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Mixed reviews for new school funding model

Funding to be based on three-year average instead of one-year enrolment counts
sacher, kurt
Kurt Sacher, Chinook's Edge School Division superintendent, said without actually seeing the numbers in today's provincial budget, the initial announcement looked like funding levels were increasing. File photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The provincial government’s new funding model for Alberta’s K-12 education system is getting mixed reviews following its release last week.

Kurt Sacher is the superintendent of the Innisfail-headquartered Chinook’s Edge School Division.

“We want to wait to see the actual numbers in the (Feb. 27) budget because year after year you are typically given a sense of funding being sustained but once go through and pay all the bills, our financial people will say there is a bit of a different reality,” said Sacher.

“With the last budget we ended up with two per cent less than we needed to move forward, so we are expecting a bit of an adjustment this spring.

“It is good to see, at least the initial claim, is that we will have our funding levels increased. So once the dust settles we will check that out (Feb. 27).”

The new model changes the provision of funding from one-year enrolment counts to a moving three-year average, a change the province says will minimize the need for mid-year adjustments. Sacher calls that a good move.

“We really like with the direction they are going is the predictable component of it, so there is a predictable nature to it,” he said.

“That is very similar to our internal school division funding model. How they are going about funding growth is a tempered, thoughtful approach, on the surface, as well.

“We do the same thing as a school division where just because there is X number of kids arriving, doesn’t mean the funding is proportional to that. You want to make sure there is actually a need for more funding and we do that in our division and it looks like they are following suit in the province.”

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says the new model streamlines operations and directs more money to each school division in 2020-21.

“Alberta will continue to have one of the best funding education systems in the country,” LaGrange said. “This new model will drive more money to our school divisions for use in the classroom and provides them with the flexibility they need to meet the unique needs of their students.

“These changes will ensure our divisions continue to be equipped to provide our students with world-class, high quality education.”

Under the new model, the number of school grants will be reduced from 36 to 15, reducing school division reporting obligations, she said.

The new model includes a targeted grant for system administration, unlike the current system of a percentage of all overall funding, which the province says will “standardize administrative and governance spending within a reasonable range.”

It also includes a block-funding model for small rural schools to “ensure long-term viability for these schools where per-student does not provide adequate resources to properly deliver programs and services.”

Specific details of each of the 15 grants and each division’s funding will be released in the Feb. 27 budget and will apply to the 2020-21 school year.

Sarah Hoffman is the official Opposition education critic.

“When Jason Kenney and Adriana LaGrange said they were going to fund education, parents and kids expected there would be more funding for kids in classrooms,” Hoffman said following the announcement of the new model.

“We have proof that there was $136 million less last year and they keep denying that fact. I think it’s really shameful to come here today (Feb. 18) and announce a new formula and not actually show us the formula, not show us any of the numbers, not show us what it means for individual boards.”

Jason Shilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, reportedly said, “Students need funding on Day 1, they don’t need funding two years down the road.”

Lorrie Jess is the president of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA).

“The association is pleased that the government consulted with us on the new assurance and funding framework,” Jess said. “We appreciate that government has released the funding framework, as ASBA requested, in advance of the budget. This allows boards time to review and understand the implications within the context of their local realities.”

The 15 major grants announced under the new model fit into five categories: base instruction, services and support, schools, community, and jurisdiction.

The schools category includes operations and transportation. The province says the new model doesn’t change transportation funding other than removing some of the reporting requirements.