Put money in schools now
In the year since Alison Redford became Alberta’s premier, she has been long on promises.
But it’s crunch time now — and the crunch is being felt in a number of areas, not the least of which is education.
So it’s time to turn promises into action.
In fairness, Redford did step up immediately after winning the Progressive Conservative Party leadership last fall and restored $107 million in education funding that had been stripped by her predecessor.
“There’s no doubt that some of the decisions that were made earlier this year with respect to funding were unfortunate,” she said last October. “You will know that school boards felt that that had an impact on their operational budget.” Hundreds of layoffs were averted.
But education funding remains inadequate, and Alberta schools are still feeling the pinch, even with the restored funding.
Never mind the continuing classroom crisis in overcrowded schools, which will only be marginally improved by the long overdue construction of new schools in the region.
The Red Deer Public School District is beginning discussions today on how to reduce a $1.4-million deficit, which otherwise would be funded by reserves. The board’s budget is $110 million, and the reserve pool is not bottomless.
Last spring, the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools board of trustees passed a $77.8-million budget, with a $503,000 deficit. Again, reserves were tapped to make up the shortfall.
Redford’s tenure has been an oft-interrupted one, first by the election in late April.
The winter legislative session was brief in order to allow for campaigning (and really, the winter legislative session was about campaigning).
And the truncated spring session was skimpy in order for MLAs to enjoy their summers, spend provincial money at the Olympic Games in London and elsewhere, and generally tread water.
But summer is over and serious matters await.
So Redford’s government has returned to the business of governing this province, and the premier and her caucus have plenty of pressing matters to plow through.
Fulfilling promises about the value of education would be a good way to start as the government heads into its first full sitting since Redford took the helm a year ago.
The legislative agenda apparently includes a new Education Act (it was introduced twice before, but not passed; this version hopefully has the kinks worked out).
But we also need a model for funding that is both generous and entrenched.
Redford campaigned on a platform of sustainable planning and funding, in a number of areas, including schools.
“It’s going to be about education,” she said in one spring campaign stop in Red Deer in which she listed priorities and talked about defining Alberta’s future.
She told the Advocate editorial board, earlier in the spring, that “We will be planning ahead for 20 or 30 years with respect to infrastructure and social policy.”
She told the annual premier’s dinner this fall in Red Deer that her government will focus on strengthening families and communities (read: schools).
And she sent Education Minister Jeff Johnson to Red Deer in late September, where he met with local school officials.
All of this suggests that if there is not a plan to bolster education in Alberta, there at least is some intent.
But Albertans shouldn’t be required to wait any longer.
It’s time for action, and the crisis in school funding would be a good place to start.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.