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AHEA Convention 2015: Heart of the Home

A Summary of Issues facing Home Educators - April 2015

Some of our AHEA members have asked for a summary of the issues that we face in this election campaign and beyond. 

The key issue is: "Short-sighted Financial Planning Penalizes Success."

Given a budget cut, AB Education has done the most simple and thoughtless thing: freeze funding to schools.

This simplistic approach cripples any school that is growing in size, even if that growth is due to the fact it is offering a superior education.

This relates equally to institutional schools and home schooling administrations.

What constructive change do we ask the candidates to make if they are elected?

The department of Education must be directed to become creative, finding means of saving money without penalizing success.

Some examples…

a) Plans for capital spending…

The proposed Education budget includes construction of new schools without interruption (an obvious election plum).

b) Redundant schools…

Is this a time to do a politically difficult thing: close redundant public schools, not because of the per-student grant cost but to save the huge operation and maintenance costs?

c) Simplify regulations…

It would also be wise to simplify education regulations, including the Home Education Regulation, thereby requiring fewer bureaucrats to police them.

How much of the Education budget finances the bureaucracy?

d) Not punishing teachers and home education facilitators…

The people actually facilitating education are on the block at the hands of civil servants.

The funding framework for Education has been published without comment.

Families and educators are asking for details and clarification but Alberta Education is mute on how this reality will be lived out.

For example: has there been any thought to the question of the supervision of home education without funding?

An ill-considered freeze punishes those who are successful, punishes those that are growing, and punishes the smallest players the most (since they don’t have large surpluses to make up for the shortfall).

Home education is successful and it’s growing - over 8% total growth from 2013/14 to 2014/15.

Alberta Education apparently hasn't thought about the details, so we should point that out: identify the inherent problems with this budget and communicate them to every candidate in this election.

Families need to know that government needs to be continually nudged into doing what is right.

Questions for MLA candidates

Updated Monday April 20/2015

To all AHEA members and Alberta home educators:

As we all prepare to cast our votes in the provincial election May 5th, home educators should know that this is the time to be heard, while politicians seek your vote.

What should we say?

What should we ask?

What are the issues in this election?

Below is information prepared by AHEA to help you advocate for home education and know where your candidates stand on the issues.

Please educate yourself, educate those running for office, and please stay tuned to the AHEA website for more information.

Please note that AHEA is a non-political organization and so does not advocate for any party in this election.

AHEA simply wants elected representatives to respect parental rights and authority, to not restrict home educating families from making the best choices for the education of their children, and to hold bureaucrats accountable to principles set out in education legislation.

Here are some questions (16 of them, marked in bold with a Q) and some background information for those running to be an MLA.

Note: you won’t have time to ask all of these questions, so please choose those that are of greatest interest to you or which have the largest impact on your family.

1 - The Budget Freezes Families…

Q - If the recent Conservative budget is enacted after the May 5th election, will new home educators be funded or not and what will you, as MLA, say about it?

The recent Alberta budget effectively froze the funding for all schools and school boards.

Some Alberta Education bureaucrats have stated that currently funded students will continue to be funded but new students will not and will therefore have to pay out of pocket to fulfil provincial law.

Other Alberta Education bureaucrats have stated that the same amount of funding will have to be spread over more students so each will get less.

Which one is it?

Is it possible to get a straight answer from Alberta Education so home educating families can stop guessing and start planning for the fall?

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to ensure home educators are treated fairly under any future budget?

1B - The Budget Freezes Schools and Boards…

Further to the above, can boards and private schools get a straight answer from Alberta Education so they know if they can take on new students?

Some of these smaller schools are already saying: “We’re full. We can’t take you.”

These schools are very worried that they simply can’t afford to take on any unfunded students.

Each board will set its own policy response, but two clear possibilities are:

a) that new students will get no funding for resources and so will have to pay out of pocket for all educational expenses including the two facilitator visits per year required by the Home Education Regulation and

b) the board or school will pay, stretching their already-thin budgets between funded and unfunded students.

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to ensure home educators have access to home education experts at small boards and private schools (Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists - ICHES)?

1C - The Budget Restricts Education Choices and Freedom…

Q - Since the budget - and the confusion it has caused - is restricting home educating families from signing up with the board or school that is best for their children, how will you, as MLA, ensure that the principle of parental authority over education is respected as set out in the Education Act?

Parental authority and freedom is being restricted in this way: parents can’t choose the best place to notify for the home education of their children since schools and boards may simply not take them.

