Question: I was hired under the Classroom Improvement Fund program last year. Will the program continue next year?
Answer: The short answer is that funding will be continued in 2018/19, but there will be some significant changes to the way the program is administered.
The Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF) was introduced for 2017/18 as part of the first central table collective agreement between the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association. The government provided $75 million across the province with the stipulation that individual school boards and teachers’ representatives (i.e., the bargaining unit’s Teacher Welfare Committee) would agree on how the funds would be expended. In contrast, the 2018/19 continuation of the CIF is outside the scope of the collective agreement and, as a result, government has a free hand to modify the program, funding for which will increase by $2 million to $77 million, reflecting anticipated growth in student numbers.
Education Minister David Eggen has been very clear in stating his belief that the best way of improving classrooms is to have more teachers, aides and support staff working directly with students. Accordingly, on Friday, May 11, 2018, the Association and superintendents received further information about changes to the program, where it was made clear that the priority is to use the funds “to improve the student experience in the classroom.” The memo went on to state that “[f]or the 2018–19 school year, school boards are encouraged to prioritize the retention of staff hired with 2017–18 CIF funding.”
Beyond this, the fund could also be used for the “hiring of additional teaching and non-teaching staff” and for “initiatives that enhance supports for students with complex learning needs and English language learners.”
Even though the CIF 2018/19 is no longer provided for under a collective agreement, the government still expects school boards to consult with teachers concerning the use of the funds.
“School jurisdictions are encouraged to collaborate with their teachers to develop CIF grant proposals through the establishment of a committee with teacher representatives to decide on allocation of grant funding,” the memo states.
To be clear, though, formal teacher signoff is not a requirement and, as CIF 2018/19 is not part of collective bargaining, bargaining unit Teacher Welfare Committees should not involve themselves in whatever consultation process does take place.
All CIF 2018/19 proposals will have to be submitted for approval to Alberta Education, and school boards will have to demonstrate that their proposals are compliant with the new objectives set out for the program and document how teachers were consulted and how priorities were identified. As well, a process for holding boards accountable for the use of the funds is laid out.
While not perhaps ideal, the government’s plan for implementing CIF 2018/19 does reflect teachers’ priorities and will help to carve out room in board budgets to maintain staff who were hired in the first CIF round.
The main difficulty with the program is that it is woefully insufficient to address longstanding concerns about classroom conditions, including large class sizes, inadequate support for inclusion and growing classroom complexity. Addressing that problem is one of the Association’s priorities in advocacy and in collective bargaining. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (firstname.lastname@example.org).