In the weird world of the ATA News, due to printing and distribution timelines, I am writing this article from the past to you as future citizens of a new Alberta. In my imagination, your day has so far included being awoken by your robot housekeeper, showering in your infrared instantaneous showering module, dressing in your automated fashion compiler and driving to school in your hydrogen cell hover car.
OK, so you’re not quite that far into the future, but the reality is you are reading this paper after the results of the 2015 election are known. Yet this article will have gone to press prior to election day. As I write, the televised debate was recently held and polls are suggesting that the NDPs are surging in a race that is still very close with the Wildrose and PCs.
What I do know is that education has been pushed as an election issue, thanks to many parents, students and teachers. There is a great deal of concern about the provincial budget proposed in March by the PC government and, depending on the outcome of the election, there could be an opportunity for a revised budget.
That possibility was heightened in the campaign by the emergence of a few unlikely advocates for public education.
Calgary pediatricians Dominique Eustace and Sarah Hall, according to the CBC, have started a letter-writing campaign urging the government to invest more in early education. They say more kids are coming to them with learning behaviour issues that are being exacerbated by large and underfunded classrooms. They were prompted to speak out.
“It’s not OK to have 32 in a classroom. It’s not OK to have kids on a stage for their classroom,” says Eustace. “It’s not OK to not have physical education in your day-to-day schooling because there are some schools that don’t even have that.”
It’s not shocking to hear pediatricians discuss the need for better education. They, like teachers, are in their work because they care about the well-being of children. Yet it is rare that they would take this step to use their professional voice to speak out. It’s a powerful message.
Later in the campaign period, a group of 19 school boards made a joint public plea for additional education funding.
These 19 boards, which provide education for more than 65 per cent of Alberta’s students, expressed their shared concern over an estimated 36,000 additional students entering Alberta’s schools over the next three years without any funding to follow them. They said that the impact of the cuts would be reduced supports, greater class sizes and, ultimately, increased teacher workload.
“We know that the families are coming,” said Edmonton Public Schools board chair Michael Janz. “We know that the homes are coming. We know the children are coming, and our school systems need to be prepared and staffed so we can properly accommodate and provide for these students.”
Now, it shouldn’t be unusual for school trustees to speak out for the cause of public education, but it is. Warranted or just perceived, there is a culture of fear in Alberta that inhibits Albertans from speaking out against the government. The fear is that, by speaking out against government, they are putting future funding at risk.
Unfortunately, this fear has permeated our public, social and non-profit sectors, and it has had a detrimental impact on Alberta’s social fabric. And so I applaud the school board trustees for taking this courageous step: our kids need it.
There is hope. Regardless of the outcome of the election, knowing that public education has such strong and supportive advocates is reassuring. Continued advocacy will help ensure that the interests of students are protected over the long term. ❚
I welcome your comments—contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.