1D - The Budget Squeezes the Smallest the Most…

Boards which operate brick-and-mortar schools get operating grants and other funding, so the funding freeze means that there is less money in the collective pot so each area will experience a pinch.

But home education funding contains no such grants or lump sums so boards and schools that offer only home education have no surpluses: home education funding is set per student, and 50% of the money received by schools and boards for home education must be made available to families as reimbursement for educational materials and resources.

In addition, home education is currently the most economical form of education in Alberta and saves Alberta taxpayers 80 million dollars a year (almost 10,000 home educated students times a savings of over $8400 per student compared to students attending Alberta schools).

If the budget was being applied equitably, home educators would have no complaint since we understand that we all have to ‘pay our share’.

Q - Since the budget squeezes the smallest the most, what are you, as MLA, going to do about that?

2 - Alberta Education Squeezes Private Schools not Public Boards…

The recent Alberta budget announced that the province was freezing the funding for all school boards at 2014/15 levels.

But public boards are getting an INCREASE in home education funding while private boards have their budgets CUT.

Alberta has, for more than 20 years, upheld an ‘equal education’ policy for home education: it didn’t matter which board or school a family chose, the funding amount was identical.

Parents had freedom of choice.

That choice is now being restricted.

Q- Why has that ‘equal education’ policy changed and what are you, as MLA, going to do about it?

2A - Are bureaucrats accountable to Albertans?

The answer given (to the policy question in #2) by Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services is that public school teachers have a contract that gives them a raise this fall.

But public school teacher contracts have nothing to do with home education and so, as above, can we please get a straight answer from Alberta Education so home educating families can know that they - and the boards/schools they sign up with - have firm financial footing?

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to keep Alberta Education bureaucrats (‘civil servants’) accountable to Albertans?

Note that parents who notify with Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) affiliated with private schools (examples include Education Unlimited, THEE, WISDOM and others) get less compensation for educational resources than those affiliated with public or Catholic boards.

Note also that these Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) supervise more than 75% of all home educated students in Alberta.

Note further (as above): Home education is currently the most economical form of education in Alberta and saves Alberta taxpayers 80 million dollars a year (10,000 home educated students times a savings of over $8000 per student compared to students attending Alberta schools).

Although AHEA advocates for parental authority and freedom and not for more funding money, it’s clear that Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services is using money to control boards and private schools and so reduce the freedom of parents to choose the school or school board that best suits their children's needs.

Q - What will you, as MLA do to stand up for parental authority and freedom?

3 - Alberta Education Bans Home Educated Students from Post-Secondary Courses, Accountants and Auditors state 'We know better than Parents'

Alberta Education recently proclaimed its "dual credit strategy" (where public school students could earn post-secondary credits while still in high school), but Alberta Education is now banning home educated students from taking post-secondary courses.

Why did Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services change a policy that had been working for over 20 years?

Q - How is it fair that public school students can take a post-secondary course but home educated students cannot and what will you, as MLA, do about it?

This new policy comes from the accountants and auditors within Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services (the 'financial wing' of Alberta Education).

For more than 20 years, a home educated student could choose materials which included post-secondary learning since that student's gifts may have taken him or her past all of the available 'high school level' resources.

This would fall under the right of parents to choose appropriate materials for their children's education and makes perfect sense.

Alberta Education has no problem if a grade 6 student uses grade 4 materials since that student might be struggling in one or more subjects.

Using the same logic, it makes sense that there would be no problem if a gifted student went beyond high school materials.

To not allow this would be saying to a student: "you are very smart in this subject but now you have to NOT learn anything more but wait a year or two until you are in university".

For more than 20 years, a student could take even take a course or two from a college or university (but couldn't be a full-time university student, of course, at least not while still in high school).

This sensible situation has been thrown out the window by a new policy from the auditors and accountants at Alberta Education Strategic Financial Services who have decided, at the same time that the 'dual credit strategy' for public school students is being trumpeted, that auditors and accountants know better than parents what is best for home educated students.

Under this new policy, if a home educated student takes a post-secondary course, Alberta Education declares them to be a post-secondary student and denies ALL of their home education funding.

Note:this happens even if

a) the students are paying for the course by themselves,

b) even if they are taking the course in addition to their regular high school course load,

c) the course is not mentioned on the students’ Education Program Plan, and

d) even if the student is under the age of 16.

Under this new policy, Alberta Education claws back all funding from the home educated student.

