The spring sitting of the Alberta legislature opened March 8 with a throne speech that threatened to cut off oil exports to B.C. due to the ongoing dispute over the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Meanwhile, the speech by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell touched on K–12 education in just a few spots, promising that the construction of more new schools will be announced during the next budget year and the school lunch program will be expanded.
On the issue of overall funding for public education, the speech contained one sentence: “We owe it to our students to ensure that funding for education goes where it belongs — the classroom.”
This leaves March 22 as the day that Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery has circled on his calendar, as this is when the government will unveil its budget.
Jeffery is hoping for a budget that helps teachers and the public education system. He said that the message on the budget that he is hearing from teachers consistently relates to three concerns: large class sizes, undersupported inclusion and pay raises.
The Association itself raised the class size issue with a postcard campaign earlier this winter. A recent auditor general’s report also called for action with respect to the class size initiative, after finding the program was lacking accountability and oversight.
“Boards need to be held accountable for the class size dollars they’re presently receiving, but certainly there are more dollars required to address the classrooms across the province,” Jeffery said.
Inclusion is another area in which boards should be required to report how they use available funds, Jeffery said, adding that more funds are also needed.
“We need, desperately, dollars dedicated to inclusion,” Jeffery said. “Students are falling through the cracks based on the class they’re in and their particular needs, which don’t always get fully addressed because of class size.”
When it comes to compensation, teachers have responded loud and clear that they’ve done their part after receiving five zeroes in the past six years.
“It’s evident to everyone in the province that we’ve helped this government out through some tough times, but now that times are improving it’s time for our needs to be addressed,” Jeffery said. ❚
This will be the first legislative session for Jason Kenney, who won a seat in a December byelection after being elected leader of the United Conservative Party in October.