Alberta education to spend extra $30M to ease enrolment pressures

Alberta education to spend extra M to ease enrolment pressures

NDP education critic Rakhi Pancholi told reporters in the legislature the $30-million top-up won’t go very far

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Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says an extra $30 million will help address ballooning K-12 enrolment, but some critics say the top up doesn’t go far enough to fix funding shortfalls.

Nicolaides announced Tuesday the UCP is expanding its supplemental enrolment growth grant so that all school boards experiencing an uptick can get additional funding starting in December — up to $2,000 per additional student — amid an “unprecedented” number of new students entering the education system.

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“Our school boards and other partners will be able to have the resources and support they need to ensure our students continue to receive a world class education,” said Nicolaides.

Sandra Palazzo, board chairwoman at Edmonton Catholic Schools, said at the government news conference the division anticipates getting $5.1 million from the grant — or $1.9 million more than expected.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

Edmonton Public Schools board chairwoman Julie Kusiek said in a statement to Postmedia the division is grateful for $5 million in additional funding, which will bring its total supplemental enrolment growth grant to $11.7 million.

“This announcement is recognition the previous formula did not work well for divisions like Edmonton Public Schools, which adds about 5,000 students each year. We look forward to seeing the impact of this change and continuing the dialogue with the provincial government about improvements to the funding formula,” she said.

‘This funding model is a failure’: NDP critic

February’s provincial budget increased K-12 education funding by 5.2 per cent — providing $8.8 billion for 2023-24. Nicolaides said the province was on track to add 2,600 more educational staff including teachers.

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NDP education critic Rakhi Pancholi told reporters in the legislature the $30-million top-up won’t go very far, and only demonstrates why the province’s weighted moving average funding formula — a 2020 policy that counts student enrolment over three years — needs to be scrapped.

“This funding model is a failure. In the meantime, announcing additional dollars, which isn’t a significant amount of money, partway through the school year — you can’t build new schools with that,” said Pancholi.

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said in a statement Tuesday any new funding is welcome, but the injection of cash doesn’t go far enough.

“This announcement does not even stop the situation from getting worse,” said Schilling, estimating that school boards are short $135 million this year.

It comes after the UCP used its majority in the legislature to kill a private member’s bill from NDP MLA Amanda Chapman. That legislation sought to bring back province-wide public reporting of class size data, a practice that stopped in 2019 under the UCP.

It would have also launched a provincial commission to update recommendations that date back to 2003, helping set new government standards on class sizes and composition.

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Pancholi said class size data would provide accountability and transparency, and force the government to address funding shortfalls.

“They’re not interested in doing the hard work of actually improving outcomes for students and classrooms, they’re interested in the short term Band-Aid fixes that aren’t going to address the systemic problems.”

Nicolaides said class size reporting didn’t result in smaller class sizes for well over a decade, and recommendations from a committee, taking years to roll out, wouldn’t address urgent challenges. He said he believes parents will be able to see a “direct, tangible effect” of more resources going towards students.

As of the end of September, Edmonton Catholic’s enrolment was 47,775 students — a 5.5 per cent increase — or 2,497 additional students compared to last September. Palazzo noted that 39 per cent — or 36 of Edmonton Catholic’s 92 school buildings — are full or overcapacity.

Edmonton Public Schools saw 115,176 students register for the current school year, which it said is an increase of more than 5,800 students over last year, or more than five per cent.

Since 2019, Edmonton public has continued to share yearly data that shows many class sizes in core subjects continue to creep upwards.

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