A rally organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees drew about 85 people Thursday outside Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s constituency office. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

A rally organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees drew about 85 people Thursday outside Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s constituency office. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Rally protests education cuts, COVID response

About 85 people attended a rally outside Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s constituency office

Teachers and other union members rallied in solidarity despite a cold afternoon, all in the cause of defending education.

About 85 people gathered outside Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s constituency office Thursday for a rally organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

They voiced their displeasure with UCP cuts to the education sector, as well as the response to COVID-19 in schools.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman was on hand to support the event, and said from what she’s hearing from teachers, the cuts, combined with the pandemic, are pushing teachers to the brink.

“When students, staff and family members get together to organize, I am so proud to be with them and stand in solidarity. I know a lot of them have been fighting. It’s a cold day, but it’s important that their voices be heard,” she said.

“They’re really concerned about the safety and the lack of priority education has been given in our province.”

Colin Atichison, press secretary for the education minister, said in a statement that the government is doing everything it can to help schools. Aitchison said to date, more than $1 billion in additional funds has been provided to school authorities.

“We remain committed to providing schools with the resources they need to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff and students,” he said.

“That is why, to date, Alberta taxpayers have funded $10 million in PPE for staff and students, including masks, $120 million in increased operational funding, $250 million in accelerated capital maintenance funding, including HVAC and ventilation upgrades, and access to $363 million in taxpayer-funded reserves.”

According to the Alberta Teachers’ Association, cuts made to school board funding this year will be partially restored in the next school year, as a result of a new funding model released with the 2020 provincial budget.

In a July report, the association said school board funding was cut by $126 million for the 2019-20 school year, compared to 2018-19.

It is estimated that school board funding will increase by $118 million in 2020-21, leaving school boards $9 million short of the funding received last year.

In addition, a $72-million fund for cross-ministry supports has also been cut for next year.

The government promised a bridge of $212 million, which could help in the short term, but would leave school boards again facing budget restraints the following year, when the new funding model kicks in.

The new funding model partially funds boards based on the average of enrolment over three years. In the past, the government has used actual student counts to calculate funding.

With student enrolment expected to increase from 646,000 to 674,000 between 2018 and 2021, funding is expected to decrease by about 4.3 per cent per student across the province.