This will be an exciting year on the home education front I believe. Hard work in advocating for the interests of home educators, over the last year and more, is bearing fruit. We are excited to tell you about some changes that are being implemented or proposed, as well as some ongoing concerns that we continue to pursue on your behalf.
- Notification Only – No Funding. The expansion of home education notification to include this option for parents is especially gratifying after all the years that home educators have asked AHEA to advocate for it. The opportunity to press in on this issue with the introduction of the Choice in Education Act was fully utilized. We made a case for the validity of the choice, trusting parents, and the fiscal savings.
- How it will work – Parents will provide a Notification form directly to the Minister, understanding that in doing so they forfeit the claim to the $850 grant they would be entitled to if they would have notified with an associate board. They have initially said that parents will need to send in an Education Plan annually, for information only, with no further review or supports provided to them, but we continue to work on this portion. This will be effective for the 2020/21 school year. More details will follow, but you can read the Minister's official news release here.
- Reduction of Receipts Required For Refund of Parental Grant. Parents will be required to submit receipts that equal only 75% of their grant of $850 in order to receive all of it. This will allow parents to stop worrying about purchases at a garage sale or from a friend. You must submit $637.50 worth of receipts before the deadline in order to qualify for the entire grant.
- Receipts Can Be Dated Up To August 31st. Parents can claim purchases up to this cutoff date for the 2020/21 school year. This standardized date should help all parents have equal access to their funding and not be driven by individual associate board policies. This is the same for everyone no matter who you are with if you are under the home education regulations.
- Funds Left Unspent Will Be Clawed Back. Any funding that you as a parent do not spend will be returned for Alberta Education to use these savings in another way. There will be no ability to 'donate or leave funds' with the associate board you notified with. Parents will either receive all of their part of the $850 grant or a portion. Any unspent portion will be returned to AB Education at the end of the year, after the August 31st receipt deadline. This eliminates associate boards pooling the parent portion of unused funds for any other purpose.
- The Final Count Deadline. We are pleased that this date will remain the same for the home education community, although not for other educational models. This means that you can notify as a home educator until September 30th, as usual.
- Multi-Year Claims – Currently home educators have generally experienced the ability to roll-over their funds to the following year if not fully utilized by advising their associate board, who they have notified with. At this time the changes to the funding manual by the department have reduced our spending time to a single year. We have highlighted this for the Minister's reconsideration, as we had asked for three years to allow for budgeting for larger items.
- Standards of Reimbursement – This is currently under discussion, as it has been an ongoing concern of AHEA members. We have highlighted this for the Minister's consideration after discussing it with the department and hope to see some movement on the guidelines that are unnecessarily concerned with percentages being broken down for the small amount of funding available to home education families.
- Funding for Special Needs Students Who Choose to Home Educate – We find it grievous that the special needs student who is home educated is deprived of all taxpayer funding dollars that are available if they were in a different educational model. We have been bringing this up in multiple meetings with the department and the Minister, advocating for a funding solution to be found. Parents, who are home educating because they feel it is the best environment for their child, and are taxpayers too, should not be lacking all real forms of support and services, as is currently the case. Efforts will continue in this vein until we are heard and some form of initial progress for this vulnerable segment of our community has been reached. We remain hopeful that the intent is not to take away from these children and their families but that there has not been sufficient effort in finding a way to make it happen. This is doable, and we will not give up in reaching an understanding with Alberta Education on these student's behalf.
- A Healthy Competitive Environment for Parents to Choose From – AHEA's job is to advocate for our membership and advance the cause of home education in Alberta. While AHEA clearly cannot be representing the interests of associate boards, since our parents are required to notify with them, it is in our interests to help ensure that a market driven equality exists. Parents should have the ability to see plainly their available funding dollars and the financial policy for whatever model they choose publicly stated and be able to focus more on the services, relationship and a good fit being offered by any associate board they are considering. Financial information shouldn't be a mystery.
The shift to a weighted moving average for the other educational models (which we negotiated out of this year) have meant that associate boards are experiencing a rather big shift in how they can manage their administrative and operating costs. AHEA has no role to play in how their finances play out, except to have made this apparent to AB Education - without an even playing field, as home education relates to the shared responsibility (blended) model, access to home education could be reduced if the associate boards cannot survive or thrive. How you are coded matters! Shared responsibility can be a confusing model for parents to consider and navigate as the funding seems to shift situationally and the teaching responsibility between parents and teachers can lack transparency. This grey area has been manipulated in the past and we are supporting efforts to bring clarity to the situation for the sake of parents, who need to have information plainly stated to make a good and fair decision. Boards that incentivize parents to leave home education, because of the promise of additional dollars for their child, will themselves plan on collecting on a substantially greater amount. Therefore parents should make sure that the parental responsibility and funding dollars correctly applying to them is abundantly clear. The health of the home education model, and its supports, lies with parents who understand the difference.
Ongoing advocacy is the year-round work of AHEA that parents may not always be aware of. The results of this continuous work can result in a peaceful experience for the home educator who has no idea of the bullets dodged, or can be the means by which a battle-cry is sounded to preserve this unique and amazing opportunity for our children and families. Either way, your vested interest in staying informed, and supporting this work, makes your life choice possible!