Albertans believe in freedom and freedom of choice. This fundamental belief extends to our education system, where parents are able to decide the best form of education for their children. We call this school choice. It’s a successful tradition in Alberta and is why we have a variety of schools in Alberta including, alternate schools within the public system, the Catholic system, charter schools, independent schools and home schools. Yet, this system of school choice, and the freedom for parents to decide the best form of education appears to be under attack.
The NDP government is ideologically opposed to educational choice, and weary of other forms of education. The NDP government of Alberta appear to want to play both sides of this issue. The Minister has said that he supports choice in education, while at the same time supporting initiatives that would limit school choice.
Albertans disagree and fundamentally believe that parents are the decision makers over the best form of education that is suited for their children and family values. A recent Angus Reid poll released in December suggests that a majority of Albertans support public funding for separate or regions based schools. According to the poll, 43 per cent of respondents agree that separate or religious based schools should have the same funding as public schools. An additional 27 per cent of respondents agree that partial funding should be awarded to religious based schools.
Albertans who agree with this position argue that all Albertans pay taxes and therefore everyone in the province should have reasonable access to the education of their choice and to public funds that support it. They also point out that competition can often result in the creation of better, more creative and more efficient systems of education.
The debate over choice in education drills down to some very important beliefs about Charter rights and who controls the decision making in education. Is it parents who should be the primary decision makers in their children’s educational lives or is it the state? Should educational tax dollars be available to all Albertans or be restricted to only a public system of education?
The law and educational precedent in Alberta is clear. Parents have the right to make decisions regarding their children’s education and an education that fits within their family values and religious beliefs. Most Albertans believe that denominational schools, like the Catholic separate system, have a constitutional right to exist and these schools have the right to reasonably access public funds. School choice has created the diverse and strong system of education that Albertans enjoy and should be protected.
Mark Smith is MLA for the Drayton Valley-Devon constituency and writes a regular column for The Pipestone Flyer.