Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is putting parents first after mandating her education team explore ways for parents to "appropriately provide" input on school policies.
On Tuesday, Smith directed Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides to review how parent-school councils can work better with educators to formulate school policies and learning options.
"Alberta's United Conservative government is committed to improving education in our province," Nicolaides told reporters.
A parent advocacy group promoting school choice told Rebel News Thursday that students thrive best when their education is tailored to their needs.
The province outlined that Alberta continues to offer "greater choice in education with tailored options that best suit the needs of individual students and enable them to pursue career paths with the most plentiful and lucrative employment opportunities."
"We are pleased to see the province recognizing the unmatched value of parents' voices in education," said Jeff Park, Executive Director of the Alberta Parents' Union. "We are the real experts in our kids, and no one has more at stake in their education than we do."
That being said, Park questioned the UCP government's preferred avenue for parent feedback.
"The teacher union has infiltrated the Alberta School Councils' Association and is representing their concerns rather than those of the vast majority of parents," he claimed.
In her mandate letter to Nicolaides, Smith directed him to deliver on platform commitments to support Albertans, including collaborative work with parents, teachers and stakeholders to continue implementing changes to the K-12 curriculum. These include basic life and home maintenance skills and financial literacy training for high school students.
The letter also calls for the education ministry to design a ministry-specific job-attraction strategy for young Albertans in grades 9 to 12, including pathways for education, apprenticeship and training.
To facilitate career pathways, the UCP has pledged $20 million over four years to cover the cost of career fairs for high school students in high-demand sectors.
An online career counselling website for students and parents to assist with career and education road mapping and funding is also in the works.
"By significantly building more schools, improving Program Unit Funding and creating more dual credit opportunities, we will ensure Alberta's education system remains world-class," said Nicolaides.
"While local school councils continue to do fantastic work, we are encouraged to see their role being reviewed and new and better ways for parents to provide feedback being explored," added Park.
In May, the UCP penned a letter condemning several NDP Candidates for championing the "eradication" of Alberta's Catholic school system.
"Alberta has always had a robust system of school choice, and our track record proves it works," reads the letter.
On June 24, 2020, the province legislated Bill 15, the Choice in Education Act, which amended Section 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include that "parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
"United Conservatives believe that parents have the right to choose the education their children receive. In 2020, we enshrined that choice in law while the NDP opposed it at every step," reads the letter.
Several NDP candidates, including some current and former school board trustees, advocated for eliminating the Catholic school system — a system that is constitutionally protected and has been in Alberta for more than 170 years.
Nathan Ip, a former Edmonton public school board trustee and current NDP MLA for Edmonton-South West, asked for the "elimination" of the Catholic school system in 2018.
Similarly, Cathy Hogg, the former NDP candidate for Cypress-Medicine Hat and school board trustee, called for "eradicating" the "duplicated" Catholic system.
Red Deer-North NDP candidate Jaelene Tweedle advocated for "one" education system and defunding education choices.
According to the province, approximately 91% of Albertan students attend the public school system, which includes public, Catholic, and francophone schools, which receive 94% of all education funding.
Nearly a quarter of Alberta students, or 740,000 total, attend a Catholic school across the province. A further 8% of students participate in independent and charter schools.
In Budget 2022, the UCP allocated $47 million in capital for charter school infrastructure expansion and lifted the cap on charter schools under the Choice in Education Act to permit 'unique programming' in parent-run schools.
In April, the UCP released funding numbers demonstrating an increase in charter school funding, three times that of public schools (18.6% to 6.83%).
"Despite activists' claims, charters are not just serving an 'elite' population of students. I know this because I teach at one of them," tweeted Kelden Formosa, a teacher at the Alberta Classical Academy.
According to school choice advocate Caylan Ford, "First-generation immigrant families, mostly from northeast Calgary, comprise a substantial portion of our charter school population."
"Many came to us because the Calgary Board of Education doesn't operate a single high-performing school in the city's northeast quadrant," she said.
Formosa added his employer is popular with parents because "we provide a unique educational approach that the CBE does not."
In May, Rebel repeatedly asked NDP leader Rachel Notley if her party would fund alternative schooling. She refused to answer our questions.
"The simple reality is the NDP wants to dictate where and how students are educated, taking away this choice from families. The NDP does not understand that every child is unique, deserving access to an education that is right for them and gives them the best chance to succeed," claims the UCP letter.
"The United Conservatives will continue to support a parent's right to choose how and where their children are educated. We will continue to ensure equitable funding for all choices."