As public schools struggle with resources and funding due to the pandemic, the Alberta government’s plan to expand charter schools is being criticized by the Alberta Teacher’s Association.
The government announced that it would invest $600 million over three years into the Alberta At Work program, an initiative that aims to fill in gaps in the labour market due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of that funding, approximately $72 million will be invested in the same period to expand charter schools and collegiate programs, which will include building new schools. Finance Minister Travis Toews said these programs will help increase opportunities in science, high-tech, engineering, math (STEM) and trades to fill those labour gaps.
But critics say that the expansion of charter schools will take money away from an already-struggling public school system. The government announced in March 2020 that it would be redirecting $128 million from education funding to be used in the province’s COVID-19 response after laying off more than 20,000 education staff.
“It takes money away from students and teachers in the public system that are dealing with a multitude of issues and concerns that we’ve seen over the last few years due to chronic underfunding,” said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teacher’s Association.
“We need to make sure we’re supporting a system that 93 per cent of our students go to before we start supporting and expanding charter schools.”
Schilling also criticized the province’s plan to focus on charter schools instead of public schools for its Alberta at Work program.
“Those opportunities should also be afforded to students that are in the public system. That’s why we’re always saying that we would like to see funding for charter schools be directed to public schools instead,” he said.
The funding announcement comes after Premier Jason Kenney hinted on Tuesday that charter schools will receive a funding boost in the 2022 provincial budget.
It is also part of a 2019 campaign promise to create and expand existing charter schools in the province. Currently, there are about 15 charter schools in Alberta that offer different specialized education.
The move was supported by Dr. Lynne Paradis, president of the Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools.
“We produce great results, so why shouldn’t parents have a choice?” said Paradis in an interview with Global News on Wednesday. “We were delighted to hear that the constraints on growth are being removed because there are many disappointed parents.”
But some critics say that the government’s focus on educational choice is an ideological move that benefits the right-wing.
“That choice is a wolf whistle to the right-wingers and certain sections of society that favour not teaching certain things such as equity, race and gender,” said University of Alberta education lecturer Stephen Murgatroyd.
The province maintains charter schools provide basic education in an “enhanced” way and are more autonomous while being publicly funded. School boards are usually made of community members that aren’t elected by the general public.
“This will further enhance education choice in Alberta,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
— with files from Dan Grummett, Global News