Emergency resolution by trustees seeks signatures by Alberta school divisions over provincial funding shortfalls

In Edmonton alone, Premier Danielle Smith’s new “weighted moving average” formula in this year’s budget falls $27 million short, to the tune of 4,002 students — about the same as the population of four schools

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Edmonton school trustees voted unanimously to seek signatures from school boards around the province for an emergency letter to the province over an ever-thinning education budget.

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

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School funding province-wide is taking a beating from compounding inflation under the current formula, the board at Edmonton Public Schools heard in a long meeting Tuesday.

“The grant funding rates are not currently adjusted annually to cover increasing inflationary operational costs experienced by school divisions,” Trustee Dawn Hancock said as she presented the resolution crafted by the board’s issues and resolutions committee.

In Edmonton alone, Premier Danielle Smith’s new “weighted moving average” formula in this year’s budget falls $27 million short, to the tune of 4,002 students — about the same as the population of four schools.

That leaves school divisions around the province with hard choices. Considering the average Alberta revenue per student, it would come closer to the $40 million-$45 million range, by Edmonton Public Schools estimates.

At budget time this spring, 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.

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

Envelope tightens

The weighted moving average calculates funding based on enrolment averages of the prior three years.

In addition to shearing away red tape by halving the grants, it was meant to “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.”

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

Prior to the UCP government’s “weighted moving average,” the per-student amount that was allocated to divisions was relatively stable.

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 at $13,332 per student.

Edmonton schools feel the weight of soaring enrolment amid an influx of newcomers to the province.

The division’s projected student body for 2024-2025 is 120,224 pupils, adding 5,996 students — a 5.2 per cent increase over September 2023 enrolment.

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But the “weighted moving average” funds Edmonton Public Schools based on an enrolment of 111,803 students.

Edmonton’s projected 2024-2025 operational funding of $1.17 billion includes an increase of $48.8 million — 4.4 per cent more than the 2023-2024 school year — based on an increase in projected enrolment using the weighted moving average, with no room for inflation.

The preliminary total budgeted revenue for the district of $1.34 billion will be patched up in part with funds from the division’s rapidly dwindling “surplus.”

Expected increases to Edmonton Public Shools benefit rates include dental coverage (12 per cent), extended health care (10 per cent) and workers’ compensation (23 per cent). The additional $16 million will be borne by schools and central administration.

Over five years, insurance costs are up 75 per cent, sewer and water costs are up 51 per cent, natural gas is up 50 per cent and electricity is up 66 per cent.

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“The compounding impact is resulting in an erosion of purchasing power available to classroom instruction. Alberta’s increase in population is resulting in growing enrollment and classroom complexity. More funds are needed for instruction, not less,” Hancock said.

Tuesday’s resolution goes to the Alberta School Board Association next week.

“The Alberta School Board Association advocates that annually, when Alberta inflation rates are rising, the Government of Alberta increases all grant funding rates proportionately to mitigate the impacts of compounding inflationary operational costs, and in declining inflation, no annual adjustment is made to the grant funding rates,” it states.

Trustee Trisha Estabrooks said she expects great interest in the motion.

“Although we have our very clear stats that show how it’s impacted us, anecdotally we hear from rural school divisions who are in a similar position,” she said.

Match mandates to funding

An example of the tension between provincial funding and the provincial mandate was found elsewhere in the meeting around provincial standards, specifically for centres for special education.

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There’s been no formal correspondence for when schools can expect new standards to update those set 20 years ago, superintendent Darrel Robertson said.

“Historically, the government introduced or reinforced through their formal documentation the notion of inclusion. There has been lots of conversations over the years about what that looks like and how that can be achieved given funding levels,” he said.

Vice-chair Trustee Jan Sawyer said it’s important the standards get updated, because “with updated standards should come updated funding to support those students,” Sawyer said.

Trustee Saadiq Sumar moved the board of trustees write to the minister of education requesting a timeline for an update to standards for special education, including when consultation with stakeholders will be held.

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