When Bill 28: The School Amendment Act received Royal Assent Dec. 15, 2017, amendments to the School Act proposed by the province of Alberta were officially enacted, after months of consultation with school boards, teachers and other administrators.
“The School Act has served Alberta’s students well for almost three decades, and I am confident that – as a result of these amendments – it will continue to do so for many years,” said Minister of Education David Eggen. “These amendments would further align this legislation with our government’s education priorities, including increasing student success, ensuring equitable access to education and closing the gap between First Nations students and all other students in the province.”
The amendments include establishing standardized education service agreements between school boards and First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities to ensure indigenous students are able to achieve the same levels of academic achievement as their non-indigenous peers.
Under the act, children must be five years of age by Dec. 31 of the school year to be allowed entry to kindergarten. This amendment is aimed at ensuring those young students are better set up to be successful during their school years to come. This amendment will come into effect in September 2020.
“There is a strong connection in research between the age of a student starting school and their academic performance later on,” Eggen said. “We want to make sure we’re setting up children for success at a young age, that students can start school at the same time no matter where they live in the province.”
One of the amendments most likely to impact parents and students is a requirement the government provide clearer criteria for transportation eligibility prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year. Under Bill 1: A Bill to Reduce School Fees, announced by the province March 2, 2017, school boards are no longer allowed to charge busing fees for students who live 2.4 kilometres or greater from their designated school. For a school division such as RVS, which has significant rural representation, the bill has a big impact on revenues.
“We’ve had significant discussion about the so-called 2.4 (km) walk limit and whether or not it is still appropriate for students here in the province of Alberta,” Eggen said. “Let me be clear that the amendment does not signal a final decision on this matter, but what we do know is that things have to change. This creates the legislative platform that allows us to start talking about walk limits and do we actually do something about it.”
The amendments to the School Act were welcomed by both the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).
“The Alberta School Boards Association is pleased to see the input provided by school boards during the recent consultation process reflected in many of these proposed amendments. The establishment of a common age of entry for students entering kindergarten, the introduction of standard requirements for Education Service Agreements and the removal of the school transportation distance eligibility limit are all examples of ways in which these amendments will provide greater certainty and consistency across the province and support for Alberta families,” said Mary Martin, president of the ASBA.
Greg Jeffrey, ATA president, said his association welcomed the changes, which will better reflect the classrooms of today.
“Our schools, classrooms and teaching practices have changed significantly over the past 20 years. Updated practice standards will ensure that teachers have clear, consistent and modern benchmarks to guide their practice and inform their professional growth,” he said. “We eagerly await the approval of all three practice standards, which will serve to enhance public confidence in the quality of Alberta’s schools.”
Eggen said the amendments in the School Act aligned with what the province had heard from the various stakeholders it consulted.
“I believe this legislation will bring consistency to a number of areas in our school system and we will also be helping to pave the way for future work, which will be on going in the next few months in the form of ministerial orders and legislation,” he said.
RVS said interview requests could not be addressed until Jan. 8.