupted when Bill 10 came forward. The right for students to form GSAs were opposed by both Catholic Bishops, certain special interest groups and some school boards, but after significant public outcry from all over society (The City of Edmonton Youth Council with Claire Edwards, for instance or the on-air rant by Ryan Jespersen or Mike’s Bloggity Blog or hundreds of others…)  respect and inclusion won the day. On March 10th, then-Minister Gordon Dirks made an impassioned Ministerial statement in support of GSAs and as of June 1st, Bill 10 was proclaimed. Safe spaces and accommodation will likely remain a hot-button issue this fall, especially for students who are transgender. Edmonton Public passed a landmark Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy in 2012 that guides us as a district (Read it here). How long until all 63 school boards have at least one GSA in their district? Grand Prairie Catholic Chair Ralph Wohlgemuth stated “Our district hasn’t and won’t block GSA if students request one.”. How will the Legislature measure if Bill 10 is being lived in Alberta schools?

Rethinking School Board Advocacy: With Edmonton Public Schools debating leaving the Alberta School Boards Association this fall, and the continued collaboration of metro school boards (Calgary Public and Edmonton Public together account for 1/3 of students in the province. With Edmonton Catholic and Calgary Catholic that number jumps to half) it will be interesting to see how different stakeholders represent their individual interests to the minister. School boards have expressed an interest in returning to a more local form of bargaining rather than centralization. There are already 3 other school trustee interest groups actively representing their specific Public, Francophone, and Catholic interests– is there a need for yet another organization? And if Edmonton leaves, will other boards follow? (Last year I resigned as Vice-President of the Alberta School Boards’ Association. You can read my resignation letter here.)

Banning Corporate and Union Donations in Municipal Elections: With both big-city mayors and numerous other stakeholders in support (click here to read the letter from Edmonton Public Schools) let’s rework our systems now, well in advance of the 2017 municipal election cycle. (Further details here: http://www.michaeljanz.ca/2015/06/i-support-banning-corporate-and-union-donations-and-municipal-campaign-finance-reform/)

This post is getting pretty long but I would add countless others: school fees, full-day kindergarten, sex education, transportation, and our ongoing desperate need for new school space to meet unprecedented city growth.

Can you see why I love being a school trustee? There is never a dull moment!

Alberta Needs A Wellness Foundation

I believe our province needs to shift our healthcare system towards a greater focus on disease prevention.

I also believe that prevention efforts must focus on our most formative years: the early years and our K-12 education system. Healthy children grow up to be healthy Albertans. There is only one tax dollar, and dollars spent treating preventable diseases, are dollars not available to invest in our school system. If we can shift our system to be more proactive and preventative, we will see significant cost savings that could be invested in other areas, such as K-12 education.

At our September 8th Public Board Meeting I will be giving notice of motion that our board join the chorus of other advocate organizations, municipalities, and school boards calling for the establishment of a Wellness Foundation as outlined by Wellness Alberta.

I believe that a Wellness Foundation would be of significant interest to our School board because of the potential future investments in health promotion in our school system. Lifelong habits are formed during the school years, and I hope that as a school district can be a supportive partner in turning the (healthy) learners of today into the (healthy) leaders of tomorrow.

As a school district, we already are partners in reducing tobacco use. We have eliminated the sale of junk food from our schools. We are working on numerous programs that increase physical activity. We are partners in drug and alcohol programs. We are continuing to increase our focus on the early years and supporting those students at the greatest risk or who are entering our school system with the greatest needs. The Wellness Alberta proposed Wellness Foundation is aligned with our mission, vision, and priorities.

MOTION:

That the Edmonton Public School Board endorse the need for the Alberta Wellness Foundation. (Background: Wellness Foundation)

Wellness Alberta brings together thousands of individuals including business, health and recreational leaders and non-governmental organizations who support a meaningful investment in the prevention of disease and injuries. Through a sustainable investment in an Alberta Wellness Foundation, Albertans will benefit from improved health outcomes and reduced demands on health care, which will greatly enrich the quality of life for current and future generations.

