My colleague Ric McIver first exposed the NDP’s plan in April 2016 with a Private Member’s Motion that called for the government to “affirm its commitment to allowing parents the choice of education delivery for their children, including charter, private, francophone, separate, or public education programs.”
When the Legislative Assembly started to debate Mr. McIver’s motion, the NDP, realizing it could not vote against it without showing its true colours, tried to narrow the definition of “choice” to programs not already offered in the public system. These shenanigans created an uproar and the NDP was forced to backtrack.
Opposition MLAs see these games time and again as the NDP attempts to pretend it’s introducing a positive policy initiative when it is actually a window dressing for a hidden agenda. A prime example is Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees.
While the bill was going through the House, we repeatedly asked how this half-baked piece of legislation was going to impact school budgets. The minister and premier told us over and over again that the government had found enough savings through “efficiencies” to cover the schools’ financial shortfall from the loss of fees.
Parents quickly realized they had been duped because while some fees were cut, others escalated. Choice in education was particularly hard hit because some school boards either cut alternative education programs or ended their busing programs to cover the shortfall. That meant parents faced the choice of paying exorbitant public transit costs or pulling their children out of the alternative programs altogether.
When parents voiced their anger, school trustees blamed Bill 1 because the supposed funding to offset its costs did not exist, while the government blamed school boards for not budgeting properly. Perhaps we should all ask the education minister, and the entire NDP caucus, “So what happened to these efficiencies?”
In the mess that followed Bill1, it became clear to us that this legislation was meant to act as cover as a way to begin phasing out alternative education programs. We expect to see more manoeuvres like this in the future.
It has become increasingly clear that the NDP plans to bring all education under the public system umbrella, and it will do so by eroding parental choice for education by making it costly, inconvenient, or forcing school boards to drop programs for lack of funding.
In the meantime, the NDP will continue to claim it has the “backs of Alberta’s families.” But after Bill 1, parents know not to believe this line.
Please be assured, however, that we have your backs – and we will never fail to guard your right to educate your children in the manner you deem best.