CANMORE— A Freedom of Information request by the Alberta Teachers’ Association has uncovered documents that indicate school boards in the province will be receiving $136 million less in funding this school year.
The Canadian Rockies Public School Division has seen cuts totaling 5.1 per cent for a total loss of $1,015,000 in funding.
Alberta Teachers’ Association spokesperson Jason Schilling said that he was concerned when the organization received the requested documents because it indicates that cuts to education have taken place. He added that it was an especially alarming discovery because this is information that has traditionally been available in the budget.
“The government keeps saying they’re maintaining the budget moving forward, but they have not accommodated for growth,” Schilling said, adding that the provincial government has denied that there were cuts to public education when the initial budget was released at the end of 2019.
Teachers were not surprised by the reduced funding numbers, he added, because they have seen class sizes grow, supports cut and faced lay-offs or reductions of teaching time.
“We’re once again asking teachers to do more with less,” Schilling said. “It makes me wonder whether or not the government is serious about funding public education in the future.”
He added that if the budget does not take the growth of attendance numbers into account, class sizes will increase and supports for parents and students will be diminished as "hard decisions" are made in regards to where funds will be allocated.
“Education is supposed to be for every child and every student in this province,” Schilling said. “I don’t think we grow the prosperity of Alberta by shortchanging the future of our students in school now.”
Schilling has sat on the Alberta Teachers’ Association provincial executive council for the past 10 years and has never seen this type of action against public education in that time.
School divisions have been able to cover the funding shortfall this year with their reserves, he said, but that will not be possible for the 2020-21 school year.
“My fear is that we are going to see more lay-offs come in the fall,” Schilling said.
He added that while the provincial government has discussed a new funding model for public education, he has yet to see any information. It is important to know details for both urban and rural schools, but in certain areas schools could potentially be shut down.
“That uncertainty is felt by everybody,” Schilling said. “Stability is really key when it comes to good public education.”
As of now, the government has indicated that the current budget model will be maintained for the next three years.
Sarah Hoffman, NDP Official opposition Critic for Education and MLA for Edmonton-Glenora, said it is frustrating that the provincial government has continued to mislead Albertans about public education funding.
“These are government documents that prove that five per cent was cut from Canadian Rockies [Public School Division],” she said. “They keep saying that education funding has been maintained or increased and that’s simply not true.”
Hoffman said that she thinks the budget needs to be maintained and increased to ensure that students can receive the best education possible.
Echoing Schilling's concerns on cuts to education, Hoffman added that these funding changes could also result in reduced bussing and mental health support for students.
“I want to make sure that our kids can come to school and focus on reading and writing— to make sure that can happen, they need to have supports around them," Hoffman said.
The numbers presented by the documents are “old news”, Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin said in an email, because Canadian Rockies Public School has adjusted to lower funding levels dictated by the budget “without issue.”
Rosin urged the NDP to move away from “fear-mongering” and wait for the release of the next government budget on Feb. 27 for updated numbers.
“I speak with their superintendent [Christopher MacPhee] on a regular basis and he has absolutely assured me that he has “no concerns” with funding at this time,” Rosin said. “[He] is feeling optimistic about the next government budget.”
MacPhee supported Rosin's statements in an email adding that this information has been available since October 2019. MacPhee described the documents of "old news being rehashed and being misinterpreted."
He said that Canadian Rockies Public School is focused on the new budget for the 2020-21 school year.
"We are hopeful that the newly announced release date, Feb. 27th (two weeks time), for the 2020-2021 budget will recognize the funding levels required to support rural school divisions in Alberta," MacPhee said.