Next week is many parents favourite time of year, back to school.
We all spend time and money getting our kids ready to face the year with new school supplies, clothing, and schedules – all things that we feel will give our child the best possible platform on which to have academic, and thus, future life, success. We shepherd them out the door, looking their best and hand them off to rested and ready teachers who will cultivate our children's young minds for around seven hours each day.
It’s a sound system, one that we pay for as taxpayers, through both income and property tax, for our entire adult lives. In 2017, the Government of Alberta spent $44 million each day that students were in school on education. The majority of that money given out in a per-student enrollment grant ($6,679.79 for students in Grade 1 to 9 in 2017/18). Each year the costs rise, and the number of students in Alberta increases yet, in many cases, that per student enrollment grant does not change to account for the increased expenses. The money has to stretch farther, and adjustments have to happen, which may or may not decrease the service level of the education that our kids receive.
As municipal property owners, we have the right to have a say in where our tax dollars are spent. Municipal budgets are prepared and shared each year, are legislated not to be able to run deficits, and are subject to change based on community consultations. We demand high service levels for the money we pay, and if we feel like there are spending issues, we vocalize our concerns (hopefully to our elected officials, but usually to social media). Why don’t we do the same for the tax dollars we spend on education?
I grumble to my husband every time I get a form with another class or field trip fee, secretly wish I could boycott sending copier paper or Kleenex on principle, and choose active transportation options when I can that doesn’t have costs attached. But I don’t remember the last time I inspected a school board’s budget documents, attended a trustee meeting, or questioned anyone on how my education tax dollars were spent. In fact, as a province, we have a high level of apathy when it comes to school boards, especially seen in trustee elections. In the 2007 election, 63 per cent of all trustee positions in Alberta were acclaimed. We seem to worry more about the frequency and content of our household waste pickup than we do about the money spent on our children’s education. The outrage over pipeline access in the province is evident. Would comparing the $44 million that it costs to educate our kids with the $40 million per day the delay in the Trans Mountain pipeline costs us get people more interested?
As citizens, our job is to hold our leaders to account. When it comes to education, the messaging from the education minister is clear that it’s no longer teachers or school boards that have her ear, it is the parents. So, let’s take a hard look at what our local school boards are doing and ensure that classroom conditions and student successes are at the service level that this community of parents, and taxpayers, expect.
Lisa Holmes is a former Morinville mayor and councillor who lives in St. Albert.