EPSB to debate plebiscite questions on new curriculum, education funding

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The Edmonton Public School Board will debate Tuesday whether to add two questions to the ballot for this fall’s municipal election about support for the K-6 draft curriculum and the education funding formula.

Much like the referendum on equalization payments that will be on the ballot despite the province not having the authority to change the constitution, school boards can’t change the curriculum or funding formula on their own. But trustee Michael Janz, who proposed the idea for the vote, said there is still value in finding out where Edmontonians stand on the issues.

“If they will listen to the responses of the one (equalization) question, I would hope that they would listen to your responses on the others,” he said in an interview Friday.

“They’ve made it clear, this is how they want to receive feedback from Albertans. So we now have another tool at our disposal to help raise awareness of the cutbacks to education and how disastrous this new curriculum is.”

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In early 2020, the Alberta government announced it was changing the funding formula for education from a per-student model to a weighted moving average that considers three years worth of enrollment. The government says this model provides more predictability while boards, particularly those in growing urban centres, say it does not provide them with adequate funding.

The government’s proposed new K-6 curriculum has faced growing criticism since the draft was first announced. The vast majority of boards in the province have said they will not pilot the new model. It has been denounced by many education experts and faced claims of plagiarism. The Métis Nation of Alberta has called for a rewrite and the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations rejected it.

The school board will have to make a decision Tuesday if they want to meet the deadline for getting questions onto the ballot.

Janz, who is running in the election for Edmonton City Council, said putting the questions onto the ballot will force candidates at different levels of government to make their positions known. A strong vote against the funding model or curriculum could also pressure politicians and give them enough “political cover” to make changes, he said.

If the school board approves, only voters within that school division would be eligible to vote on the questions.

It’s not clear how much it would cost Edmonton Public to put questions on the ballot. Janz said early estimates put the price tag at a few hundred thousand dollars. Officials involved with the election are expected to attend Tuesday’s board meeting to answer questions.

Janz said spending the money would be worth it.

“The costs are an absolute fraction compared to the cost of what the weighted moving average (funding formula) incurs to Edmonton families,” he said.

ajoannou@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ashleyjoannou

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