Is the government setting a new tack when it comes to education in Alberta?
A small number of recent moves might indicate that the UCP’s recent popularity issues could be resulting in an attitude shift toward teachers and public education.
I first noticed something strange in the days after Premier Jason Kenney’s mishandling of vacationing MLAs. The premier took to Facebook Live in January to start to repair the damage, and he seemed to be falling all over himself to thank teachers for their work and dedication to keeping education operating. It was out of character.
It was clear that the scandal, along with other controversies like bad coal mining policy, had caused significant political damage.
So is it possible that the government has set its eyes on improving the relationship with teachers as a way to recover? Three more recent actions suggest a strategy that differs from the previous 18 months, which often felt like a constant barrage of bad news.
Exhibit A: the 2021 provincial budget. Final judgment will be withheld until the full details of school funding are released, but if the education minister sticks to her words from budget day, then the budget represents a potential disaster averted. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange is adamant that school boards will not be harmed by a one-time COVID-related enrolment dip and that all school boards will get more money next year than this year.
To be clear, this isn’t a celebratory budget, as school boards will still experience unfunded cost pressures related to COVID, curriculum piloting, mental health needs, inflation and enrolment growth, but many of us were bracing for bigger cuts. If those cuts are avoided, then crisis averted.
The next indicator relates to the recently introduced College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) Act. Again, this is a case of a crisis averted. There was the potential for a number of very problematic policy changes to be included with this bill. Potential threats included changes to the membership of administrators in the ATA and the loss of the requirement for superintendents to be certificated teachers. These changes were not included, and the bill will now largely entrench the status quo with new roles for CASS.
Instead, the bill emulates many of the practices that are already in place for the teaching profession. The legislated objects for the re-formed CASS have been almost entirely copied from the objects of the ATA as stated in the Teaching Profession Act. I look forward to CASS being legally compelled to “co-operate” with the ATA to “advance and promote the cause of education” and to advocate for “financial support for education and other educational matters.”
Superintendents are teachers and should be part of a unified teaching profession, but outside of that fundamental objection, the bill respects essentially all of the representations made by the ATA. The bill’s structure and wording demonstrate a confidence in the general way that professionalism matters are currently handled by the Association.
The final indicator is the adoption last week of a pilot project for rapid COVID testing in schools that for months president Jason Schilling has been advocating for. It would have been best to start this earlier, but the announcement is welcome news and results in yet another point eventually adopted from the ATA’s recommendations for operating schools during COVID.
It’s important for teachers to acknowledge these good, albeit small, successes. If they are indicative of a changing direction for government, then teachers should congratulate themselves. We know teachers have been speaking out for months, and while it has often felt like banging our heads against the wall, we knew the government wouldn’t automatically fold.
But this change of direction may suggest that the government is mindful of at least wanting to prevent further aggravation of teachers. If so, then this is what success looks like — it comes from engaging with and listening to teachers and the Association.
Now, if the government wants to really reset the relationship with teachers, it should look hard at better announcements soon on vaccinations for school workers and on curriculum. ❚
I welcome your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.