UCP announces an additional $25 million to support charter schools

Under the UCP government’s new Education Choice Act, the charter school cap has been lifted

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As part of a growing effort to expand the charter school system across Alberta, the UCP government will provide an additional $25 million to support students with special needs who attend charter schools.

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Premier Jason Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the operating investment on Tuesday in addition to the $47 million in capital funding for charter school infrastructure expansion already announced in the budget. 2022 at the end of February.

“Albertans believe in this province’s tradition of school choice because we believe in pluralism and diversity,” Kenney said.

“We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach and we also believe that parents know best what kind of education their children should receive.”

But critics say the province sells ‘snake oil’, promotes ‘educational choice’, which really just offloads the creation of new schools onto elite parents who allow a limited access and long waiting lists as the public system deteriorates.

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“It’s selling snake oil, trying to make charter schools look public and accessible,” said Medeana Moussa, spokeswoman for advocacy group Support Our Students.

“But they are not, they have waiting lists, they have apps and they are run by parents to create beautiful schools for their children only.

“We should support public schools, which are for all children.”

Medeana Moussa, Executive Director of Support our Students Alberta, poses for a photo Tuesday, August 31, 2021.
Medeana Moussa, Executive Director of Support our Students Alberta, poses for a photo Tuesday, August 31, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Under the UCP government’s new Education Choice Act, the cap on charter schools has been lifted, allowing unlimited parent-run schools with unique programming that they say won’t is not offered in the public system.

Funding is provided on a per capita basis by the province, depending on the student, whether in private, charter or public schools, as well as special grants.

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But Kenney argued that many charter school students come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have special needs that also need to be catered for with the $25 million injection.

Tuesday’s announcement took place at Aurora Academic Charter School in Edmonton, a K-9 program focused on structured academics. According to the website, students on wait lists are given priority if they have a sibling at school, and second if they have a parent employed at the school.

LaGrange said the province is working closely with Aurora to provide funding that will expand their programming to high school levels at a different location this fall.

In Calgary, two new charter schools were also recently approved — the science and technology-focused STEM Innovation Academy opened last fall. And the Calgary Classical Academy charter school, focusing on classical literature, philosophy and the liberal arts, will open in September.

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STEM Innovation Academy co-founders Sarah Bieber, left, and Lisa Davis pose for a photo outside their charter school's new location on Thursday, May 13, 2021.
STEM Innovation Academy co-founders Sarah Bieber, left, and Lisa Davis pose for a photo outside their charter school’s new location on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

But critics, including new administrator Susan Vukadinovic of the Calgary Board of Education, also argue that charter schools are a duplication of programs already offered in public schools.

“Charter schools are a lot like what we do,” Vukadinovic told the school board last week.

“I’m actually impressed with the breadth of programming offered at CBE.”

Vukadinovic is part of the CBE’s effort to explore accessing some of the $47 million earmarked for “college” programming in the 2022 budget, arguing that they also offer strong science, math and literature programming.

But UCP officials said they want to see more parent-run charter schools offering “experiential and hands-on learning” in middle and high school, adding that further announcements to create centers for Charter schools, with multiple charters in the same location, are underway.

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“We are exploring the concept of a charter campus model where multiple public charter schools could be housed in a single facility,” LaGrange said, promoting “clearer pathways” to post-secondary education.

“This model could support the shared use of specialized spaces for career and technology studies, science labs, or gym spaces.”

But Moussa argued that the fact that students choose career paths as early as junior and senior high school is harmful.

“What a ridiculous thing – to have to think about who you want to be at 20 or 25, when you’re only 12 or 13,” Moussa said.

“It’s early streaming, it limits life and it prevents children from exploring all of their curiosities, from developing all of their critical thinking skills.

“Education is much more than choosing a career.”

Moussa added that instead of promoting job training in the K-12 system, the UCP government needs to better support post-secondary education, where students should explore careers.

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