The association representing Alberta’s 61 school boards acknowledges restraint was expected in the 2015/16 education budget, but fears the direction taken by government may mean school boards across the province will struggle to meet the needs and expectations of schools, students, parents and their communities. “We are very concerned about the impact this budget will have on students,” said ASBA President Helen Clease.
While the education budget included some small funding increases in specialized areas, the Alberta Government failed – for the fourth year in a row – to increase the per student grant. “Increasing the per student grant is the most equitable way to meet the often complex and diverse needs of students. We are very disappointed that did not happen,” said Clease.
A revenue increase fully committed to front-line teachers, and an average of 2.7% decrease for all other costs, means school boards may be hard-pressed to maintain its current programs and supports. “We are encouraging school boards to crunch the numbers, and talk with students, teachers, parents and the community about impacts and options. Whatever those decisions are, we want to make sure we put students first,” said Clease.
“Each school board will need to take time to review the specifics of this budget and consider the impact to their jurisdiction. School boards are locally elected to represent the interests of their communities and are best positioned to act on those needs. Most importantly, school boards are responsible for providing students with excellent educational opportunities – this budget does nothing to change that commitment, and we are confident Boards will make the best decisions for their students, parents and communities.”
Clease also expressed displeasure with government’s changes to school board reserves. Most of the reserves have already been earmarked for specific needs that were identified by school boards and their communities, like renewing technology or classroom resources. Forcing school boards to use reserves for basic operating needs may mean students will have to wait for these supports and resources.
She said the ASBA was encouraged by the Government of Alberta’s plans to go ahead with its school construction and modernization commitments. She also said a 10-year plan to remove energy resource volatility from operational revenues should allow for sustainable, predictable, and stable funding for public education in the future. “Alberta’s students are relying on us to provide excellent educational opportunities – regardless of the price of oil. Stability and sustainability in funding to support the system is essential to providing that commitment,” said Clease.
“School boards will rise to the challenge and ensure every student has the best learning opportunities available to them.”