We, the undersigned, support the efforts of Wellness Alberta and believe the Alberta Government should establish a Wellness Foundation in Alberta, which is:

 Well-financed (initial investment of $50 million annually, increasing over 3 to 5 years to an amount equivalent to at least 1 percent of the health care budget or $170 million  annually),

 Sustained and protected by legislation, and

 Functions independent of the acute health care system to maintain financial autonomy, accountability and transparency.

A number of school boards have already endorsed the Wellness Foundation including the Edmonton and Calgary Catholic school boards.

The City Councils of Edmonton and Calgary also provided unanimous support for the proposed foundation.

This motion would be debated at the September 22nd Board Meeting.

You can find a number of background documents on their website including an endorsement form.

Click here to download the Wellness Alberta Statement of Support Form and Overview Document: FINAL-WellnessAB-FaxBack-Endorsement Form-April_22_2013

Here is a list of other endorsers: http://www.wellnessalberta.ca/current-endorsements.html#.VbhJ5PlViko

Background on the Wellness Foundation:

Wellness Alberta Recommends:

 Establish a Wellness Foundation to transform the health and quality of life of all Albertans.

 The Wellness Foundation must be well-financed, sustainable and operate independent of the health care system.

 The Wellness Foundation must focus on primary prevention to address major modifiable risk factors for chronic disease.

Wellness Alberta is very concerned about the chronic disease epidemic in Alberta. Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in Alberta and it has a major impact on the physical, mental and economic health of all residents. The good news is that over 40% of these diseases can be prevented by taking action to reduce risk factors including tobacco and alcohol use, poor nutrition and physical inactivity.

Protecting mental health by preventing adverse childhood experiences and reducing risk for injury and disability is also crucial to preventing chronic disease. Unfortunately, the Alberta Government is spending more than ever before on acute health care, with the majority (over 90%) spent on treating and managing preventable disease and disability.

Wellness Alberta believes Alberta needs to make new, long-term and sustainable investments in preventing disease and promoting health to reduce the burden on our health care system and improve our quality of life. Alberta needs a Wellness Foundation.

To maximize the impact on the physical, mental and economic health of Albertans, the Wellness Foundation must be well-financed, sustainable and independent of the health care system. The Foundation will focus on primary prevention initiatives to address six major modifiable risk factors including physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, tobacco use, alcohol misuse adverse childhood experiences and injury.

 We recommend that the Foundation be announced in August 2013 and initiate operation in April 2014.

 We propose the Foundation be initially financed through an annual grant of $50M, increasing to at least $170M annually (representing an amount equivalent to at least 1% of the Alberta Health budget) over a 3-5 year period.

 The Foundation funding must be new investments that are in addition to Government’s current overall investment in prevention and health promotion and must not be reallocated out of existing health budgets.

 New investments can be derived from the Alberta Government’s general revenue fund or by the creation of a “Wellness Levy” funded by modest mark-ups on alcohol and tobacco products.

 Stable, long-term funding dedicated to prevention and health promotion is a good value for money: a one dollar investment can be expected to result in a minimum $4-5 cost savings in future acute health care expenditures. However, some large scale interventions have been shown to produce a return-of-investment of up to 50:1.

 The Foundation will ensure new investments are directed to evidence-based strategies and sustained over the long-term to improve the health of Albertans and reduce the burden of chronic disease and disability on our health care system.

 The Foundation must function independently of the acute health care system to maintain financial autonomy, accountability and transparency.

 The Foundation should be created by an Act of the Legislative Assembly and report directly to the Assembly each year.

 The Foundation should be governed by an independent board comprised of key stakeholders that are selected by an all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly.

For more information about what a Wellness Foundation could do to promote and protect the wellness of children, adults, families and communities in Alberta, please see our website www.wellnessalberta.ca.