The government of the Canadian province of Alberta is cutting education spending to the dismay of the school board chairs of public and Catholic schools in the province.
In the city of Edmonton, board chairs along with members from nearby school boards have rallied to ask the province to fund new student enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year, writes Leah Holoiday of Metro News.
The expected number of new students in the district for the upcoming school year is 1,800, which will create a shortfall of $12.1 million since the province will not be increasing educational funding to accommodate the influx. In Edmonton, the public school board is predicting from 2,500 to 3,000 new students, which will mean serving more children with less funding, says board chair Michael Janz.
“Even at the low end, that’s equivalent to 100 new classrooms, full of new students with no new funds to operate them,” he said.
During the show of solidarity by school boards, Education Minister Gordon Dirks made a statement encouraging districts to use reserve funding to support major services during the next school year. However, just last month, Dirks announced to boards that the use of reserves should be restricted and special permission would be required from the ministry in order for boards to utilize the reserves. Province-wide there is about $460 million in school board reserves.
In a change of course, Dirks said this week:
“We provide (school boards) with money not for reserves, we provide them with money to provide the very best front line teaching services that they can and over the years, boards have not spent all the money.”
In Calgary, Linda Wellman, Calgary Catholic School District chairman, said cutting funding over the next three years will have a huge compounding effect. She added that when boards are forced to cut support programs, high school dropout rates will increase.
Bill Kauffman, writing for the Calgary Sun, reports that approximately 25% of Alberta high school students fail to acquire a diploma in the normal three year time span. Joy Bowen-Eyre, Calgary public school board chairman, said the matter should be considered by voters who take part in the May 5 provincial election.
Dirks reiterated that there will be no more money and that school boards need to cut their non-classroom spending in order to weather the 2.7% budget cut this year. The Calgary Board of Education has a reserve of $200 million, said Dirks. Alberta is dealing with a $7 billion funding shortfall due to a collapse in oil prices.
In last month’s budget, the Alberta government increased overall school funding by 2%, or $145 million for kindergarten to grade 12. Tories, however, also cut grants and asked school districts to work with the same budget without cutting teacher pay. Education leaders noted their confusion at Premier Jim Prentice’s remarks last week after he said that his budget “did not propose any deep cuts to education.”
Dirks fired back at school boards this week, reports The Canadian Press. Nineteen school boards across Alberta, which represents two-thirds of all students, said this week the cuts create and intolerable and ultimately self-defeating situation.
“These are school boards, not school banks,” said Dirks, who spoke to reporters in Calgary.
He continued by stating that school boards need to fill in funding gaps with their $460 million savings account holdings.