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ATA critical of education spending in Budget ‘24

Posted on March 21, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News

Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) President Jason Schilling has spoken out against education funding announced in the Province’s 2024 budget. 

The budget touts a 4.4 per cent, or $393 million, increase in operating expense to the Education Ministry, for a total of $9.3 billion in spending in 2024-25, and also includes $1.9 billion in capital funding over the next three years for planning, design or construction of new builds or modernization projects for schools in Alberta. 

Budget 2024 also includes over $1.5 billion for learning supports funding to support vulnerable students, children with specialized learning needs, and other students requiring additional supports. 

Schilling spoke with media outlets regarding the 2024 Budget in a Zoom meeting on March 5. 

“We need to reiterate that the starting point for this budget, in our education system here in Alberta, is that we are the lowest funded per student in all of Canada,” and added, “this budget will not change that fact.” 

Schilling said that regardless of the increases outlined in the Province’s budget, “we needed to see an increase of about $400 million, just to move out of last place. We needed to see $1.2 billion (more) in order to be at the Canadian average, and we also needed to see more funding to fix next year’s enrolment growth.” 

According to Schilling, the funding announced in Budget 2024 will not sufficiently support the population growth and increasing student enrolment.

“Budget documents state that in the current school year, student enrolment rose by 28,000 students. The government also projects another 3.6 per cent (increase in) population growth with the next school year. That is another 29,000 students. The idea of 57,000 additional students in our schools in just over two years is astonishing.”

With respect to capital spending on education, Budget 2024 includes $681 million in new funding for 43 priority school projects. The Province indicated this funding will provide “35,000 new and modernized student spaces”.

According to Schilling, “those numbers just don’t add up.”

The increase in operational spending is expected to match the 3.6 per cent increase in population growth, however, this means the increase is not inclusive of inflation or improvements to the current state of emergency conditions. 

Although Budget 2024 does call for a two per cent increase to hire additional teachers, and a three per cent increase to support positions, “these numbers fall short of the student population increase (…) Schools will need to make tough choices, add students to already overcrowded classes and eliminate programs and services for students in order to redeploy staff elsewhere,” Schilling explained. 

Schilling noted that from 2010 to 2025, the student population in Alberta will have increased by 33 per cent. However, “over the same period of time the teaching population has only increased by 15 per cent. The difference in those numbers is equivalent to having less than six thousand fewer teachers than if we kept up with student population.” 

Budget 2024 did however see increases to private school funding, to the tune of $50 million, or a 15 per cent total increase in funding.

The ATA also announced they will be rolling out a new campaign in an effort to educate Albertans on the impact of the Province’s education spending. In addition to a television campaign, the messaging will also be supported by billboards, newspaper ads, radio ads and other modes of digital advertising. 

“We think that it’s critically important that all Albertans understand what has happened in Alberta schools. We want every Albertan to know clearly and understand that despite having the richest economy in the country we have the poorest public education system. And there’s no excusing this – our students and Alberta deserve better,” noted Schilling. 

Despite being the least funded across Canada,  Alberta students consistently rank among the top-performing students in Canada and even internationally, but Schilling said this is not a sufficient reason to excuse underfunding public education. 

“Public education is being carried on the backs of teachers and students and parents right now. We’re seeing a lack of funding to provide supports for students with special needs,” and added, “we’re seeing a lot of issues and concerns that need to be addressed by government that are simply being ignored, the fact that government might be able to say, while you’re performing high, we don’t need to fund education is just simply a falsehood, our students deserve better in this province and government needs to cut the excuses of why they’re not funding education properly.” 

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