Schools and Homeschoolers Cooperate in Alberta

Last month I spoke to a homeschooling group in Calgary, Alberta and it was a wonderful experience. Not only because of the interesting and friendly folks I met, but also because of what I learned and saw about homeschooling. The provincial government in Alberta supports homeschoolers in several ways, including funding. I was told that about $4000 per homeschooled child is the gross amount given to the education department, which then gives about $800 annually per homeschooled child for reimbursement of certain educational expenses.

It may not be much money for a family in the scheme of things, but every bit helps. When I asked if homeschoolers were feeling pushed to do things the school wanted in exchange for the money, most said no, except for high school-age children. Several homeschoolers reported pressure from school being put on young-teen homeschoolers and their parents to attend high school and stop homeschooling. Some families claimed that the facilitator–teacher who works with the family can be a good ally. No one is forced to participate in the program—you can choose to be a traditional homeschooler and not use any funds or help from the school board.

Another interesting aspect of schools and homeschoolers cooperating in Alberta is that several teachers who work with homeschoolers attended the conference and were active participants. On Saturday, members of the Alberta school board sat on a panel and discussed homeschooling issues with the audience. This almost sounds unbelievable to my US ears, where schools and homeschoolers keep their distance and school boards can make homeschooling difficult or uncomfortable to do. In fact, Alberta has a special rule for homeschoolers who have hostile school boards, according to the website The Canadian Homeschooler: “A school board that is willing (not all school boards facilitate home education so you need to find one that does, the term that is used for that is “willing”) and non-resident mean it doesn’t need to be in your “school district,” in fact you can register with any board you want to in Alberta. For example if I live in Calgary I could register with a Willing Non-Resident School Board that is out of Edmonton. The newer term for these boards is associate board. Each year you can choose any associate board you want.”

Examples of schools and homeschoolers cooperating and sharing school funds are rare, though I don’t understand why since the tax dollars designated for each student who is homeschooled, at least in Massachusetts, does not go to the school or the homeschooler, it goes the general state of MA fund. To their credit, some local schools in MA do work with homeschooling families with no additional support from the state; why not give them their student allocation funds instead of the general fund?

Alberta shows us a model for how schools can regain lost funding from lower attendance records due to increases in homeschooling in their district (homeschooling has increased by 29% in the past 5 years in Canada), and provide schools and homeschoolers with a plan for cooperation rather than mere compliance. It’s not a great solution for all families, and it’s good that people can opt out of the funding program without penalty, but for the many families who find they have the ability to be home with their children but who lack the confidence and support network to homeschool, this can be a good way to go.

Not all Canadian provinces are alike: several months ago I wrote about the crackdown on homeschooling in Quebec and how homeschoolers organized there to get better regulations.

Of course, the best way to learn about and start homeschooling is to join a local homeschooling support group, and new groups, like the Alberta Home Education Parents Society (AHEPS) that organized the Inspired Calgary conference, are important to nurture and grow for that reason.