Alberta student advocacy group calls on province to prioritize K-12 students in Budget 2024

A student advocacy group says there are flaws in Alberta's current public education funding model and as Shilpa Downton reports, they’re calling on the province to prioritize K-12 students in Budget 2024.

There are flaws in Alberta’s current public education funding model, according to a student advocacy group, and they’re calling on the province to prioritize K-12 students in budget 2024.

Wing Li, communications director for Support Our Students Alberta, tells CityNews Alberta is actually “the worst-funded” in the entire country, according to Stats Can data.

“We see that Alberta is dead last according to Stats Canada in per student funding because the pie stayed the same but the number of pieces that need to be given out has increased dramatically,” Li said.

“This legacy of chronic underfunding is just getting worse and worse every year.”

The Alberta Teacher’s Association says 61 per cent of teachers reported having increased class sizes in the 2022/23 school year, with 39 per cent of that group saying there are over 30 students in their classes.

Fifty-seven per cent of teachers state there is a drop in support for students with exceptional needs.

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However, the group has some ideas on where those dollars should be spent, and it starts with the funding formula.

“Lots more students in the system, lots more families migrating to Alberta and that’s changed the structure of classrooms and the funding is not only lagging but it’s deficient cause it’s not keeping up with needs and not keeping up with inflation and population growth at the real-time rate that’s needed,” Li said.

She points to the lack of funding to support the massive enrollment numbers across Alberta schools.

“There’s actually a high school in Calgary that’s rerouting students because they’re at capacity, so students who are in that area for a high school that is relatively big because a high school has so many feeder schools,” Li said.

“Those students I believe are being displaced and having to travel way out of their catchment area because there’s no physical space.”

The Calgary Board of Education says it has seen an enrollment increase of about 4.6 per cent from September 2022 to September 2023.

To help remedy enrollment growth, the Alberta government added $30 million to schools for the 2023/24 school year.

But the ATA said at the time it was not enough, and school boards are missing around $130 million in its budget.

In a statement to CityNews, education minister Demetrios Nicolaides points to budget 2023 when the province provided more than $820 million over three years to school divisions to address enrolment growth.

“This funding may be used to hire additional teachers and classroom support staff, so school authorities can manage class sizes and the growing number of students,” his statement reads.

He says he’s looking forward to continuing to support school choice in budget 2024 and is encouraging Albertans to listen in on Feb. 29 for the budget address.

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