Proposed changes to the provincial School Act could let more St. Albert students ride the bus for free, say public school leaders.
Alberta Education Minister David Eggen tabled Bill 28 Wednesday. The bill, if passed, would make several changes to the School Act and eliminate the contentious 2.4-kilometre walk limit for busing from it.
The walk limit says that the province will pay to bus any child that lives more than 2.4 km from their designated school. It’s long been a source of vexation for St. Albert school officials, who say the limit forces kids within the limit to cross dangerous streets to get to school.
“We’ve had significant discussions about the so-called 2.4 km walk limit,” Eggen said at a press conference. This bill would remove it from legislation and make limits a matter of regulation.
This wasn’t the last word on bus limits, he added, “but we do know that things do have to change.”
St. Albert Public board superintendent Barry Wowk said he was thrilled that the walk limit would soon be gone.
“I think it’s a special issue in suburban Alberta,” he said, where you have many busy roads and no door-to-door municipal bus service.
“That’s just not an appropriate walk limit for a city like ours.”
Sturgeon Public board chair Terry Jewell said the walk limit was also an issue in the county, where it can require students to walk along busy highways.
“You don’t want little five-year-old kids walking down Hwy. 28 in the dark. That’s a recipe for something not very nice.”
Wowk and Jewell were cautious, however, as the bill didn’t specify what will replace the walk limit. Doing away with it entirely could mean significant new transportation dollars for boards, they noted.
Rules for Kindergarten
The bill proposes to make it so that kids must be at least five years old as of Dec. 31 in order to enter Kindergarten. This change would replace age requirements set by local boards, which vary from five years as of Sept. 1 to five by April 1, but would not take effect until 2020. Up to 4,800 kids would be affected by this change, reports Alberta Education press secretary Lindsay Harvey.
There’s strong evidence that the age at which a child starts school affects their academic success later on, Eggen said.
“We want to make sure we’re setting kids up for success at a young age and that students can start school at the same time no matter where they live in the province.”
Kids have to be five before March 1 to enter Kindergarten in St. Albert Public and Greater St. Albert Catholic schools and five on or before March 1 in Sturgeon Public, say school officials.
Greater St. Albert Catholic board chair Serena Shaw said she approved of the province’s proposal, as it would create consistency across the province.
The bill would also let the minister direct boards to co-operate when it comes to busing students. St. Albert’s school boards all currently run separate bus systems.
While St. Albert’s boards have long discussed co-operative busing, St. Albert Public board chair Kim Armstrong noted that there were many logistical issues involved, and that their buses were pretty packed already. The board’s new schools could result in more opportunities for shared buses.
The bill would also let the province set standards for education service agreements, which are deals that let First Nations students attend off-reserve schools. Eggen said this would ensure that First Nation students get equal access to provincial education anywhere in Alberta, and help close the achievement gap for Indigenous students.
But it wouldn’t address the bigger issue of how the federal government consistently funds First Nations students at a lower rate than the province funds non-Indigenous ones, Jewell said.
“They live here, last time I checked,” he said, and should receive the same funding as other Alberta students.
Assembly.ab.ca has the text of the bill.