It’s All About Choice!

Their eager little eyes watch as the books are passed out. They pick up their pencils and are ready to begin. What will they learn today? Whether children are attending a public school, charter school, private school or home school, they may not know or care about the differences between the various educational options available in Alberta but parents sure do.

There are four different types of “schools” in this province – public, charter, private and home school. What is a school? According to the School Act, a “school” means a structured learning environment through which an education program is offered to a student by

(i)         a board,

(ii)        an operator of a private school,

(iii)       an early childhood services program private operator,

(iv)       a parent giving a home education program, or

(v)        the Minister.

Let’s look a little closer at each CHOICE!

The history of Alberta public education started in 1880 when the territorial government provided the first financial support for schooling. Mr. Glass, teaching in an Edmonton mission school, had one-half his salary paid from the Territories’ capital at Battleford. From there, Edmonton established the first school district in Alberta. By 1895, there was one separate and 58 public school districts. Within six years, there were 243 public and 11 separate school districts. When Alberta was created in 1905, 602 school districts existed.

You may or may not be aware that Catholic schools in this province are essentially “public schools”. They receive full government funding and are allowed to make some restrictions on acceptance and modification to provincial curriculum to accommodate their faith. Public schools in this province receive full funding for instruction and operations. They are governed by a Board of Trustees, the School Act and the requirements of Alberta Education.

What then, are charter schools? A charter school is again essentially a public school with a very specialized mandate. According to the Charter Schools Regulation, there can only be 15 charter schools at any given time and they must be approved by the Minister of Education. In order to be approved, they must demonstrate that they are different from existing public schools and that their methodology is more effective.

They receive full government funding, whereas, private schools currently only get 60% – 70% of the instructional grant or approximately 30-32% of the overall funding a public school gets. The biggest difference between public and private schools, asides from the level of government funding, is that private schools have the right to charge a tuition fee and to select their students. (Some private schools do NOT charge tuition and many are open to ALL learners!) Like their public counter parts, they must hire certificated teachers and follow the Alberta Programs of Study. They participate in the Provincial Achievement Tests and the Accountability Pillars through the provincial survey measure the same as their public counterparts.

In fact, while doing research for this article I discovered from AISCA, Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta that in this province private schools existed well before public schools.  Many of the original private schools were and some continue to be faith-based organizations. This is also one of the common reasons why many families choose to home school – that is, to achieve better morals, values and a more cohesive family unit. Other reasons might include special needs or academic reasons.

The proper government term for this choice is “home education”. As a home educator, if you wish to receive government funding for your “school”, you need to register with a recognized authority (public, charter or private) before September 30 of each year. It is through the school authority that funds are received and distributed according to their internal policies. It is also the school authorities’ duty to insure that the requirements of the Home Education Regulation are being followed.

There are many other terms people use when they talk about home schooling such as fully aligned, online and basic. These are terms that the home schooling community uses but in reality there are only two choices – (1) “school” programs which can include a traditional classroom setting, online options, distance education, fully aligned, kindergarten, etc, and are offered by either a public, charter or private school (2) a “home education” program which can also be called basic or traditional. (It is possible to do a blended program which consists of part home education and part school).

This year, the Alberta Government has invested many billions of dollars in Alberta’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 education system (including opted out school boards and school capital infrastructure). This insures that parents have a CHOICE in the education of their children.

For parents, this is a very personal choice and it is not uncommon for parents to have children registered in different options depending on the needs of the child. It is important to understand the similarities and differences when exploring your educational options for your family.




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