06/11/2013 03:06 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Edmonton Education Cuts Protest Attended By Over 500 Students

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EDMONTON - About 500 high school students skipped class Tuesday to protest education funding in the Alberta capital.

The students, many of them transported to the legislature by unions, listened to speeches and to music from a rock band under sunny skies over the lunch hour.

Some waved protest signs that read "Taking Back Our Education" while some splashed around in the wading pool and a few brought skateboards.

Organizers said it's time to call attention to years of underfunding that is sapping the education system of its vital resources.

"We are here to prove that we have a voice," organizer Hayden Weir, a Grade 12 student, told the crowd.

"And that we are willing to shout our voice loud enough to be heard above the bureaucracy and political battles to ensure that our education is not placed in harm's way," he said to cheers.

The Alberta government actually increased funding to grade-school education by three per cent this budget year to $7 billion, but it has been forced to scale back some programs to pay for new students.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman told the students that Premier Alison Redford's government suffers from misplaced priorities.

"We need the biggest investment in education from childhood to post-secondary in Alberta history, not the biggest cut," said Sherman.

NDP education critic Deron Bilous led the students in a chant of "Stop the cuts!"

"The cuts that this PC government is putting in by forcing schools to have fewer teachers, larger class sizes (and) fewer supports is shameful," Bilous told them.

"They are taking this province in the wrong direction."

No one from Redford's Conservative government spoke at the rally.

Kim Capstick, spokesman for Education Minister Jeff Johnson, said the province is committed to education, but has to find money to fund 11,000 new students next year.

"School boards did see some cuts to some programs that were not directly impacting kids, but that was so we could fully fund 11,000 new students," said Capstick.

Of the protesters, she said: "We would have preferred they not skip school to be here, (but) we're certainly glad to see that they're engaged."

Weir said it makes a stronger statement to hold the rally on a school day.

"We're trying as students to make years ahead of schooling better," he said. "You miss one day, but your message goes out for the weeks and years ahead."

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