Teacher Unions are Fear-Mongering over Choice in Education

Written By Jeffrey Park, Posted on September 21, 2020

In her September 12 column, “Alberta’s public education system under siege again”, former president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), Bauni Mackay, asks Albertans to fear the tiers. “Two-tiered education system” is the phrase she deploys, but what does it mean? Since typing “two-tiered” into a search engine in Canada will return almost nothing but “two-tiered healthcare system”, I can only assume she meant to evoke the same sentiment for education. 

The fear of a “two-tiered healthcare system” rests upon the concern that too much private spending in healthcare will lure the best doctors, nurses, and laundry services to its siren call, leaving us poor saps who can’t afford such luxuries in publicly-funded squalor. The wealthy will always have choice in healthcare.

The solution, according to public healthcare advocates, is to make sure we use more public dollars to chase private provision of healthcare, so all the best healthcare doesn’t collect in one private niche. Is that Mackay’s solution to prevent the creation of a “two-tiered education system”? Just the opposite! 


Instead, two-tiered education is an accurate description of what Mackay and the ATA advocate. They would have us all pay for education once, through taxes, as we do for healthcare. Then those who can afford to pay for it all over again could choose the best education for their child, so long as they leave their taxes where their child would have been.

Following the healthcare-based reasoning, the best principals, teachers, and janitors would collect in the private niche, leaving the less well-to-do who can’t afford such luxuries in publicly-funded squalor. Using the rhetoric many use against two-tiered healthcare to argue for that exact same abhorred structure in education is a certain kind of rhetorical genius. 

Fortunately for Alberta, we have not followed other provinces into the folly of regressive two-tiered education. The wealthy will always have choices in education, but in our great province, my family can afford it too! Perhaps that is why the public option has not been hollowed-out and, as Mackay assures, “Our public education system is widely recognized as one of the best in the world.”

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I believe Mackay when she says her concern is with schools that can pick and choose their students, even though I would ask her to develop solutions actually targeted at that concern. My concern is that students may not be able to pick and choose their school.

Just imagine how satisfied you would be with public healthcare, if public healthcare was perverted to mean every patient is assigned to a clinic based on their home address. Instead, we have decided that while many people might know more about health than you do, you are the expert and best advocate for your own family’s health. We would expect nothing less from a democracy founded on the principle of equal opportunity for all. 

I want Alberta to continue to have excellent public education. Moreover, I want Alberta to continue to have excellent education available to the public. And while many people might know more about education than you do, you are the expert and best advocate for your own family’s education. 

Resisting the real threat of two-tiered education also empowers parents over politicians when it comes to funding. In these divisive times, wouldn’t we rather see the interests of students championed by parents to principals rather than by the union president to the Premier? After all, according to former ATA president, Bauni Mackay, “Research proves the most effective way to improve student learning is to ensure parents are actively involved in their children’s education.” 

Jeff Park is the Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education (parentchoice.ca).

Jeffrey Park

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