The first of a 23-stop tour of the Alberta Parents' Union (APU) was launched in Cochrane on May 19 to hear the concerns and ideas of parents on which educational advocacy will be based.
About 40 people attended to learn about the new organization, then broken into discussion groups. The vast majority were parents of students in public and separate schools.
Executive director Jeff Park said weather and date change may have hindered attendance but the approximately 40 people there were invested in the discussion and had lively conversations.
He hopes to receive more of the same when the tour continues across the province. The next stop is Taber.
"I want to hear back from parents on what they want my priorities to be, what advocacy they want me to most advance, and then I'll put an advisory board together on that basis."
Park reached out to the education minister's office before launching the tour and was told a meeting with LaGrange might be possible after the leadership review.
"I hope that meeting will still happen so I can represent the voices that I hear from parents on the tour," says Park.
The new organization has opponents, and it's something Park is acutely aware of.
"I'm not trying to make enemies, of course, nobody enjoys making enemies, but I do understand that the reason this organization needs to exist is that there is opposition to Alberta's choice-based parent-empowered landscape and certainly opposition to seeing it expanded even more."
"I knew the opposition was going to be there. It's already well organized. If we want to make our voices heard as parents, we have to accept that there already is an organization that claims to speak for parents but doesn't hear our voices very well and we've got to be willing to endure that and make our voices heard anyway."
Some believe the APU has ties with the reigning UCP government, something Park denies.
He says they are a nonpartisan organization that isn't connected to any particular political party or any individual political candidate.
"I made a statement before the results of the leadership review came out last night (May 18) saying that regardless of the outcome, our focus is the same because it's never been dependent on the government of the day or a particular politician or a particular party."
"Our job is to represent the voices of parents, regardless of how that is perceived to shake out on some political spectrum. I couldn't care a less about that."
Park says APU has no connection to the drastic reduction in funding to the Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA).
In 2020, that association received $650,000 in funding from Alberta Education before being cut to $170,000 last year. This year it only received $15,000 to do a project on learning loss during the pandemic.
The cutback comes after the organization's membership criticized government policies, including the proposed new draft curriculum, education funding, and how the province has managed COVID-19 in schools.
In a May 11 post on the ASCA's website, Peter Teppler attacks the Alberta Government for the funding reduction.
"By offering each school council a paltry $500 (maximum) as replacement funding, the UCP is blatantly using a “divide and conquer” tactic to silence opposition to flawed curriculum, underfunded education, reductions in capital funding, etc.," he states.
Education minister Adriana LaGrange has since created a minister's parent advisory committee formed of 40 parents to engage in discussions about issues, concerns, and opportunities affecting schools and education in Alberta.
"The structure for feedback already exists," states Teppler in conclusion. "It is called the ASCA, and it will probably tell Alberta Education some things it doesn’t want to hear!"
The same day as Teppler's post, the NDP Opposition promised to reinstate up to $650,000 in annual funding if the party forms the next government.