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Alberta Education Reforms Must Go Beyond Edmonton and Calgary


June 2, 2020 

Just days after introducing its Choice in Education Act, Alberta’s government is facing calls to introduce deeper reforms. In a newly published a policy brief, Toward a More Diverse and Resilient Education Sector, think tank Cardus recommends the province work toward reducing unequal access to independent schools in Alberta communities other than Edmonton and Calgary.

“Outside of Alberta’s two largest cities, access to an independent school is more difficult and limited,” says David Hunt, Education Director at Cardus. “More than half of all the province’s independent schools are in Edmonton and Calgary – where residents have the greatest diversity of options and the shortest distance to travel. What about the rest of Alberta? Those in smaller centres or rural areas need diverse educational options just as much as families in the biggest cities do.”

All but one of Alberta’s 17 special needs-focused independent schools are in Edmonton or Calgary. Most school districts in the province outside the two largest cities typically have just one religious independent school, with no other alternative options.

“I was happy to see the Alberta government use its latest education bill to recognize the proper role of parents in education and to recognize independent schools as integral to public education,” says Hunt. “But the bill leaves untouched the disparity in independent school access between Edmonton and Calgary on the one hand and the rest of Alberta on the other.”

The Cardus policy brief, Toward a More Diverse and Resilient Education Sector recommends Alberta take the following steps:

  • Encourage the creation or expansion of independent schools outside Edmonton and Calgary by reducing the byzantine regulations that strangle the sector.
  • Increase independent school options for students with special needs beyond the one independent school outside Edmonton and Calgary with a special needs focus.
  • Offer mobility benefits to help cover transportation costs for families in smaller cities and rural Alberta who want to send their kids to an independent school.
  • Boost funding to make independent schools more affordable for all, especially students with special needs or those from families with low incomes.

All of Alberta will benefit from more equal access to independent schools because of these schools’ outsized contribution to a healthy social climate. Canadian research has shown these schools produce graduates who compare favourably to their peers from government-run schools:

  • Independent school graduates are more civically engaged: Participating in more neighbourhood and community groups as well as in arts and culture initiatives.
  • Independent school graduates are more generous: Volunteering and giving more of their financial resources to various causes.
  • Independent school graduates have a socially diverse network: Including folks from different races or who identify as lesbian or gay in their groups of friends.

“Alberta took a good step forward last week,” says Hunt. “Now it’s time to build on that progress for the whole province.”

Read Toward a More Diverse and Resilient Education Sector freely online.

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