Central Alberta school boards are anxious for more details on how Alberta Education will maintain the $8.2-billion provincial education budget, while at the same time, increase funding to school boards.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced a new funding model for education that reduces the number of funding grants to 15 from 36, bases funding on a three-year enrolment average instead of yearly enrolment, and creates a targeted grant for administration instead of a percentage of overall funding.
“While the minister confirmed that all school boards will receive more money this year, this still raises challenges for Red Deer Public Schools and other school jurisdictions,” said Nicole Buchanan, school board chair with Red Deer Public Schools.
“To fund this year’s shortfall in funding of over $4 million, Red Deer Public had to utilize reserves, find efficiencies, and utilize a one-time opportunity to use funding designated for infrastructure, maintenance and renewal to support instruction and cover our deficit.”
LaGrange said efficiencies, containing red tape and changes to administration funding will make more money available to school divisions.
“While I can’t get into specific numbers today, what I can say is this — because our new model streamlines operations, and pushes more dollars to school boards, every school board in this province will see an increase in funding for the upcoming school year,” said LaGrange, MLA for Red Deer-North, during the announcement.
Financial details to school boards will be provided after the provincial budget is released Feb. 27.
The minister said the model provides predictable, stable funding that gives school boards more autonomy and flexibility.
“We heard loud and clear that 36 grant envelopes and all the reporting, and administration that go along with them, it was much too much. This onerous reporting limited a board’s ability to direct dollars to where they felt it was most needed in their communities and created way too much red tape,” LaGrange said.
Kurt Sacher, Chinook’s Edge School Division superintendent, said it’s difficult to comment on the new funding model without more details.
“From our point of view, really what we’re waiting for, and what we are most curious about, is next week, when the numbers move into the columns and we can make sense of them,” Sacher said.
“Overall, we’re very optimistic and hoping it all plays out really well.”
He said using the funding formula to calculate a three-year enrolment average means there will be a bit of a buffer for schools with declining enrolment, and the general direction of the new model makes sense in this particular economic climate.
Buchanan said for many years, school boards have been asking for improvements, and the government has responded to the input boards provided during consultations. Time will tell how well the system works, she said.
“In the end, we are pleased the new funding framework addresses flaws in the previous system. We believe we are on a better path with the new model,” Buchanan said.