Towards the end of September, significant media attention was given to a report I had requested with regard to the budget implications of potential funding cuts, freezes or staff reductions.
Harmful rhetoric has been circulating from political parties, corporate think tanks and candidates for public office. I asked Edmonton Public Schools staff about the impact these cuts might have on our district, and what the impact would be if the rhetoric became reality. The response is posted on the EPSB website (http://bit.ly/EPSBScenarios), and I encourage you to read it and reflect on it. More importantly, I want you to urge your own school board trustees to conduct a similar scenario planning analysis for your district.
Politicians must be held accountable and realize that cuts to the education budget provincially mean damaging education quality. No school would be spared from local job losses; they would affect frontline staff in classrooms across the province. The teachers, support staff, custodians and maintenance workers students depend on would be impacted.
While I was provided the EPSB ledger, I expect the drastic cuts would look the same across any one of the province’s 61 school boards. Due to declining enrolment and populations in rural communities, I expect the impact on students there would look even worse.
Aside from potentially thousands of job losses across Alberta, there would be a devastating impact to students and student achievement. Every dollar in education contributes to supporting students and what they need to be successful in our schools — appropriate class sizes, supports for special needs students and students who are falling behind, enrichment programs and activities for students who need to be challenged.
School boards are struggling with enrolment growth, classroom complexity and student diversity. When I talk to parents and teachers, it is clear that more funding is needed for public education, not less.
Over the last decade, we’ve barely recovered from the Klein cutbacks of the 1990s. Recently, I heard about a school that is asking parents to use fundraising money to pay for a bike rack for kids to bike to school. Large class sizes are but one symptom of underfunding.
Education cuts now would be devastating. If we want to actually make things better for our students, staff and families, it is time for investment, not cutbacks. Per capita growth funding only provides a school the same funding for the same inadequate status quo in the face of increasing complexity and challenges.
I want this to serve as a call to action: It is time for all of us to get political. As a trustee, I would not be doing my job effectively if I didn’t highlight the investment in the future of our prosperity that is an excellent public education system.
If you care about public education, now is the time to get political.
I’m not telling you to get partisan or join a particular party, but rather to get involved in the politics of education: in your coffee shop, at your playground, at your ATA local and in your community. If you are tired of hearing “do more with less” and of watching your school buildings go another year without much-needed repairs, now is the time to get political.
Too many teachers for too long have been too comfortable in Alberta. Joining a political party is important, but building a social movement around high-quality public education for all is the only path to lasting change.
The time has come to be bold. Let’s stop talking about how it could be worse, and let’s start talking about how to make it better. We need quality improvement in class sizes, diversity/high needs classroom support, early learning (junior and senior kindergarten), and more mental health supports.
Now is the time to spend more, not less, on education. Enough talk about cuts or balancing the budget by making cuts to education. We need to sell the opportunity for an incredible educational journey that awaits the young people of Alberta. As the wealthiest province in Canada, we should demand no less. Heed the advice of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
As supporters of students, what should we do? Please send me an email (email@example.com) and let me know how we can work together to continue to invest in a public education system that we can all be proud of. ❚
Michael Janz represents southwest Edmonton on the Edmonton Public School Board.