ALBERTA

Alberta Budget 2013 A Dismal Blow To Teachers And Students, Educators Say

03/08/2013 01:33 EST | Updated 03/08/2013 01:40 EST
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Alberta educators were left dismayed by Thursday's budget, after the government pulled out of previous promises to increase basic funding for school boards, including money for grants and teacher raises.

The 2013 budget marks the end of funding for two grants - close to $63 million worth - and does not allot money for teacher salary increases.

Finance Minister Doug Horner told the Edmonton Journal teachers should not be surprised by the lack of increases in the budget, as the province has long warned there would be no money for salary hikes.

“I don’t know how I could have been more clear in saying there is no new money built into the budget for salaries,’ said Horner.

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Highlights Of The Alberta 2013-14 Budget

“When you look at comparative numbers from across Canada on a market-based perspective, we have the highest paid teachers and highest paid doctors in the country."

Horner announced funding for the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) would be suspended - to the disappointment of school board officials.

“This is going to be a very difficult budget year for us to operate in. Many, many, many of our crucial funding grants have either been eliminated, decreased or not moved at all,” Edmonton Catholic School Board vice-chair Debbie Engel told the Journal.

The AISI, which operated on $80 million per year before it was slashed in half two years ago, will no longer see funding beyond April 1.

“Some of the problems I see is that we’re going to have to do some contractions right away. As of April 1st, we’re no longer going to receive funding for Alberta school improvement, or for compensation we’re given when fuel costs go up; and that alone will cost our district $3 million for the remainder of the school year,” Jaqui Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards Association, told Global Calgary.

“Moving forward,” Hansen added, “money that we get for maintaining our buildings already isn’t adequate, and that’s going to be cut further.”

Grants to help school districts pay for bus fuel were eliminated in the budget, as well as cuts to English as a second language funding.

Edmonton Public School Board chair Sarah Hoffman told the Journal they will have to dig deep to find the $3 million needed to replace money lost to grant cuts.

“So that’s going to have a real impact on our district’s budget. We’re going to do everything we can to try to minimize the impacts on students but it’s not a great situation right now,” Hoffman said.

Calgary Catholic School Board chair Mary Martin said cuts to English as second language grants will mean students left behind.

A previous move by the government saw the suspension of an enhanced second language grant. Combined with yesterday's announcement, foreign students will now only be covered for their first five years in the school system, as opposed to the previous seven years.

"That's sort of a double barrel hit that this vulnerable group of learners has taken. And that's what concerns us," Martin told the Calgary Herald.

Additionally, budget officials announced 51 full-time cuts in education, with more to come.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) is already predicting teacher layoffs, reports the Herald.

The CBE expects to have its funding cut one per cent to an estimated $938 million, but with a two per cent increase in student enrollment, some are wondering if the cuts are too deep.

"It's hard to see how that won't negatively impact children," Jeff Bowes, president of the Calgary Association of School and Parent Council, told the Herald.

Total funding for school board will not be set until the fall, when enrollment number are known, but Education Minister Jeff Johnson told the Herald the province expects school board to find savings and wants school districts to cut their administration budgets.

"I realize that all these boards are in a tough spot," Johnson said.

The budget, however, does deliver on a previous $2.4 billion promise to build 50 new schools and upgrade 70 others. Where those schools will be built won't be announced until later this spring, and it is like those upgrades will take five or six years, as opposed to a previously estimated four years.

According to the budget, the education sector will receive $63 million in funding this fiscal year, with a previously promised $440 million coming over the next two years.