After 15 years and $3.4 billion in class size reduction grants, a recent review by Alberta Education concluded that the additional funding has had little or no effect in bringing class sizes down to government recommended levels, especially in the K–3 grades.
“The 2019 Class Size Initiative Review was not a true audit of the problem facing our classrooms,” said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. “It served more as a political position paper to justify the government’s cancellation of class size funding in the fall budget.”
No new information
The review points to school boards’ autonomy over fund allocation as the cause of the funding’s ineffectiveness — the money wasn’t being put where it was needed. Schilling says the large class sizes that are still being experienced are merely a symptom of a much larger problem facing public education: chronic underfunding. He says the review itself was ineffective.
“Unfortunately, the 2019 Class Size Initiative Review merely regurgitates information that’s already available to the public. It failed to dig into the root of the problem,” said Schilling.
He maintained that underfunding in other key areas, such as maintenance, transportation, ESL, supports for special needs and plant operations, is the real reason class sizes continue to grow.
“Cash earmarked for class reduction is often redirected by school boards to shore up other underfunded basic needs. As a result, students continue to be stuffed into larger classes,” said Schilling. “Removal of the class size funding altogether will only aggravate the problem.”
Funding and accountability
Schilling said the only solution to the persistent problem of oversized classrooms, especially in the crucial K–3 grades, is to increase total funding for public education and introduce a form of accountability into the system that would ensure school boards are using the funds for the purpose they were intended.
While class size averages for grades 4–12 appear to have met the recommended levels, it must be taken into account that those numbers are merely averages. There still is a problem with oversized classes at higher grade levels, which are offset by smaller student populations elsewhere.
The Class Size Initiative was the result of a recommendation from Alberta’s Commission on Learning (ACOL). It was introduced during the 2004/05 school year and resulted in the immediate hiring of 1,250 teachers. To date, an estimated 2,900 teachers have been hired and/or retained as part of the initiative. ❚