Failing grade

Decreases to Alberta’s education budget causing further concern for Calgary parents

Candice Collins is no stranger to long commutes. Growing up in the northeast community of Rundle, she had to navigate the city’s public transit system for hours each day to attend William Abrehart High School in city’s northwest, her designated French-immersion school.

Now in her 30s, Collins is worried her five-year-old son may face the same fate in getting to school.
“[I’m concerned] he’s going to wind up with a super long commute. Because in order to find the programs and the atmosphere that I want, we might have to move around,” she said.

“I have quite a few people who have told me they have to take their kid great distances every day. Maybe their elementary school is close, but then their junior high isn’t close and their high school might be even farther.”

Collins isn’t alone when it comes to her concerns about the province’s education system, which, in some areas, is already strained to accept new students and where 60-minute bus rides are becoming the new norm.

A reported $125-million increase in education funding from the province in 2015/16 will still leave local school boards such as Calgary’s strapped for cash, say officials.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) estimates a $29.3-million gap between the funding required to maintain all areas of the system at the same levels as the 2014/15 school year.

The CBE’s also concerned there’s not enough funding for more teachers, with almost 2,500 new students expected to come in the system this year, a 2.4 per cent increase.

“As 19 growing school districts representing approximately 65 per cent of students in Alberta, we have a shared concern about the significant effect the government’s 2015–2016 budget will have on student success and the overall education system in our province,” said CBE in a release.

“According to the provincial fiscal plan, this growth in student population is not, and will not, be funded. By not funding growth, we are effectively reducing the per-pupil funding for every student while increasing class sizes. Growing districts are forced to attempt to provide the same level of service for more students with less funding.”

In its 2015 budget briefing, the CBE foresees funding per student will decrease from about $9,400 this year to an anticipated $8,830 by 2017-18.

In mid-April, CBE’s Board of Trustees directed administration to use $18 million of reserves in the proposed 2015/16 budget to fund growth and main class sizes.

For the 2013/14 school year, the CBE received $1.1 billion from the province.

Parent-led advocacy group Support Our Students (SOS) blames increasing class sizes and lower quality of education on a decline in funding for students in Alberta. Between 2009 and 2014, students in Alberta’s K-12 range increased by 46,048 or 7.95 per cent while teaching positions increased by 9.7, or only 0.03 per cent.

The Province has already committed $1 billion to fund the construction of new schools, modernize existing schools, add modular classrooms and update infrastructure and maintenance. That includes the Province’s commitment to build 107 new schools and 90 modernizations.

In Calgary, 20 schools are currently planned, yet mostly for younger, outlying communities such as Auburn Bay, Cranston, Tuscany and West Springs. The earliest opening is expected in 2016.

However, there’s also a crunch for Calgary’s inner-city school infrastructure. Last October, King Edward and Ogden School were sold and Albert Park School was demolished, leaving schools such Elboya and William Reid to carry the extra load.

The Province has also reduced the provincial education administration budget by nine per cent or $15 million, with $10 million of the savings re-allocated to inclusive education and student transportation grants.

With the May 5 provincial election looming. SOS is currently in the midst of making a direct ask to party leaders for their positions on education.

Currently, the PC party is reporting a $5-billion investment in education over five years for the construction of 200 new schools and school modernization projects, and the delivery of more than 160 new modular classrooms this year with an online report card showing progress along the way.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark has vowed to reverse the PC Party’s cuts to education and guarantee per-student funding to match population growth and inflation, as well as investing in new schools and phasing out school fees.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the biggest issue facing Albertans is classroom size, as is promising her party would work with school boards to better target funding as well as implementing a lunch program for students going hungry and cutting school fees.

Liberal Leader David Swann said continuing to slash education funding will cost all Albertans in the long run and “damage our economy and our society, and it will shortchange our children’s future.”

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