Ventilation improvement projects, new school construction and modernizations, and targeted funding to support students experiencing academic challenges were included in Thursday’s provincial budget.
The province said the 2022 budget includes more than $700 million over the next three years to give students the resources and supports to overcome setbacks due to the pandemic and build their knowledge and skills.
“Moving forward, Alberta’s education system will continue to be well-funded and provide an amazing education for all students in all corners of the province,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange in a statement.
The three-year capital plan supports funding of $1.5 billion for school projects, including 15 projects for the construction of new schools, modernizations and design work.
Ventilation improvement projects will be supported with $13 million in 2022-23 for the School Safe Indoor Air initiative.
NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are not cheap so $13 million won’t go very far.
“I bet you Red Deer Public could spend that easily to improve the air quality in their older schools,” Hoffman said.
“We know that there’s been such huge gaps, especially over the last two years, in the type of significant investment that would make life better for a lot of kids and the adults that work with them. (The budget) definitely doesn’t put students first.”
She said Alberta is fortunate to have its natural resources, and the oil and gas revenue belongs to all Albertans, including those six-year-olds.
The budget contains $47 million over three years in capital funding and $25 million over three years in operating funding to expand charter schools and the collegiate model.
Hoffman said the UPC government is taking money out of all school budgets to give back to targeted populations like those in private schools.
“We in Canada are really proud to have strong public education and health care systems. When you nickle and dime it, you take away from systems that serve all kids.”
The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) agreed that the expansion of charter schools is privatization of education, which removes funds from the 93 per cent of students who attend public education.
The ATA said at first glance the budget seems to provide an increase to education funding, but it’s insufficient to provide meaningful repairs to teaching and learning conditions damaged by cuts.
“This budget is proof that when government revenue is low, kids get cuts — but when the province is experiencing economic growth, kids continue to be left behind,” said ATA president Jason Schilling in a statement.
The ATA said Alberta’s public education system has been one of the lowest-funded systems in the country — and that was before three years of cuts. A 1.7 per cent increase in operational funding will not keep pace with inflation and student population growth.