In 1994, a wave of state legislation approving government-funded independent schools (charter schools) began in the US. It was an attempt to introduce competition, labs for new ideas, and reform to schools. In some circumstances, particularly specific charter models in low-income communities, the experiment has worked - charters have become a sort of R&D engine in education.
One Canadian province, Alberta, tried the same thing and several studies show similar results. Lately, there’s been a push to support more of those schools, by some politicians.
Wildrose charts course for bolstering Alberta’s charter schools
Alberta Tories have been truant on education, says Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, who vowed Thursday her party would bolster charter schools.
As the province awaits an election call, Smith said her government would ensure education money follows students — and if that means more of them head to charter instruction, it’s positive competition for public schools.
“What happened was the public system saw this is a good model, ‘we’ll follow this, too,’” said Smith, after reading to a group of pre-schoolers at the Airdrie Public Library.
“I think this is a way for us to develop more innovation … we want Albertans to know they have a choice when it comes to their children’s education.”
Boosting charter schools — provided they use taxpayers money to welcome all manner of students — would also allow rural areas to keep their schools, she said.
The Wildrose leader said her party’s education plan would ultimately cost more money, but she unable to put a price tag on it.
Smith also accused the ruling Tories of withholding schools from ridings represented by opposition MLAs, pointing to Wildrose-dominated Airdrie, which has long complained of a classroom shortage.
“Schools are going to be built where they’re needed, not where they’ll win a few votes,” she said.
And her party would also do away with standardized provincial exams with a more frequent model that better gauges students’ learning progress.
While the party’s pledge for more teachers and education funding and non-standardized tests are a positive, their call for more charter schools makes no sense, said Alberta Teachers Association spokesman Jonathan Teghtmeyer.
“They say they want to decentralize to elected school boards but charter schools don’t have elected boards or public accountability,” he said, adding splitting funding between school models will starve rural classrooms.
And if the party isn’t willing to increase tax or royalty revenues, said Teghtmeyer, they’ll be hard-pressed to hike education funding.
Meanwhile, Smith downplayed polling that continues to suggest a wide PC lead among Albertans, saying soft Tory support and undecideds remain a major factor.
“There isn’t a safe Tory seat in the province,” she said.