Construction dollars to build a new middle school in Penhold, design funding for a new elementary Catholic school in Blackfalds, planning funding to modernize Stettler Middle School, and pre-planning funding for a public middle school in Red Deer were part of Alberta Education’s infrastructure 2023-24 budget.
On Wednesday Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced $2.3 billion over the next three years for new and modernized classrooms as part of the new provincial budget.
The 58 projects for 2023-24 include 13 construction projects, 20 design, 14 planning and 11 pre-planning projects to create 9,400 new spaces for students and more than 15,500 upgraded spaces for students.
Chinook’s Edge School Division said construction of its Penhold school will hopefully begin in early fall, south of Penhold Crossing Secondary School, and is expected to take two years to complete.
“The community of Penhold is growing, and a new school in Penhold will help us address capacity challenges,” said Holly Bilton, Chinook’s Edge School Board chair, in a statement.
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools said Blackfalds has seen tremendous growth. The utilization rate at St. Gregory the Great Catholic School, the division’s pre-kindergarten to Grade 9 school, is at 122 per cent. Open spaces and common areas at the school have been repurposed as additional classrooms, and modulars were added in November.
Anne Marie Watson, Red Deer Catholic board chair, said the aim is for design work to be completed to have construction dollars announced in the 2024 budget and the school opened by September 2026.
“While this is an aggressive timeline, the need for this school is well-documented. Blackfalds is one of Alberta’s fastest growing communities and home to a high population of young families,” Watson said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the provincial budget included nearly $2 billion more in education funding over the next three years.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said there have never been cuts to the provincial education operating budget as long as she’s been education minister.
“I started in 2019 with an $8.223-billion budget. This current year we’re at $8.4 billion. In the 23-24 year that will actually grow to $8.8 billion. Over the course of the next three years that will grow,” LaGrange said.
School jurisdictions will find out this month exactly what the provincial budget will mean for them.
“However, the news of an $1.8 billion increase over three years for education across the province is welcomed news. We look forward to hearing how this additional funding will directly affect Red Deer Public Schools in the coming weeks,” said Red Deer Public Schools in a statement.
“Some things are promising but until we see those details we don’t know the actual impact it will have on the division’s overall budget,” said Shawn Russell, superintendent of corporate services at Chinook’s Edge.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association called the increase to education funding significant but ATA president Jason Schilling said it’s sad that schools have to wait for an election year when oil prices are high to get the funding they need.
Support Our Students said the UCP’s 2023 Budget tosses minimal surplus spending at public education which is struggling from years of strain.
“The real winners of this budget are private and charter schools. There is new funding for private school transportation and new charter school construction. Public schools educate the public for the public good while charter and private schools are exclusive entities that lack oversight and transparency in educating the select few,” said the advocacy group.
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