On October 1st, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta chose a new leader and we now have a new premier, Alison Redford. One of her key promises was a pledge to restore the $100 million in Education grants that were cut in the last provincial budget within 10 days of her election.
So questions abound as to when the school boards will see the money, if it will have strings attached as to where to spend it, and most importantly, now that the school year is well underway, where will these new education dollars be spent?
Last year, the province provided an additional $18.6 million in funds to the Calgary Board of Education in July 2010, with explicit directions that it was to be used for teacher and support staff salaries. This came after the CBE 2010-2011 budget had already been approved, which cut 192 classroom teaching positions, used all available reserves, and went into a deficit. CBE administration decided to use the money to eliminate the deficit and contribute back to reserves and reported this to trustees on September 21, 2010. However, the trustees were only given the report for information, not for approval. This “approval” did not take place until December 7, 2010, at which point it was too late to change anything.
Will the same process be repeated this year? Will the administration decide how these new additional funds from the province are to be spent without trustee approval? We hope not. However the CBE decides to allocate these additional funds, we expect transparency and trustee approval beforehand. We also hope that trustees will be proactive in engaging their constituents immediately, to ask how they feel those funds would be best spent.
If you are wondering how much the CBE will receive out of the $100 million that the province will provide to school boards, and what it may be directed towards, the following history may help. At several public meetings, the CBE stated that while an increase of $28 million was provided to cover salary increases, $25 million was cut in other grants. When asked for a breakdown of the cuts, the CBE provided the following (these numbers may be a bit out of date as they were the projected numbers given in March. In the budget presented to trustees in June, the CBE stated that they were budgeting for a $9.1 million increase, not the original projected $3 million):
- $6 million lost in class size initiative funding (The province actually increased the total amount of class size initiative grant from $222 million in budget 2010 to $228 in budget 2011, so we’re not exactly sure why the CBE says that this funding was reduced. As this is not a targeted grant, boards are not required to spend it on reducing class sizes.)
- $3.9 million eliminated in enhanced ESL (The province says that this funding was supposed to be a temporary grant for boards to research efficiencies and best practices in ESL education, however in practice, due to the way it was funded, it was used to provide additional supports for new ESL students who have had very little exposure to English or formal schooling.)
- $6.2 million in relative cost of purchasing goods/services (This was a partial cut and the province said that the entire grant would be eliminated next year.)
- $6.9 million, or 50% reduction in the Alberta Initiative for Student Improvement (this grant is targeted and cannot be used for other purposes, such as hiring classroom teachers)
- $1.2 million in enrollment about threshold growth
- $0.8 million in enrollment above threshold decline (these two grants were eliminated because the “Workforce Planning Enrollment model” has been made available to boards and according to the province, boards should be able to predict and plan for their school enrollments)
- Reduced leasing revenue (Leasing revenue is supposed to be on a cost-recovery basis for maintenance purposes, and should not contribute much, if anything, to general revenues)