Eleven education issues I expect to hit the news (fall 2015)

In a few weeks summer holidays will come to an end and the hallways of our schools will be filled with little feet once again. September always feels like the new year for me.

As a citizen and education advocate, I often get asked about what the “hot issues” will be this fall.  This is a combination of what I’ve been hearing at the BBQ circuit this summer as well as a few observations from the last couple of years. With another school year starting, here are some of the issues (in no particular order) that I anticipate may be on the radar this fall....

The Federal Election: This one might be more wishful thinking– that our federal candidates talk about supporting public education. It is likely that much of the mainstream media coverage will continue to be concentrated on the Federal Election. While public education is an area of provincial jurisdiction according to the constitution, there will be a few areas where federal attention could dramatically improve academic outcomes for our students. The first is the Federal government stepping up our commitment to aboriginal education. We have heard disappointingly little in the campaign dialogue this far about what our federal leaders will do to improve socioeconomic and educational outcomes for students. I support the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and would like to see more discussion on these issues during this election.

The EPSB By-Election: Since the election of former EPSB Trustee Sarah Hoffman to the provincial legislature, there has been significant interest from candidates in putting their name forward for EPSB School Trustee. The nomination date is Monday August 31st, 2015 and the  by-election will be held on Monday September 28th. I have spoke to about a dozen potential candidates thus far on the phone or in person and I thank all of them for their passion and enthusiasm for our public education system. For more information visit: http://www.epsb.ca/ourdistrict/board/about/wardgby-election/

So far declared candidates (that I can find websites for) include:

Bridget Sterling: (https://www.facebook.com/BridgetCampaign)

Ros Smith: https://voteforros.wordpress.com/

Gerry Gibeault: http://gerrygibeault.wix.com/gerrygibeault (Gerry has withdrawn his candidacy as of August 25th)

The Education Funding Framework: After the troubling provincial budget roll-out last year under Minister Dirks and Premier Prentice, Premier Notley and Minister Eggen fulfilled their promise of restoring the funding cuts. Over the last few years under the rural-dominated PC Caucus there were targeted cuts applied to the metro school boards. Calgary and Edmonton are not eligible for certain funding envelopes, such as small schools by necessity, that other school boards draw from. While I recognize there is diverse need throughout Alberta, our Metro School Boards do considerable heavy-lifting in our province and we need to ensure that equity and fair treatment is restored. As you can see from our Metro School Boards lobby document, we are uniquely challenged in terms of student growth, diversity, complexity, and special needs. (Metro Board Newsletter combined in .pdf)

The SLAs: After the controversial roll-out of the grade 3 SLAs last year, government and school boards will be carefully watching if this diagnostic tool fulfils its objectives. As a board, we have supported the SLA as a diagnostic tool to support student learning and assist teachers in developing appropriate interventions. Last year there were issues with the Grade 3 SLA implementation, so we’re grateful for any assistance Alberta Education can provide to mitigate any impact SLA administration might have on teacher workload. We’re also supportive of any changes that will make the SLA more effective for teachers and, ultimately, for students and their learning.

Teacher Negotiations: What format will bargaining take this time? Will it be local? Provincial? Or a hybrid model? With the current four-year contract expiring with the ATA in August 2016, discussions will likely start soon. Many Alberta School boards recently supported a call for a return to local bargaining initiated by Terry Riley, Chair of the Medicine Hat School District.

The Education Act Review: The Education Act will not be proclaimed this fall as planned. Personally I’m pleased that we will have another chance to look at the act, especially around some of the areas that may be problematic for us.

The Pre-Budget Consultation: I believe now is the time to end the public funding to Private and Charter schools in Alberta (so do other Alberta school boards for that matter) This money should be reallocated to the students with the greatest educational challenges. Secondly, I believe that as a revenue tool and a health promotion action, I support a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention is again calling for the province to implement this next step. My third request? Implement a Wellness Foundation in Alberta.

School Nutrition: This was a platform item in the NDP campaign. I support a comprehensive universal school nutrition program that would assist in addressing issues of poverty (no child should have to come to school hungry) while simultaneously educating students about healthy eating. A Universal School Food Strategy for Alberta – Alberta Policy …

Bill 10 implementation and supporting Transgender students: Out of 63 school boards in Alberta, how many of them have a Gay Straight Alliance in their district schools? Great controversy erupted when Bill 10 came forward. The right for students to form GSAs were opposed by both Catholic Bishops, certain special interest groups and some school boards, but after significant public outcry from all over society (The City of Edmonton Youth Council with Claire Edwards, for instance or the on-air rant by Ryan Jespersen or Mike’s Bloggity Blog or hundreds of others…)  respect and inclusion won the day. On March 10th, then-Minister Gordon Dirks made an impassioned Ministerial statement in support of GSAs and as of June 1st, Bill 10 was proclaimed. Safe spaces and accommodation will likely remain a hot-button issue this fall, especially for students who are transgender. Edmonton Public passed a landmark Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy in 2012 that guides us as a district (Read it here). How long until all 63 school boards have at least one GSA in their district? Grand Prairie Catholic Chair Ralph Wohlgemuth stated “Our district hasn’t and won’t block GSA if students request one.”. How will the Legislature measure if Bill 10 is being lived in Alberta schools?

Rethinking School Board Advocacy: With Edmonton Public Schools debating leaving the Alberta School Boards Association this fall, and the continued collaboration of metro school boards (Calgary Public and Edmonton Public together account for 1/3 of students in the province. With Edmonton Catholic and Calgary Catholic that number jumps to half) it will be interesting to see how different stakeholders represent their individual interests to the minister. School boards have expressed an interest in returning to a more local form of bargaining rather than centralization. There are already 3 other school trustee interest groups actively representing their specific Public, Francophone, and Catholic interests– is there a need for yet another organization? And if Edmonton leaves, will other boards follow? (Last year I resigned as Vice-President of the Alberta School Boards’ Association. You can read my resignation letter here.)

Banning Corporate and Union Donations in Municipal Elections: With both big-city mayors and numerous other stakeholders in support (click here to read the letter from Edmonton Public Schools) let’s rework our systems now, well in advance of the 2017 municipal election cycle. (Further details here: http://www.michaeljanz.ca/2015/06/i-support-banning-corporate-and-union-donations-and-municipal-campaign-finance-reform/)

This post is getting pretty long but I would add countless others: school fees, full-day kindergarten, sex education, transportation, and our ongoing desperate need for new school space to meet unprecedented city growth.

Can you see why I love being a school trustee? There is never a dull moment!

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