Local education advocates are stressing the need for public education funding following the release of Alberta’s 2020 budget on Thursday.
St. Albert school divisions will be determining in the coming weeks how the budget will impact their bottom line in the upcoming year. The overall government funding for education remains the same as it was in 2019, with operating funding to school divisions going slightly up and grant money going down. Operating funding to school divisions will go up from $6.7 to $6.8 billion, while grant funding numbers had yet to be released at press time.
Glenys Edwards, chair for the St. Albert Public School board, said they will be digging into the budget further to see what it means for their district.
“As a board, our message to the provincial government continues to consistently be that we need to maximize funding to public education,” Edwards said.
School divisions will increasingly have to rely on their own sources of funding and reserves to offset the cut imposed last fall. October’s 2019 budget saw St. Albert Public cut by $2.9 million that year, with an anticipated $4.6-million cut in 2020, while Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools had their funding slashed $2.5 million, with another $3.6-million cut expected this year.
“Teachers are understandably concerned about their future and the future of their students,” said Ellen Snaith, president of the Local 73 teachers’ union which represents St. Albert Public teachers.
The last budget released by the provincial government left local teachers dismayed by the realities teachers and students would be facing in the classrooms, Snaith said.
As the budget was announced Thursday afternoon, thousands of people rallied outside the Alberta Legislature in support of education funding, health care and public sector workers, waving protest signs.
Snaith said several St. Albert teachers attended the rally to support education.
“I think it is imperative that all of us support public education because our educational system would be decimated without public education. There are kids out there who depend on us to give them an excellent education,” Snaith said.
Part of the funding plan for provincial education relies on school boards spending their savings and then starting to raise their own funds in the next few years through options like renting out their facilities.
“We do expect school boards will spend down their reserves between now and the end of August … and in the two (next) years they will be raising some additional in-source revenue, but that does not offset any provincial funding to the school boards,” provincial Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
School boards will find out in the coming days what their grant funding looks like, but the government is consolidating the number of education grants from 36 to 15. The budget notes that reduction in grant numbers will not affect overall funding levels.
The Ministry of Education forecasts operating expenses of $8.3 billion, up $100 million from last year as school jurisdictions use their own-source revenue and reserves. Government of Alberta funding remains the same as last year and will not increase to match enrolment growth.
“We know we can deliver in a more efficient manner,” Toews said.
Last week, the province released a new funding model for school divisions. The new model bases 20 per cent of funding on the previous year’s enrolment, 30 per cent on current enrolment and 50 per cent on projected enrolment for the coming year.
School boards will now know their funding allocations in the spring rather than the fall, allowing them a few months to prepare for the upcoming school year.
Prior to the budget release, Greater St. Albert Catholic board chair Joe Becigneul said the board would be keeping a close eye on what unfolded Thursday. Becigneul was not immediately available to comment before press time.
2020 operating funding for school divisions (not inclusive of grants)
St. Albert Public: $81.4 million, up from $80.4 million last year;
Greater St. Albert Catholic: $57.1 million, up from $56.5 million last year;
Sturgeon School Division: $63.3 million, up from $62.7 million last year;
Greater North Central Francophone Education Region: $47.8 million, up from $45.7 million last year.