Home-schooling loophole leaves some Alberta kids uneducated, critics say

EDMONTON – The province needs to close a loophole that covers home-schooling funding for Alberta students who attend makeshift schools led by non-certified teachers, concerned educators say.

School districts have been lobbying Alberta Education for years to address the issue. Some are concerned draft regulations for the new Education Act do nothing to tackle it.

In the Grasslands and Palliser school divisions, the situation exists in Low-German speaking Mennonite communities, said officials with the two public-school districts in southern Alberta.

“I don’t think it’s only a southern Alberta problem. It’s creeping up in other places,� said Don Zech, vice-chairman for the Palliser school board. “I would like to see the government just put some standards of accountability in place. They’re getting money from the public and they should be accountable.�

Home-education students who qualify for $1,641 per year in government funding can end up going to school together at so-called “congregated sites,� in a building such as a church hall, said Grasslands Public Schools superintendent David Steele. Classes don’t have to follow the Alberta curriculum and are led by someone who is not a certified teacher, he said.

It’s a setup that looks much like a private school that would not qualify for government funding, said Steele, who represented the College of Alberta School Superintendents on a committee that reviewed Alberta’s home-education regulations and recommended changes.

“Some parents do a wonderful job of educating their kids at home. We’re not suggesting that doesn’t happen. But there are children who come to our (Grasslands) schools from these situations who are quite a ways behind in terms of what they have learned,� Steele said from the district that serves about 3,500 students around Brooks, just east of Calgary.

“I would say most of the superintendents in southern Alberta have spoken to their MLA, to Alberta Education officials, to the various ministers that have been in that (education) portfolio. There’s been extensive communication … both through meetings and written submissions both of the problem and suggested remedies.â€�

In a letter Jan. 20 to Education Minister Gordon Dirks, the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta said it’s a “significant concern� that draft Education Act regulations don’t tackle the problem. The new rules need “strong and definitive language� to protect kids who aren’t being educated, the letter said.

“Not educating a child is not a choice,� said the association’s letter to Dirks.

“These congregated sites and concern regarding these sites continues to grow.�

Dirks met Tuesday with the Alberta Home Education Association, which said on its website it planned to press Dirks for less regulation of home education.

“Educational choice is decreased when parents have less choice in who administers their home education program,� said the post from association president Paul van den Bosch. Van den Bosch could not be reached for comment.

Dirks declined to be interviewed but said in an emailed statement the government is committed to ensuring the quality of home-education programs through regular monitoring. Alberta Education has also strengthened financial reporting requirements for private and public schools that oversee home-education programs, he said.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association wants the government to introduce limitations to stop “what are essentially unregulated, unregistered private schools,� ATA associate executive secretary Dennis Theobald said.

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