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Questions for MLA candidates

Updated Monday April 20/2015

To all AHEA members and Alberta home educators:

As we all prepare to cast our votes in the provincial election May 5th, home educators should know that this is the time to be heard, while politicians seek your vote.

What should we say?

What should we ask?

What are the issues in this election?

Below is information prepared by AHEA to help you advocate for home education and know where your candidates stand on the issues.

Please educate yourself, educate those running for office, and please stay tuned to the AHEA website for more information.

Please note that AHEA is a non-political organization and so does not advocate for any party in this election.

AHEA simply wants elected representatives to respect parental rights and authority, to not restrict home educating families from making the best choices for the education of their children, and to hold bureaucrats accountable to principles set out in education legislation.

Here are some questions (16 of them, marked in bold with a Q) and some background information for those running to be an MLA.

Note: you won’t have time to ask all of these questions, so please choose those that are of greatest interest to you or which have the largest impact on your family.

1 - The Budget Freezes Families…

Q - If the recent Conservative budget is enacted after the May 5th election, will new home educators be funded or not and what will you, as MLA, say about it?

The recent Alberta budget effectively froze the funding for all schools and school boards.

Some Alberta Education bureaucrats have stated that currently funded students will continue to be funded but new students will not and will therefore have to pay out of pocket to fulfil provincial law.

Other Alberta Education bureaucrats have stated that the same amount of funding will have to be spread over more students so each will get less.

Which one is it?

Is it possible to get a straight answer from Alberta Education so home educating families can stop guessing and start planning for the fall?

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to ensure home educators are treated fairly under any future budget?

1B - The Budget Freezes Schools and Boards…

Further to the above, can boards and private schools get a straight answer from Alberta Education so they know if they can take on new students?

Some of these smaller schools are already saying: “We’re full. We can’t take you.”

These schools are very worried that they simply can’t afford to take on any unfunded students.

Each board will set its own policy response, but two clear possibilities are:

a) that new students will get no funding for resources and so will have to pay out of pocket for all educational expenses including the two facilitator visits per year required by the Home Education Regulation and

b) the board or school will pay, stretching their already-thin budgets between funded and unfunded students.

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to ensure home educators have access to home education experts at small boards and private schools (Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists - ICHES)?

1C - The Budget Restricts Education Choices and Freedom…

Q - Since the budget - and the confusion it has caused - is restricting home educating families from signing up with the board or school that is best for their children, how will you, as MLA, ensure that the principle of parental authority over education is respected as set out in the Education Act?

Parental authority and freedom is being restricted in this way: parents can’t choose the best place to notify for the home education of their children since schools and boards may simply not take them.

1D - The Budget Squeezes the Smallest the Most…

Boards which operate brick-and-mortar schools get operating grants and other funding, so the funding freeze means that there is less money in the collective pot so each area will experience a pinch.

But home education funding contains no such grants or lump sums so boards and schools that offer only home education have no surpluses: home education funding is set per student, and 50% of the money received by schools and boards for home education must be made available to families as reimbursement for educational materials and resources.

In addition, home education is currently the most economical form of education in Alberta and saves Alberta taxpayers 80 million dollars a year (almost 10,000 home educated students times a savings of over $8400 per student compared to students attending Alberta schools).

If the budget was being applied equitably, home educators would have no complaint since we understand that we all have to ‘pay our share’.

Q - Since the budget squeezes the smallest the most, what are you, as MLA, going to do about that?

2 - Alberta Education Squeezes Private Schools not Public Boards…

The recent Alberta budget announced that the province was freezing the funding for all school boards at 2014/15 levels.

But public boards are getting an INCREASE in home education funding while private boards have their budgets CUT.

Alberta has, for more than 20 years, upheld an ‘equal education’ policy for home education: it didn’t matter which board or school a family chose, the funding amount was identical.

Parents had freedom of choice.

That choice is now being restricted.

Q- Why has that ‘equal education’ policy changed and what are you, as MLA, going to do about it?

2A - Are bureaucrats accountable to Albertans?

The answer given (to the policy question in #2) by Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services is that public school teachers have a contract that gives them a raise this fall.

But public school teacher contracts have nothing to do with home education and so, as above, can we please get a straight answer from Alberta Education so home educating families can know that they - and the boards/schools they sign up with - have firm financial footing?

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to keep Alberta Education bureaucrats (‘civil servants’) accountable to Albertans?

Note that parents who notify with Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) affiliated with private schools (examples include Education Unlimited, THEE, WISDOM and others) get less compensation for educational resources than those affiliated with public or Catholic boards.

Note also that these Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) supervise more than 75% of all home educated students in Alberta.

Note further (as above): Home education is currently the most economical form of education in Alberta and saves Alberta taxpayers 80 million dollars a year (10,000 home educated students times a savings of over $8000 per student compared to students attending Alberta schools).

Although AHEA advocates for parental authority and freedom and not for more funding money, it’s clear that Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services is using money to control boards and private schools and so reduce the freedom of parents to choose the school or school board that best suits their children's needs.

Q - What will you, as MLA do to stand up for parental authority and freedom?

