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Alberta public board launches campaign for single public-funded system

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • November 5, 2018

EDMONTON – Catholic educators say they are unfazed by a new awareness campaign asking Albertans to weigh in on the idea of dissolving the province’s publicly funded education systems into one.

“I’m not worried,” said Serena Shaw, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association.

“Catholic education isn’t a program. It’s not something that you can run as a program in a public system in a classroom. I would be surprised if the Catholics in Alberta would think that one system would benefit their children.”

The Public School Board Association of Alberta launched its Together For Students campaign Oct. 25. It advocates for a single education system, saying it would lead to cost savings, more resources in the classroom and greater choice. However, it would also mean the dissolution of the Catholic school system.

Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan are the only provinces with publicly funded Catholic schools.

The Together for Students campaign launched with a website, promotional video and an invitation for public comment. Town hall meetings are planned to discuss the idea.

“We are saying it’s time to have a conversation about change,” said campaign chair Pat Cochrane, a former Calgary public school trustee. “Is this the best structure to get all of our kids out into the world and to be successful? That’s the question people are wanting to ask.”

But Shaw said the “the question that really needs to be asked is ‘Why are we going to mess with something that seems to be working so well?’

“Alberta has one of the best public education systems in the world and we feel that’s not in spite of the fact that we have Catholic education. Catholic education certainly helps that to be the case,” said Shaw, a trustee with Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools.

The PSBAA argues that a single education system would eliminate duplication and inefficiencies among Alberta’s Catholic, public, charter, home school and francophone school systems.

However, there is no cost-savings analysis right now, because “everything is on the table” and the campaign is an open discussion, said PSBAA president Cathy Hogg.

Hogg also insisted that the campaign is “absolutely not” targeting Catholic school supporters, and they have invited Catholic school supporters, trustees and officials to weigh in. She said the PSBAA “fully supports” and respects the constitutional rights of Catholics to a denominational system, although it’s unclear how those rights would be addressed in a single education system.

Shaw argues that when it comes to choice, Catholic parents in particular have already made theirs.

“I believe that Alberta parents want clear choice and options for their children’s education. Right now we have 180,000 children that receive a high-quality publicly funded Catholic education.”

In a statement, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen reiterated his support for Catholic schools.

“The Alberta government remains focused on providing all of Alberta’s students with a high-quality education. … We’re committed to having one publicly funded system of education with two dimensions, public schools and separate schools.”

(Grandin Media)

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