Regardless of the age of the student involved, Alberta Education indicates that once a student enrolls in a post secondary course, they are considered a ‘graduated student from the Alberta Education K-12 system’.

The clawback of funds is not only a new policy but is also being done retroactively, taking money from the 2013/14 school year and thereby putting several Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) in financial jeopardy.

That's another threat to parental authority: auditors and accountants not only deciding what materials are best for home educated students but also deciding which schools and boards should supervise that home education.

If ICHES are put out of business, parents will have little choice in who will supervise the home education of their children.

Q - Do you, as an MLA, support limits on parental options in education?

Q - Do you agree that financial audits and processes should have this much influence over the educational options of home educating parents?

4 - “Bill 10 is only the beginning"…

For home educators, the key issue in education is parental authority.

Bill 10 restricts parental authority.

Q - Do you support the principle that parents are the primary educators and have the prior right to decide on the best education for their children?

Bill 10 may have little direct impact on home educators, but it is possible that the private schools that administer those home education programs may be targeted by lobby groups working in Alberta to reduce religious and personal freedom.

The Liberal MLA who is pushing this aggressive agenda, Laurie Blakeman, has said that Bill 10 'is only the beginning'.

Q - What will you, as MLA, do to stand up for parental authority when it comes under attack from those who want to reduce religious and personal freedom?

5 - Will Parental Authority be respected?

Bill 19 contained amendments to the Education Act.

Home Education Regulation will fall under the Education Act.

Bill 19 gives the Education Minister - and his department - stronger enforcement tools in cases where the Minister thinks a board or private school isn't 'fulfilling its obligations'.

The Home Education Regulation is not due for significant change but the final version isn’t out yet.

AHEA's concern is that phrasing will be used to inflict increasing harassment on Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES).

Q - Will you, as MLA, stand up for parental authority - as set out clearly in the Education Act - and resist bureaucratic harassment of Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES)?

6 - Who should home educators trust to run Alberta Education?

AHEA has worked to develop relationships with all political parties.

AHEA has met with Education Ministers and MLAs and opposition critics and with many of the bureaucrats within Alberta Education.

We simply want elected representatives to respect parental rights and authority, to not restrict home educating families from making the best choices for the education of their children, and to hold bureaucrats accountable to principles set out in education legislation.

Q - Will you, as MLA, stand up for these things:

a) MLAs respecting parental rights and authority,

b) MLAs not restricting home education with more regulation so that families can continue to make the best choices for the education of their children, and

c) MLAs holding bureaucrats accountable to principles set out in education legislation?

Q - For setting direction for Alberta Education, who do you think should be in charge:

a) the elected representative chosen by the Premier to be Education Minister or

b) the bureaucrats within the department?

7 - A final note…

AHEA asks that all of its members be politically aware and active and vote for the candidate and party that each member thinks will best represent the member's interests.

The concerns expressed above can be raised with any candidate running for office.

These concerns will ultimately need to be addressed with the bureaucrats within Alberta Education and so AHEA also asks all members to stay in touch - via the AHEA website, Home Matters, local support groups, and Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) - since home educators will need to bring political pressure to bear after the election.

Thank you, please pray for home educators and for our soon-to-be-elected representatives, and please stay tuned.

Paul van den Bosch

President

Alberta Home Education Association

Provincial Budget interpretations affect home educators

To all AHEA members and Alberta home educators:

A provincial election has been called for May 5th.
What are the issues facing home educators in this election?
AHEA has prepared the following statements to make things clearer.
Please consider this information as you decide how to cast your vote on May 5th.

1 - The Budget: "Province tells new home schoolers: no funding, no support, no supervision"

The recent Alberta budget effectively froze the funding for all school boards at 2014/15 levels.
While AHEA advocates for parental authority and freedom and not for more money, this funding freeze will have a significant impact in reducing parental freedom.
For most school boards, the funding freeze means that there is less money in the collective pot so each area will experience a pinch.

But for home educators, who are funded per student, it means that students who were home educating in 2014/15 will be funded and new students get nothing.
New students will get no funding for resources, will have to pay out of pocket for all educational expenses, and will also have to pay for the two facilitator visits per year required by the Home Education Regulation.

So that means boards and private schools have two choices:
a) they take on new students but those students are unfunded and therefore get no support or supervision
b) they don't take on new students, shifting the financial burden to some other board or school and limiting parental choice.

Since the students, by provincial law, have to be receiving an education and notifying with a board or private school, it means that the province is saying "you can home educate but you are on your own. You will not receive the supports other home educated students do and there is no accountability either".

