With everything that students, parents, teachers, administrators and school trustees across Alberta are currently dealing with, it would be a mistake for the UCP government and Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange to continue to pursue the proposed Choice in Education Act.
Fundamentally changing public education in Alberta while in the middle of a major crisis and pandemic that is significantly affecting how schools operate is not a fair process. It is underhanded and unnecessary to overhaul education at a time when educators and Albertans are distracted and dealing with COVID-19.
Since being elected in 2019, the UCP and Premier Jason Kenney have put forward an agenda so packed full of changes to how our province is operated that it has been impossible to keep pace. That includes education and the proposed legislation to entrench "school choice" into Alberta's public system.
Given the tumultuous reality that is this new coronavirus, the government will end up doing a disservice to itself and voters if it continues to pursue this legislative change at this time.
The UCP won a mandate to govern and the last time we checked governing includes seeking out, listening and responding to the feedback of Albertans. They may have the keys to the hallways of power thanks to voters, but that is not a blank cheque to reshape this province according to their egos.
Public institutions like health care and education are in the cross-hairs of the UCP and this should come as no surprise. Both are seen as areas of the budget to realize budget savings. Both have large unionized labour forces and have been the target of UCP cuts already.
The UCP was also elected on a platform to bring jobs and prosperity back to this province. Those have yet to materialize and Alberta is worse off economically than when this government took office.
Some may argue that COVID-19 has changed the situation and should be taken into consideration when passing judgment on the UCP's term so far. In response, we would agree and argue that the UCP should heed this counsel as well.
COVID-19 is going to fundamentally and drastically change our education system and that needs to be comprehensively understood and overcome before a more systemic overhaul of "choice" in education is undertaken.
Choice is really a tricky concept when it comes to public education. That's because not everyone will actually have choice in this newly envisioned system. Choice belongs to the privileged few who can afford it or have access to it.
There is a reason anti-racism advocates in the United States have fought against this ideology. Systemic racism loves a poorly designed organizational structure that makes it easy to confer benefits on the status quo and subvert equality for those of a lower socioeconomic status.
If this government really wanted to save money on education it would stop funding private schools. As one of only a few provinces in Canada to do so, it is mind-boggling to imagine a system that continues to load benefits and entitlement onto those who already have it at the expense of those who do not.
If parents want to send their children to private educational institutions, they should pay for that privilege separately.
Public education is stronger if it is invested in as one system for all students. Using private sector economic arguments to increase competition and institutionalize "choice" creates unacceptable differentials in the delivery of this laudable goal: to give every child the best education possible and a future full of possibilities unconstrained by their parent's socioeconomic background.
The students of today and tomorrow deserve better and Albertans deserve a chance to properly debate the merits of this change without also having to deal with a pandemic.