Documents obtained from the government via a freedom of information request show that education funding for 2019/20 has been cut by $136 million.
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Government funding claims contradicted by documents obtained by freedom of information request
School boards are slated to receive $136 million less funding for the 2019/20 school year, compared to 2018/19, according to documents obtained by the Alberta Teachers’ Association under a freedom of information (FOIP) request.
This is despite repeated assurances from the government that it had maintained funding for K–12 education.
When the UCP government released its first budget in the fall of 2019, it included funding profiles that outlined what each school board can expect to receive in the current school year but excluded the actual financials from the previous year — information that is normally found within the school jurisdiction funding profiles.
“By forcing us to FOIP this data, I’m convinced the government did not want the public to know the extent of education cuts,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.
The premier and other government officials have “painstakingly attempted to argue that operational funding has been maintained” while pointing to the government budget document that uses a March 30 year-end to obscure the impact on school boards, which use August 30 as their year end, Schilling said.
Just three days before the budget was released, Finance Minister Travis Toews said in the legislature that, “We were very transparent in our platform during the election that we were not going to cut K–12 education funding.”
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was quoted in the legislature on October 23, stating, “We’ve been very clear that there are no cuts to education.”
With the release of these documents, Schilling says such pronouncements have been debunked.
In an emailed statement responding to the FOIP release, Alberta Education Press Secretary Colin Aitchison reiterated the government’s pledge.
“We have honoured our commitments to Albertans and maintained education funding at $8.223 billion, equal to last year’s budget, and the base instruction rate for each student remains the same,” read the statement.
The school-year impacts differed from board to board depending on their specific demographics. Two boards, Northland and Palliser, received increases in overall funding, and three more boards received almost the same amount of funding: Northern Gateway, Pembina Hills and Livingstone Range. The remaining 56 school boards received funding cuts ranging from 0.4 per cent to as much as 5.4 per cent.
In the 2019 provincial budget, base instructional funding was maintained at $6,680 per student for K–9 students, but other grants, such as the Class Size Initiative, Classroom Improvement Fund, and School and Transportation Fees Reduction Grant were eliminated. The total of cut grants amounted to $428 million, with some of the funds being repurposed to cover the costs of enrolment growth and to fund a $153 million transition grant. The net result, just revealed by the ATA’s FOIP request, is the reduction of $136 million for the 2019/20 school year.
This $136 million cut amounts to a total two per cent reduction in funding to school boards. When combined with a projected 13,000 student enrolment increase, the funding cut is equivalent to $441 — about four per cent — less per pupil.
The government will introduce Budget 2020 on Feb. 27, two days after the spring session of the legislature resumes with a speech from the throne. The budget will include a new funding framework for K–12 education.
The full set of FOIPed documents, a summary of the data and other quotes from government officials are posted to the ATA website, under News and Info > News Releases. ❚