Home education is currently the most economical form of education in Alberta and saves Alberta taxpayers 80 million dollars a year (10,000 home educated students times a savings of over $8000 per student compared to students attending Alberta schools).
But new students will be entirely cut off from home education experts and support, unfunded and paying out of their own pocket to meet the requirements of the law.

2 - More from the budget: "Alberta creates two-tiered education system"

The recent Alberta budget announced that the province was freezing the funding for all school boards at 2014/15 levels.

That freeze applies to some but not all.
In fact, for home education funding, public boards get an INCREASE while private boards have their budgets CUT.

So parents who notify with Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) affiliated with private schools (examples include Education Unlimited, THEE, WISDOM and others) get less compensation for educational resources than those affiliated with public or Catholic boards.
AHEA advocates for parental authority and freedom and not for more funding money, but this funding freeze reduces the freedom of parents to choose the school or school board that best suits their children's needs.

Alberta, which has long trumpeted the fact that it supports parental choice in education and provides a variety of educational choice, is actually reducing that choice by making it financially tenuous for these Specialists (ICHES) to operate.
It should be noted that most of the home educated students in Alberta are supervised by these Specialists and that home educating families have overwhelmingly asked for ICHES to be specifically protected and supported in Alberta legislation.

Home education is currently the most economical form of education in Alberta and saves Alberta taxpayers 80 million dollars a year (10,000 home educated students times a savings of over $8000 per student compared to students attending Alberta schools).
But Alberta Education has apparently decided that those who save taxpayers the most must be squeezed out of business.

3 - Dual credits: "Home Educated students banned from post-secondary courses"

In a recent announcement, Alberta proclaimed how educationally progressive it was in creating a dual credit strategy where students could earn post-secondary credits while still in high school.

But home educated students are now banned by Alberta Education from doing the same.

If home educated students take post-secondary courses - even paying for the courses themselves and taking the courses in addition to their regular high school course load - Alberta Education declares them to be a post-secondary student and denies ALL of their home education funding.
In fact, Alberta Education claws back all funding from the home educated student and from the school or board that supervises them.

This is also being done retroactively putting several Independent Contracted Home Education Specialists (ICHES) in financial jeopardy.
If ICHES are put out of business, parents will have little choice in who will supervise the home education of their children.

4 - Bill 10: "Bill 10 is only the beginning"

Although it appears, at this time, that Bill 10 will have little direct impact on home educators, it is possible that the private schools that administer those home education programs may be targeted by lobby groups working in Alberta to reduce religious and personal freedom.

The Liberal MLA who is pushing this aggressive agenda, Laurie Blakeman, has said that Bill 10 'is only the beginning'.
We don't know what that means so it is clear that home educators should be vigilant and politically aware of possible attacks on freedom and parental authority.
These attacks may come indirectly, as we already see from the financial attacks on ICHES.

5 - Bill 19 and the Home Education Regulation: "Will Parental Authority be respected?"

Bill 19 passed with little fanfare as it contained amendments to the Education Act.
These amendments contained mostly 'housekeeping' details and were not supposed to change anything of substance.

What does change with Bill 19 is that the Education Minister - and his department - have stronger enforcement tools in cases where the Minister thinks a board or private school isn't 'fulfilling its obligations',
AHEA's concern is that phrasing will be used to inflict increasing harassment on ICHES Specialists.

We also await the finalized versions of the regulations that will fall under the new Education Act.
That Act is due to finally become law this fall so the regulations need to be in place very soon to give school boards time to align policies.

If the Home Education Regulation is as it was during the final consultation period that ended in January, it will be a regulation that we can live with as virtually nothing changed from what we currently have.
AHEA and its members lobbied for some minor wording changes to protect and support ICHES and we continue to advocate for those changes in the final version.

6 - Provincial election: "Who should home educators trust?"

AHEA has worked to develop relationships with all political parties.
Although AHEA does not support any particular party, AHEA asks that all of its members be politically aware and active and vote for the candidate and party that each member thinks will best represent the member's interests.
The concerns expressed above can be raised with any candidate running for office.

These concerns will ultimately need to be addressed with the bureaucrats within Alberta Education and so AHEA also asks all members to stay in touch - via the AHEA website, Home Matters, local support groups, and ICHES - since home educators will need to bring political pressure to bear after the election.

Thank you, please pray for home educators and for our soon-to-be-elected representatives, and please stay tuned.

Paul van den Bosch
President
Alberta Home Education Association

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