3 - Alberta Education Bans Home Educated Students from Post-Secondary Courses, Accountants and Auditors state 'We know better than Parents'

Alberta Education recently proclaimed its "dual credit strategy" (where public school students could earn post-secondary credits while still in high school), but Alberta Education is now banning home educated students from taking post-secondary courses.

Why did Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services change a policy that had been working for over 20 years?

Q - How is it fair that public school students can take a post-secondary course but home educated students cannot and what will you, as MLA, do about it?

This new policy comes from the accountants and auditors within Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services (the 'financial wing' of Alberta Education).

For more than 20 years, a home educated student could choose materials which included post-secondary learning since that student's gifts may have taken him or her past all of the available 'high school level' resources.

This would fall under the right of parents to choose appropriate materials for their children's education and makes perfect sense.

Alberta Education has no problem if a grade 6 student uses grade 4 materials since that student might be struggling in one or more subjects.

Using the same logic, it makes sense that there would be no problem if a gifted student went beyond high school materials.

To not allow this would be saying to a student: "you are very smart in this subject but now you have to NOT learn anything more but wait a year or two until you are in university".

For more than 20 years, a student could take even take a course or two from a college or university (but couldn't be a full-time university student, of course, at least not while still in high school).

This sensible situation has been thrown out the window by a new policy from the auditors and accountants at Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services who have decided, at the same time that the 'dual credit strategy' for public school students is being trumpeted, that auditors and accountants know better than parents what is best for home educated students.

Under this new policy, if a home educated student takes a post-secondary course, Alberta Education declares them to be a post-secondary student and denies ALL of their home education funding.

Note:this happens even if

a) the students are paying for the course by themselves,

b) even if they are taking the course in addition to their regular high school course load,

c) the course is not mentioned on the students’ Education Program Plan, and

d) even if the student is under the age of 16.

Under this new policy, Alberta Education claws back all funding from the home educated student.

Regardless of the age of the student involved, Alberta Education indicates that once a student enrolls in a post secondary course, they are considered a ‘graduated student from the Alberta Education K-12 system’.

The clawback of funds is not only a new policy but is also being done retroactively, taking money from the 2013/14 school year and thereby putting several Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) in financial jeopardy.

That's another threat to parental authority: auditors and accountants not only deciding what materials are best for home educated students but also deciding which schools and boards should supervise that home education.

If ICHES are put out of business, parents will have little choice in who will supervise the home education of their children.

Q - Do you, as an MLA, support limits on parental options in education?

Q - Do you agree that financial audits and processes should have this much influence over the educational options of home educating parents?

4 - “Bill 10 is only the beginning"…

For home educators, the key issue in education is parental authority.

Bill 10 restricts parental authority.

Q - Do you support the principle that parents are the primary educators and have the prior right to decide on the best education for their children?

Bill 10 may have little direct impact on home educators, but it is possible that the private schools that administer those home education programs may be targeted by lobby groups working in Alberta to reduce religious and personal freedom.

The Liberal MLA who is pushing this aggressive agenda, Laurie Blakeman, has said that Bill 10 'is only the beginning'.

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to stand up for parental authority when it comes under attack from those who want to reduce religious and personal freedom?

5 - Will Parental Authority be respected?

Bill 19 contained amendments to the Education Act.

Home Education Regulation will fall under the Education Act.

Bill 19 gives the Education Minister - and his department - stronger enforcement tools in cases where the Minister thinks a board or private school isn't 'fulfilling its obligations'.

The Home Education Regulation is not due for significant change but the final version isn’t out yet.

AHEA's concern is that phrasing will be used to inflict increasing harassment on Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES).

Q - Will you, as MLA, stand up for parental authority - as set out clearly in the Education Act - and resist bureaucratic harassment of Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES)?

6 - Who should home educators trust to run Alberta Education?

AHEA has worked to develop relationships with all political parties.

AHEA has met with Education Ministers and MLAs and opposition critics and with many of the bureaucrats within Alberta Education.

We simply want elected representatives to respect parental rights and authority, to not restrict home educating families from making the best choices for the education of their children, and to hold bureaucrats accountable to principles set out in education legislation.

Q - Will you, as MLA, stand up for these things:

a) MLAs respecting parental rights and authority,

b) MLAs not restricting home education with more regulation so that families can continue to make the best choices for the education of their children, and

c) MLAs holding bureaucrats accountable to principles set out in education legislation?

Q - For setting direction for Alberta Education, who do you think should be in charge:

a) the elected representative chosen by the Premier to be Education Minister or

b) the bureaucrats within the department?

7 - A final note…

AHEA asks that all of its members be politically aware and active and vote for the candidate and party that each member thinks will best represent the member's interests.

The concerns expressed above can be raised with any candidate running for office.

These concerns will ultimately need to be addressed with the bureaucrats within Alberta Education and so AHEA also asks all members to stay in touch - via the AHEA website, Home Matters, local support groups, and Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) - since home educators will need to bring political pressure to bear after the election.

Thank you, please pray for home educators and for our soon-to-be-elected representatives, and please stay tuned.

Paul van den Bosch

President

Alberta Home Education Association

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