Alberta solidifies funding for new schools

With a newly announced budget of 2.1 billion dollars, the Alberta government has committed to advancing 43 priority school projects in the province, including 18 new schools in Calgary. Henna Saeed explores if this will solve the problems in the system.

Schools across the province have seen record enrolment this year, as Alberta’s population continues to steadily climb.

Now, one day after releasing the 2024 budget, the province is outlining the details of new school construction in growing communities.

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides announced Friday $381 million from Budget 2024 to move 43 priority school projects forward this year.

He says 28 of those will be new schools in Alberta’s fastest-growing communities.

“Of the 35,000 new spaces that will be created under this plan, over 80 per cent of those spaces will be in Calgary and Edmonton,” Nicolaides said.

Calgary, along with three other communities in southern Alberta, will be seeing new schools that are fully funded for construction through Budget 2024.

“We are grateful to receive full construction funding for our top priority projects — a new high school in the southeast community of Rangeview, and a K-9 school in Chestermere,” said Calgary Catholic School District board chair Shannon Cook. “We are also grateful for design funding for a new elementary school in the northeast community of Redstone and a new west Calgary high school.”

The CBE is also slated for full funding to construct a K-4 school in the community of Evanston.

Meanwhile, Edmonton is slated for five new schools, including a new grade 7 to 12 school in Glenridding Heights- in southwest Edmonton, which has seen high demand for classroom spaces. One parent told CityNews his kids go to different schools because of capacity restrictions.

“It’s a little bit difficult getting into schools of choice. My kids, one of them goes to Stratford Elementary, they have a [inaudible] program, and we couldn’t get the other two in.”

An additional 5 schools were granted design funding, and another 3 Edmonton schools were given planning funding.

“For the new grade 7-12 school in Glenridding, in that area of Edmonton is welcomed news. It will add 2,400 much-needed student spaces in an area of the city that desperately needs it,” said Julie Kusiek, board chair of the Edmonton Public Schools Board.

Other schools are slated for construction in Chestermere, Cochrane, and Airdrie.

Pete Guthrie, Minister of Infrastructure, acknowledged the significant growth across the province and says creating learning spaces is a top priority.

“Infrastructure projects such as the 44 newly approved schools in Budget ’24 and the almost 100 now ongoing across the province, support jobs and enhance our communities,” he said.

Wing Li with Support Our Students Alberta says the budget falls short and will still see Alberta students funded the least in the country.

“Overall, we’re not keeping pace with population, inflation,” she said.

The Opposition NDP agreed, saying that the UCP’s plan won’t meet Alberta’s high demand for learning spaces.

“With record enrolment of 28,000 new students this year in Alberta, the UCP’s budget will not address overcrowding in schools because they are only building one-third of what is needed,” Calgary-Beddington MLA and education critic Amanda Chapman, said in a statement. “The Premier admitted today the demand for classroom space is way more than she’s committed to build.

“Our population is exploding, the diverse needs of students is already a crisis in our classrooms and all kids need safe spaces in our schools, especially as they arrive from war-torn regions of the globe,” she continued. “There is nothing in this budget to address these challenges right now.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association also says the announcement misses the mark.

“The class size crunch needs to be solved now, not years from now,” said president Jason Schilling, in part. “Of the 43 projects announced today, only 12 have construction funding attached. It will be years before these projects are completed. While we are always encouraged to see these important capital investments in public education, it’s operational funding that hires the teachers and provides the programs, supports, and resources kids need to learn.

“Alberta’s operational funding is the lowest in Canada and the failure of yesterday’s budget to keep up with enrolment growth and rising costs for school boards means programs will be cut, classes will grow, and supports will erode — these things are happening now, not four years from now,” he continued.

Schillings added, “Private schools received an increase of 13.5 per cent in funding, whereas public education sees an increase of 4.4 per cent in funding. It’s not enough to address growth, it’s not enough to address cracks in the system and the pressures that teachers are facing right now.”

Kusiek pointing to a number of challenges schools are facing including accessibility restrictions, and some schools operating at 100 per cent capacity.

“The demand for new schools, as well ad modernization is clear.”

Kusiek says the Edmonton Public Schools Board believes it will need 50 new schools to accommodate growth over the next decade.

-With files from Laura Krause

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