Cuts to full-day kindergarten at some Edmonton Catholic schools

“There’s something off in a formula that disincentivizes growth in a system in a province that wants to encourage growth and wants to support growth.”

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Fast-growing city schools continue to take hits with the UCP government’s weighted moving average school funding formula as several Catholic schools in Edmonton are shuttering full-day kindergarten and pre-kinder programs. 

The weighted moving average had a devastating impact on the Edmonton Catholic School Division’s (ECSD) 2024-2025 budget passed last week, eliminating full-day kindergarten at several campuses and sinking the district into operating deficit.

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“Kindergarten with full-day programming and 100 Voices (pre-kindergarten) are not part of the (province’s) K-12 funding model. In the past, our division has been able to stretch our funding to provide these early interventions for our youngest learners,” said ECSD superintendent Lynette Anderson.

“We have had to make some difficult decisions in preparing this budget. This includes reducing the number of locations offering kindergarten with full-day programming and 100 Voices.”

Population boom

As the province’s population booms, with an expected enrolment swelling to a record 50,476 students — the first time it has tipped over the 50,000 mark — the division is projecting 5.7 per cent growth.

Alberta Education grant funding rates are not currently adjusted annually to cover increasing inflationary operational costs experienced by school divisions.

About 2,000 students will be unfunded in the 2024-2025 school year, said Edmonton Catholic School Board (ECSB) chair Sandra Palazzo.

“We have had to rely on our accumulated surplus from operations in order to balance our budget for the past few years. This is not sustainable, but it is necessary to accommodate enrolment growth, support inclusive education, manage inflation, and implement the new curriculum,” she said.

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The weighted moving average (WMA) is not resulting in the stability and predictability it was intended to create, Palazzo said.

“We have grown by almost 10 per cent in the past two years. We conservatively estimate that the WMA model has reduced our funding by about $14 million compared to per-pupil funding.

“For every increase of 100 students this school year, we only receive 50 per cent of normal funding. In the following school year, we would receive 80 per cent of normal funding. A new student is, therefore, not fully funded until their third year,” she said.

The WMA model is skewed in favour of districts experiencing little or diminished growth.

“What that means is that if you are not growing, it’s not a big hit. But the more students you get, the less able a division can staff appropriately and meet its needs. For the upcoming school year, we estimate the equivalent of approximately 2,000 ECSD students will be unfunded. In times of significant growth, we feel we should return to per-pupil funding.”

Last fall’s supplemental enrolment growth grant served as a funding equalizer of sorts, but a significant student funding gap remains, she said.

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“Our board of trustees continues to advocate for the return to per-pupil funding. This would allow us to better manage the demands of a rapidly growing population.”

Trustee Terry Harris agrees. 

“There’s something off in a formula that disincentivizes growth in a system in a province that wants to encourage growth and wants to support growth,” Harris said.

ECSD forecasts total revenues of $595 million and expenditures of $609 million.

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Pain of the weighted moving average

This is ECSD’s fifth budget based on Alberta Education’s WMA funding model, which was first announced in February 2020.

The WMA calculates funding based on enrolment averages of the prior three years.

In addition to shearing away red tape by halving the grants, Alberta Education promised it would “enable school boards to plan and budget with confidence, rather than waiting for student counts to be established after the school year has already begun.”

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When introduced in 2020, the formula was touted as “maintain(ing) the overall funding envelope established in Budget 2019 until 2023/24.”

But within that envelope, growing student populations and inflation are putting the squeeze on school districts.

At budget time this spring, Premier Danielle Smith touted a provincial budget increase of 4.4 per cent in education spending province-wide for a total of $9.3 billion to K-12 schools as the biggest budget spend ever for public education in Alberta.

There were no grant funding rate increases and no inflationary relief in those numbers.

Statistics Canada data showed operational expenditures in Alberta totalled $11,601 per student in the 2020-’21 school year, putting Alberta last in the country, with the Canadian average set around $13,332 per student.

For 2024-2025, the ECSD will pull $12 million from its accumulated surplus from operations (ASO).

The division has consistently worked to identify efficiencies wherever possible to ensure that it delivers quality Catholic education while addressing a difficult landscape, a release from the ECSD said.

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ECSD has allocated 2.6 per cent for system administration, which remains below Alberta Education’s ceiling of 3.2 per cent for system administration expenditures.

The approved ECSD 2024-2025 budget will now be sent to Alberta Education.

Edmonton public schools grapples with formula

School funding province-wide is taking a beating from compounding inflation under the current formula.

Last week, Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) trustees voted unanimously to seek signatures from school boards around the province for an emergency letter to the province.

A position statement resolving provincial funding should flex with inflation will be brought to the province’s 61 districts at the Alberta School Board Association’s spring general meeting on June 3.

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