Provincial Budget Fails to Protect Public Education
More students, less money for classrooms
The budget tabled by the Alberta government on March 7 failed to maintain the government’s commitment to long-term, stable and predictable funding for Alberta’s schools.
The budget reduced operational funding for school boards by a total of $14.5 million for the 2013/14 school and failed to deliver the promised increase of 2 per cent to grants. With 11,000 new students expected and rising costs in Alberta’s growing economy, school boards will experience a shortfall of funding compared to where they would need to be to maintain programs.
“This budget is a big blow to public education,” says Alberta Teachers’ Association President Carol Henderson. “It is $197 million short of where it needs to be to maintain our quality of education.”
Environics polling done for the Association shows that 79 per cent of Albertans feel that the government should maintain its funding commitments despite shortfalls in revenue. The poll also shows that 59 per cent of Albertans feel the government is not spending enough on public education.
Henderson is not surprised by this public sentiment. She notes that Alberta already has the second-highest student–educator ratio among all of the provinces and that 48 of 62 school jurisdictions in Alberta are not meeting provincial targets for average K–3 class sizes.
“Our class sizes are already too large,” says Henderson. “Come September, we are going to see 11,000 new students wedged into classrooms without the funding needed to support them.”
Most grants for boards remained unchanged from 2012/13, including the largest grant for base instructional funding. Grants for the class size initiative and for inclusive education increased by 2 per cent, but a number of other grants were eliminated. The government also deducted 10 per cent of each board’s allowable administration costs.
One of the big programs lost in the budget was the internationally recognized Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI). The demise of the $41 million program will result in the loss of up to 400 teaching positions and a significant amount of funding for teacher professional development.
“AISI is a big part of our global reputation,” says Henderson. “We will lose some good leadership and PD opportunities related to key issues in education, like integration of special needs, differentiated instruction, integrating technology and improving literacy.”
The Alberta provincial budget estimates a $2 billion deficit for budget year 2013–14. Debate on the budget will commence next week and is likely to be concluded in April.