Publicly available documents show that before becoming Premier, Danielle Smith submitted an application to open a charter school and lobbied the government to approve it.
Before becoming Premier Smith was the president of the Alberta Enterprise Group (AEG), a business advocacy organization based in Edmonton and she lobbied the government extensively on its behalf. AEG was founded by natural gas magnate and former Oilers owner Cal Nichols in 2007 and he still serves as its chairman emeritus.
In a June 10, 2021 interview with then-Premier Jason Kenney, Smith tells Kenney that she has put in a submission to the province for a charter school, and that she’s working with former Calgary Board of Education trustee Lisa Davis, who is now the co-founder of a STEM-focused charter school, on her application. Kenney's into it and he gives her a thumbs-up after she informs him.
Lobbyist registry documents filed by Smith in June 2021 say that she lobbied the minister of education to approve the charter school.
Today, publicly-available information about the school, called ‘The European Skills for Professions Charter Academy’ or sometimes ‘The European Skills for Careers Charter Academy’, is scant. A corporate search does not turn up any organization with that name. There is no active website or social media presence for any organization with that name. Lobbyist registry documents filed by Smith say that the purpose of the charter school would be “to create pathways to trades professions for Grade 9 to Grade 12 students,” as “our members are expressing concerns about a looming skills trades shortage (sic).”
While there is little information about this school online, a charter school application was definitely made for a school of that name. A letter, dated June 29, 2021 and sent to education minister Adriana LaGrange from the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) chair Marilyn Dennis, states that the CBE received notification from Alberta Education that the European Skills for Careers Charter Academy had sent in an application.
Due to regulations Alberta Education was required to notify public school boards of charter school applications in the same geographic area and consider any information from a school board about alternative programs offered by the school boards that might overlap.
The CBE’s letter gives a bit more information on how the charter school would actually work. It “identifies that it will provide Grades 9 to 12 students access to skilled trades professions through co-ops, internships, entrepreneurship, service learning, applied research projects, practicums, field placement and work experience to develop skills for workplace success. The charter school proposes to work collaboratively with existing skilled trades programs at the high school, post-secondary, union and industry level to allow students experience with as many career pathways possible before graduation and to facilitate dual-credit options.”
The CBE says in their letter that they offer very similar programming and even two dedicated facilities in the Career and Technology Centre and Jack James High School that offer similar opportunities.
“It is our position that the charter school applications identified are in fact duplications of programming and opportunities already available in the city of Calgary and within CBE. In the context of flat funding, the possible approval of duplicate programs puts in jeopardy the ability to maintain what is already accessible to all. We encourage focused funding in a manner that leverages our existing partnerships, infrastructure, and programming in the areas identified and look forward to continued collaboration,” reads the CBE letter.
The other charter school application referenced in the CBE letter was for the Calgary Classical Academy, a charter school founded by former United Conservative Party candidate Caylan Ford. The Calgary Classical Academy is listed by Alberta Education as an active charter school. The European Skills for Careers Charter Academy is not. While the June 2021 lobbyist registry documents show that Danielle Smith was lobbying for this charter school there is no mention of the charter school in the January 2022 lobbyist registry documents.
Support Our Students, a public education advocacy group based in Alberta, argues that the proliferation of charter schools in the province is not a good thing.
“Charter schools siphon away resources and force neighborhood schools to shut down because they’re exclusive and they don’t have to accept neighborhood kids. They skim off the “best students,” really the best resourced students, leaving the public school system with less resources but having to take on students who might have more complex needs,” Wing Li, the communications director at SOS, told us.
In March of this year the government of Alberta announced nearly $75 million in public funding to expand charter and collegiate schools. While charter schools are common in the United States, Alberta is the only Canadian province that has them. Ralph Klein introduced them in the 1990s.
We reached out to the new president of the Alberta Enterprise Group, Catherine Brownlee, with questions about this charter school application. “Unfortunately, I started on August 1st and if this was happening through AEG, it was prior to my involvement,” said Brownlee.
UPDATE: According to a ministry of education spokesperson who responded to our inquiries after our publishing deadline the charter school application for the European Skills for Careers Charter Academy was withdrawn in 2021. No reason was given for the withdrawal by the spokesperson.