School boards keep a trained eye on education funds after passing of Bill 24
Grab your popcorn everyone, because political theatre is heating up! On November 15, Bill 24, which among other things forbids schools from disclosing to parents whether their child is attending a GSA, finally passed. Hooray!
Surprising no one, the United Conservative Party (UCP) caucus was unanimous in its dissent. There were a few notable absences in the house that day (including Brian Jean), but whether this was a silent protest or a coincidence remains to be seen.
Of course, the bill was never in any real danger of not passing, but I will miss the political zingers generated by the debate. (What I won’t miss is the lives of queer and trans youth continuing to be used as a political football.)
Case in point: in her write up about the passing of Bill 24, CBC’s Kim Trynacity included a beautiful retort by Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan. Apparently Feehan started quoting extensively from the Bible, encouraging UCP members to follow along (you’ll recall there were some biblical arguments mounted to oppose the bill) before pulling out the big guns: “There are many things that are different between me and the honourable Jason Kenney. One of the things that’s different is I actually finished my theology degree.”
Jason Kenney has not completed a degree. (One could call him a drop-out, but I prefer to quote from his Wikipedia page, which notes that he, “quit university to fulfill his true destiny in conservative realpolitik.” Bless you, Wikipedia. Bless you.)
Though the case is closed on Bill 24, some of the larger questions it raised about Catholic school boards continue, with another small step toward challenging the constitutional enshrinement of Catholic education happening last week in small-town Saskatchewan.
Known as the “Theodore case” (after the name of the small town in question, population 400), the crux of the matter is that a Court of Queen’s Bench judge in Saskatchewan ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee access to Catholic schools by non-Catholic students. Translation: Catholic School Boards have no right to public funding to support non-Catholic students.
After the ruling, the Saskatchewan government quickly invoked the notwithstanding clause to prevent the implementation of this ruling and the case is being sent up to the province’s top court. This has prompted the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta (PSBAA) to apply for intervener status (and it’s safe to assume the Catholic equivalent will do likewise).
Why is the PSBAA jumping into a very messy legal fray the next province over? Partly it’s because they have very firm opinions as to where public education dollars should be going and thus have a vested interest in the case. According to PSBAA’s June 2017 report, What is the Cost of Choice: “The Public system represents the most democratic and equitable education system available to Alberta citizens.”
It doesn’t get much firmer than that.
The other reason is that Alberta and Saskatchewan have very similar constitutional protections for Catholic education; if this decision is upheld by the Supreme Court, the ramifications will be felt here, too. Keep in mind that school board funding is determined by enrollment, not by which school board election a voter decides to participate in. This means Catholic School Boards stand to lose a very significant portion of their funding—the Edmonton Journal reports that a quarter of the students attending Edmonton Catholic schools are not Catholic.
It has taken 12 years for the case to make it this far, so it’s likely going to be years before this is all resolved. Keep that popcorn fresh, because things are bound to be interesting.