By Cole Parkinson
When the UCP was elected earlier this year, people expected changes throughout the province and that includes school divisions.
Now with work being done to bring back the Education Act, school divisions across Alberta are preparing for the new act come the new school term in September.
“I think most of you are aware it is working its way through legislation right now. Certainly, it looks like it is going to be passed in the next week or so and at that point, there will be 21 regulations that will be updated over the summer as well. There will be some significant changes,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools at the Horizon school board meeting on June 26.
After a lengthy 48 hour sitting in the Legislature earlier this month, mainly around discussions for Bill 8, the amendments to the Education Act were passed.
“I will say that when the Education Act was first developed, there was significant consultation with ASBA (Alberta School Board Association), with trustees, with senior leadership and I think it had the most consultation in the history of legislation coming forward. People were pretty excited about it. The original School Act was in 1988 and it has changed a lot in terms of how we operate. Of course, when the PCs lost, the NDP kind of scrapped it but there were a number of things in there that the NDP though was really good and they took those out of the Education Act and put them in the School Act,” continued Tymensen. “This legislation pretty well has the support of most school divisions, trustees and senior leadership. Of course, it is now coming full circle as they move it into legislation.”
With changes coming in the near future, there were plenty of other amendments that could have been part of the reworked Education Act.
Among those proposed changes brought forward by the UCP were around mandatory attendance for 17 year olds, according to Tymensen.
“There are a couple of things they have talked about changing. One being the age of access. Typically you think of schools from six to 19 and they were going to make it five to 20 or 21 to focus on high school completion. Of course, this means more kids in school which means more money. With the tough fiscal economic time, they have decided not to change those. They were also talking about changing mandatory attendance from 16 to 17 to keep kids in school for one more year. Again, they opted not to do that,” he explained.
With no board meeting in July, Horizon administration was sure plenty of those changes would be brought back to the board in August once all of the details had been released.
One thing administration is expecting is for most of the changes coming with the act to be within the regulations and not the act itself.
“The big shift for the Education Act is it focuses more on a principal base and governance model as opposed to operating procedure. You’ll see it has way less restrictions in it. As an example, transportation used to say you have a legal requirement to transport kids over 2.4 kilometres. Now it says, you are responsible for transportation. The question will be — for all kids? What does that mean? A: whatever you can afford, B: whatever your policy says but I would say C is a bigger piece, and that is whatever the regulation says. You will see all the details are going to come in the regulations, not the Education Act,” said Tymensen. “There will be significant regulations that we’ll have to update all of our policies on.”
While policies will need to be updated to fall in line with the Education Act, some will need bigger changes than others.
One regulation of particular interest for the board was around power given to boards across the province.
“You look at the responsibilities for boards, the nice thing in the act is you are getting natural persons power.” explained Tymensen. “Before how the School Act worked was you could only do what the School Act says you can do. The Education Act gives you natural persons power and so you can do anything you want unless the Act says you can’t do it. It gives you way more authority and way more flexibility.”