St. Albert school board officials were celebrating this week after the new premier announced she would overturn some major proposed cuts to school spending.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Education Minister David Eggen announced Thursday that the province would both fund new student enrolment this fall and overturn cuts to various education grants that had been proposed by the Prentice government.
Notley also said that her government would provide boards with the cash needed to support a planned two-per-cent raise for teachers – something the Prentice budget also included.
“Our government is committed to investing in our children’s education,” said Eggen in a letter to school board chairs provided to the Gazette.
“We recognize the challenges faced by school boards due to the growing student population, and will ensure school boards have the resources to respond to the increasing complexity of the classroom.”
Prior to the recent provincial election, the Prentice government tabled a budget that proposed to cut school grants for transportation, inclusive education, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, eliminate some 244 support positions, and not fund the 12,000 new students expected to enrol in Alberta schools this fall.
In a rare move last April, 19 Alberta school boards representing about 65 per cent of Alberta’s students held a joint protest of the cuts.
St. Albert Public board chair Cheryl Dumont warned that boards would have to go into deficit to support new students. Other board chairs said the cuts would mean fewer supports for disabled, aboriginal, and English-as-a-second-language students, and that they would have to shutter newly-built schools due to a lack of cash for the teachers and students in them.
These cuts were really dangerous, as they targeted the most vulnerable of students and reduced their chances of success, said St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud.
“Why would you go after the students who require the most support?”
St. Albert school boards will likely feel some relief at this decision, Renaud said – a move her party promised to make during the election campaign.
This decision was great news for St. Albert Public Schools, Dumont said. They’re expecting about 300 more students this fall, and would have been short about $2 million had the province not funded them.
“We’re extremely happy this decision has been made.”
Dumont said she was also excited to hear that Eggen would no longer require boards to get his ministry’s permission to tap into their reserves – something that his predecessor had required.
“We don’t have to look for approval to spend our reserves as we see best for our students and our community,” she said.
“Now, there’s more flexibility.”
Greater St. Albert Catholic doesn’t expect to see an increase in enrolment this fall, so it isn’t affected as much by Thursday’s announcement, said Catholic superintendent David Keohane.
Still, he was ecstatic that funding for aboriginal students had been restored. Every one of the district’s aboriginal students graduated last year, and that was due to concentrated mentorship and assistance programs for them.
“That’s a resource factor,” he said of those supports. More cash here would mean more support for aboriginal students.
Thursday’s announcement adds $103 million to the education budget. Renaud said she wasn’t sure where this cash would come from, as she wasn’t directly involved in the province’s budget discussions.
Notley said that her government would table the details of this new spending in June as part of an interim supply measure.