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Demand for funding to help disabled students higher than anticipated

Alberta Education increases funding
FILE - Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced more funding for schools to increase access to specialized supports and services to help students with disabilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta Education has more than doubled funding for students who are blind, deaf or have severe difficulty communicating after underestimating the demand for resources last fall.

On Wednesday, funding jumped to $5 million from $1.8 million for 2022-23 to increase access to specialized supports for students who need highly specialized and expensive technology and services.

Wolf Creek Public Schools superintendent Tim De Ruyck said when jurisdictions were initially alerted to the funding last fall, Wolf Creek applied and received $66,641 to help about 68 students who would qualify. Now the division is waiting for more details on how the $3.2 million will be distributed.

“‘We’re thinking that we’ll see some additional funding, but we’re waiting for further information from the province,” De Ruyck said.

He said the funding will certainly be helpful to access equipment and specialists.


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Students who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or those with complex communication needs, account for about one per cent of Alberta’s student population, or about 7,500 students.

“We’ve been lobbying government and advocating on behalf of students and our members to see increases to funding especially for our students that have special needs. I think this is a good step in the right direction for sure,” said Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers’ Association president.

But he said it’s unclear if the funding will be ongoing.

“We’ve seen this happen in the past where you get an increase to one time-funding and it’s not there the year after. But the students’ needs don’t magically disappear. They still need this support moving forward,” Schilling said.

Emily Peckham, Alberta Education press secretary, said it’s the first time the funding has been allocated and future funding will be determined through the budget process as required. The funding is intended to supplement existing grant funding for specialized learning support.

Marilyn Dennis, president of the Alberta School Boards Association, said school boards have consistently said they need more funding for these students, and the new funding is appreciated. But red tape could be minimized by including it in the base funding school boards receive so they can exercise their autonomy and use funding where it’s needed most.

“In particular this school year there have been a number of additional grants that have been made available to school divisions to apply for. Certainly we have appreciated the additional grant funding. We would just prefer that it would find it’s way into the base funding,” Dennis said.


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NDP MLA David Eggen said $5 million is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the $2 billion dollars that the UCP underspent in the education budget over the past two years.

“In fact, the UCP cut funding for students with complex needs, namely that provided through the Program Unit Funding (PUF). As a result, hundreds of students lost access to support staff like educational assistants, speech language pathologists, and occupational therapists,” said Eggen in a statement.

He said there are also 1,000 fewer teachers in Alberta classrooms than when the NDP was in government.

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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