In Alberta, it could be classified as one of the great mysteries of the universe: into what black hole has more than $3 billion in funding for reduced class sizes disappeared?
In 2004, the provincial government implemented the Class Size Initiative and began doling out the aforementioned funds to school boards for the purpose of reducing class sizes across all grade levels. The initiative morphed over the years, and by 2011/12, its scope included only grades K–3.
Many issues with the Class Size Initiative were highlighted in the February 2018 report of the province’s auditor general. The most disappointing and disturbing was that the average K–3 class in Alberta had grown to 20-plus students despite funding to reduce the average to 17. Billions spent and only larger classrooms to show for it.
Education Minister David Eggen made a step toward addressing this unacceptable situation earlier this month.
Minister Eggen announced that by January 15, 2019, school boards must report to Alberta Education how they have spent the Class Size Initiative funding provided to them in 2018/19. Reporting must be by school and show, for each one, their overall planned spending on class size reduction, allocated funding by grade division and the number of teachers planned to be hired or retained for the school year.
Reporting for the 2018/19 school year won’t uncover the mystery of previously lost billions, but having school boards report their spending is a solid first step towards achieving some level of accountability to education stakeholders, including teachers, the Association and parents. When the information is made available on the government’s open-data portal, we will be able to see what action schools have taken to achieve the smaller class sizes that are so beneficial to those in the early grades.
The minister hasn’t outlined what steps he plans to take once the reports are in — understandable, as the data will require analysis before any strategies to move forward can be developed. It is quite likely that information gleaned from the reports will help the province identify where class-size pressure points exist and, through comparisons with budgets in previous years, help reveal areas where there are funding shortfalls.
Ideally, having school boards report their Class Size Initiative spending will lead to achieving the outcome desired by the Alberta Commission on Learning 15 long years ago: K–3 classrooms with no more than 17 students in them. ❚
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