UCP education resolution a signal of future school-choice legislation, NDP says

A proposed United Conservative Party policy in support of a U.S.-style education voucher system is a sign of what is to come in upcoming school-choice legislation, Alberta's NDP opposition said Tuesday.

Proposed policy one of 25 on agenda at UCP annual general meeting

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman is raising concerns about a proposed policy on school vouchers set for the UCP AGM at the end of November. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

A proposed United Conservative Party policy resolution in support of a U.S.-style education voucher system is a sign of what is to come in upcoming school-choice legislation, Alberta's NDP opposition said Tuesday.

The Lacombe-Ponoka UCP constituency association is calling for the creation of a voucher system that would provide "equal per-student funding," regardless of whether a child attends a public, separate, charter or private school, or is taught at home.

The resolution's authors claim the provincial curriculum isn't properly preparing students and that public schools are inadequate.

"Alberta students are no longer literate in democratic civics nor in human, civil and economic rights and responsibilities," the document reads.

'Extremist ideologies'

The document says Alberta parents must be empowered to take student funding to institutions that can provide the education students need.

"The public school system is not currently able to provide this knowledge and students are entering adulthood unemployable and increasingly radicalized by extremist ideologies."

The resolution is one of 25 proposed policies up for debate at the governing party's annual general meeting in Calgary Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said Tuesday that voucher systems divert a decreasing pot of education funding away from public schools. She called on Premier Jason Kenney to reject the idea.

"He needs to say, 'We're not going to do this; we're going to have a strong public and Catholic school system and fund it properly,'" Hoffman said. "Not have people argue over what bits he might leave in the budget for them." 

The choice-in-education legislation is expected during the spring 2020 session of the Alberta legislation. 

Colin Aitchison, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said the governing UCP committed during the election to maintain the current 70 per cent public funding formula for private schools. 

"That platform received an overwhelming mandate from Albertans," Aitchison said in an email.

"We will not be commenting on a proposed policy resolution that has not even been debated."

Hoffman argued that defence was given by the UCP in May 2018 after party members voted 57 per cent in favour of a parent's right to be told if their child joined a gay-straight alliance.

Soon after taking power last spring, the UCP government proclaimed the Education Act, which removed a prohibition on parental notification put in place by the previous NDP government. 

While in opposition, Kenney called the previous NDP government's update of the education curriculum an "ideological rewrite" and vowed to start over if he took power.

The UCP won a majority government in April. Over the summer, the implementation of the new draft curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 4 was put on hold pending a review. 

An advisory panel was appointed in August to review the curriculum work already undertaken and prepare a report for LaGrange which is due next month.