The new United Conservative Party (UCP) government was elected in mid-April on promises to maintain or increase education funding, but until recently, would not say if that included funding for student population growth or not.
Until Minister of Finance Travis Toews answered New Democratic Party (NDP) MLA Sarah Hoffman in the legislature – after the tenth time she asked – that the UCP would fund for student growth, school boards across the province had been detailing necessary cuts. These potential cuts included a predicted $40-million shortfall for the Calgary Board of Education, teachers and aides who would not have jobs, classrooms that would be overcrowded and band classes that would no longer happen. The reality is, even with his vague statement that schools would be funded for growth, boards across the province are still not sure what, exactly, that means.
Rocky View Schools (RVS) anticipates more than 600 new kids entering local schools this fall, which – if funded at the same rate as under former premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government – represents a need for funding in the range of $3 million to support teachers and appropriate class sizes. While RVS is under the assumption the UCP will provide at that same rate, the Calgary board has announced it will proceed with previously-announced cuts, as it isn't aware of the funding it will receive or if that amount will address its funding shortfall.
When I talked about the needs of RVS with a local trustee, it was clear funding for growth was only half of the immediate funding issues faced here, as well. The board expects to lose the $2.7 million Notley previously provided to principals under the Classroom Improvement Fund program, which would have gone to supporting aides, staff and the needs of the classroom. Due to this shortfall, RVS – and our kids – will be losing out on more than 50 staff members that would have enhanced the learning experience.
Further, with Airdrie and Cochrane being two of the fastest growing communities in Alberta, RVS faces a need for one new school in Airdrie each year, and one every two years for the rest of the division. Today, only two schools are likely to be completed, regardless of funding changes. The UCP desires to pursue P3 schools, and the higher costs associated with those is of particular concern for the future of new schools in RVS, and the division's ability to support them.
The board had to have its budget submitted by the end of June, but still don’t know the funding they will be working with. Peter Guthrie, Jason Kenney and the UCP need to step up and provide that information to schools now, not with the fall provincial budget, so school boards don’t incur unexpected overruns and so parents can know, with certainty, what programs and new schools are going to be cut for their children.