Home Education Reimbursement Standards 2017/18

The Alberta Government has today released the new 2017-2018 Home Education Reimbursement Standards.  AHEPS was instrumental in advocating for removal of some restrictions from last year and lobbied hard for the removal of new restrictions for this year. Unfortunately, the new restrictions stayed in place. We will shared AHEPS response to the new restrictions below.

The updated version of the Standards for Home Education Reimbursement, along with a Summary of Significant Changes, is available on the Alberta Education website here.

If you have any questions about the standards or the home education reimbursement process, please contact Richard Arnold, Director, Business Operations and Stakeholder Support, at 780-422-6062 (toll-free by first dialling 310-0000) or richard.arnold@gov.ab.ca

AHEPS Response:

June 17, 2017

Alberta Education
10044-108 Street
Edmonton, AB T5J 5E6

Re: Review of Funding Standards

Thank you for addressing many of the items that home education parents were concerned about, including funding for music lessons, year-round internet and multi-admission passes.

Although there are some improvements, there are other areas of the new standards that will impact parents’ abilities to educate their children, especially for low-income families. All home education stakeholders have requested in previous feedback sessions that the standards become less burdensome, and over the last two years additional restrictions have been added. One of the 3 pillars of the Funding Framework is “Flexibility” which states: “School authorities have discretion to use funds to meet the needs of their students.” As parents who are responsible for the education of our children, we think that this discretion rightly belongs with us.

Here are AHEPS’ recommendations on the new standards:

  1. Remove the 50% funding limit on lessons, tangible assets, and field trips. This limit does not serve students. There are many reasons why a child may legitimately have only these items in their funding request, including the design of their program plan, and the availability of other free learning resources from siblings or the library. Just because the funding looks unbalanced does not mean that the program plan is unbalanced. As well, schools do not have 50% limitations on certain categories of what they can provide in the classroom.In response to the rationale that “parents could buy a big item and re-sell it,” we ask you to consider that someone determined to circumvent the system could do so just as easily by purchasing a higher-value or multiple items. To your desire to use the 50% limit to help balance the program, we respond that this interference in the content of the learning plan is not welcome nor in the interest of the child. It should remain the parent’s discretion, with support from their facilitator, on how to balance out learning and resources for their child.
  2. Include tutoring and lessons in the same category or clearly describe the characteristics of each. Currently, it is open to interpretation, and the same activity could be claimed under either term. This past year, school authorities just switched the terms to cover reimbursements. As you probably know, where there is a restriction, there becomes a work-around. This doesn’t create a fair playing field among school authorities and their families.
  3. Remove the funding limit on technology. As children reach junior and senior high age, they tend to drop lessons, art supplies, and museums and use more technology both to aid learning (including not only computers, but also headphones, keyboards, mice, updated hard drives, graphics cards, memory, e-readers, digital art boards) and also as a tool to learn computer science and programming (e.g., small single-board computers like Raspberry Pi). We do not want parents to have to sub-optimize learning in this important area for lack of ability to use available funds.
  4. Remove registration fees from the not-recommended list. This is a huge resource for students, especially those who are not following the Alberta Program of Studies. Here are some examples and where they fit into the learning plan:

· Girl Guides and Boy Scouts – Phys Ed, Science and Social Studies
· Red Cross CPR Class – Grade 10 Phys Ed (recommended in the APS)
· STEM summer day camps – Science, Math, Engineering
· Safety City Bike Safety Program – Phys Ed
· ADLC and online course registrations – all subjects
· Diploma Prep Courses – all cores – (home ed parents use this as instruction, where parents of children-in-school use this to supplement instruction already received in school.)
· Science Centre Camps – Science
· Summer Camps – Phys Ed
· Soccer Leagues – Phys Ed

We understand your rationale for excluding them to be that some are offered in the summer, and that parents of children-in-school pay for them. Our concerns are as follows:

  • Many parents use the entire year to meet the goals of their program plan, and funding should support this. When these activities are no longer funded, that constitutes interference in the program plan and impacts parents’ ability to meet educational outcomes. Internet funding has been extended to yearround, as well as schools provide year-round programming and home education activities registrations should be as well.
  • Home education parents specifically choose these activities to fill outcomes in an education program plan, whereas parents of a child-in-school register their children in these activities for the primary intent of childcare and/or to supplement their child’s learning. (They can also deduct these registration fees for up to $5000 per child under age 16 on their Federal taxes, which home education parents who don’t work outside the home cannot.)
  • Excluding funding for these programs can hurt children who are kinesthetic learners.
  • All the above activities build learner knowledge, attitudes and skills. We don’t see the difference between registration fees for activities and lessons/tutoring. They all provide instruction and parents of a child-in-school pay for lessons and tutoring as well, so using that rationale is not consistent.
  • Children-in-school can benefit from “Artists-in-Residence” programs in school where organizations like Mad Science come to work with students for a week, or “Zoo School” where students go to a day camp week at the Zoo for programming. Home education families must seek out these opportunities in the summer through daycamps.

We are pleased that you are explicitly encouraging school authorities to share school-authority owned resources. This has rarely happened in the past. If schools are open to sharing (and most are not) resources go to school-registered students first. Many of our members are secular and want to access Alberta Education approved resources. Parents most often must purchase them (without the benefit of economies of scale) full price from Amazon. Parents are usually not allowed to access gyms, musical instruments, technology, microscopes, or sports equipment either. AHEPS hope this will change with the recommendations, in areas where it is logistically possible. Thank you for including this.

These are some other issues that came up from our members regarding the reimbursement process.  Would you consider addressing these this year?

  1. What recourse does a parent have if they don’t agree with their school authority’s interpretation of the guidelines?  For example, this year a school denied a receipt for parkour lessons because it was deemed “too dangerous,” which we think you will agree is not an appropriate response. We would like to see a direct channel available to parents to appeal such decisions.

  2. Restrictions on how old receipts can be and whether unused funding can be carried forward to another year differ by school authority.  We would like to see a generous policy (allow receipts up to two years old, and allow funding to be carried forward for at least one year) explicitly allowed by all school authorities.

  3. How should expenses be handled when they are not in Canadian dollars?  School authorities have imposed restrictions and nonsensical rules (for example, not allowing non-Canadian expenses, or reimbursing US dollar expenses at par) in the name of meeting government regulations.  We recommend specifying that a standard exchange rate (such as the Bank of Canada monthly exchange rate) be used.

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to continue the conversation and your efforts in bringing forward further clarity.

Sincerely,

Judy Arnall, President

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