The spring session of the 30th legislature began in February. Here is a summary of the education-related discussions that took place in recent weeks.
School construction capital plan and Calgary
March 15—Sarah Hoffman (NDP—Edmonton-Glenora) asked Education Minister Adriana LaGrange why Calgary’s largest districts aren’t receiving new schools in this year’s budget. LaGrange answered that there are six projects underway in Calgary that will create 5,000 student spaces. Hoffman noted that Red Deer has received two schools while Calgary students are forced into long commutes. LaGrange concluded by stating that projects are selected using Alberta Education’s advice based on enrolment pressure, health and safety, and legal commitments.
LGBTQ2S+ student supports
March 15—Janis Irwin (NDP—Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) asked Education Minister Adriana LaGrange if she will stand up for Red Deer’s LGBTQ2S+ community and advocate for the importance of pride week in schools. Irwin noted that the Red Deer Public school board announced it will not reconsider its decision to offer a “diversity week” rather than a pride week. LaGrange answered that she believes in local autonomy and that question is best directed at the board. She added that all schools have to be welcoming and safe and the Education Act contains some of the strongest legislation to protect LGBTQ2S+ students. Irwin continued by asking if the minster would commit to ensuring LGBTQ2S+ perspectives are not erased from her curriculum rewrite. LaGrange referenced the ministerial order on student learning, to pledge that “every student will see themselves included and reflected in the curriculum.”
Teachers’ retirement fund management
March 16—Christina Gray (NDP—Edmonton-Millwoods) asked Finance Minister Travis Toews when teachers will be shown the respect that they deserve and if he will grant them control back over teachers’ pensions. Toews answered that the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF) continues to manage the ATRF pension and the changes made by amalgamating the investment function under AIMCo will serve teachers and Alberta taxpayers well.
Gray asked why the minister went back on his word with the Dec. 23 ministerial order that imposed an investment management agreement. Toews stated “In December I implemented a temporary investment management agreement between the two parties so that ATRF and AIMCo can continue to move forward to pull assets over and get on with the business of investing those assets in the best interest of Alberta teachers and Alberta taxpayers.” He added that he is hopeful that ATRF and AIMCo will form a new agreement which will then supersede the one that was implemented.
He concluded by stating that this decision will “result in lower costs in administering the investment strategies. That will result in better returns for teachers, and better returns for Alberta taxpayers.”
Education budget and curriculum redesign
March 17—Sarah Hoffman (NDP—Edmonton-Glenora) asked Education Minister Adriana LaGrange why she did not budget any new money to help teachers and students with the new curriculum. LaGrange answered that “We intend to make this rollout of the new curriculum very successful with the proper professional development, with the proper resources. I’ve indicated it is not coming out of the classroom. It is actually coming out of my budget. It has been allocated in my budget, and I look forward to more information when I’m able to roll out the curriculum.”
Hoffman noted that the minister’s own budget shows that the line item where curriculum is supposed to be funded from is cut from this year’s spending. LaGrange said that in estimates she was able to show very clearly from budget to budget that there was an increase in the education department’s spending.
COVID-19 in schools
March 22—Sarah Hoffman (NDP—Edmonton-Glenora) asked Premier Jason Kenney why the government hasn’t done more to support safe schools, noting that more than 1,400 students in Calgary’s Central Memorial High School are being forced to learn online until at least after spring break due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Kenney responded that hundreds of millions of dollars for resources, materials, equipment, masks, etc. have been provided and the NDP is promoting fear and hysteria.
Hoffman continued by asking if the government would prioritize the use of rapid tests for COVID-19 in schools to help curb the spread. Kenney said government has invested significantly to support school boards and administrators to keep their kids safe and that less than a small fraction of one per cent of the 700,000 students in Alberta have been affected by in-classroom or in-school transmission. ❚