By Lethbridge Herald on February 18, 2020.
The Alberta government unveiled a new funding model for the province’s schools on Tuesday, but local school boards remain in the dark as to what this funding model will mean to urban school divisions particularly.
Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange announced the government would no longer be funding school boards on a per student, annual basis, but rather on a three-year weighted average of the student population of each particular school division instead.
According to an example provided by the government, a hypothetical school board with 6,058 students in year one when the three-year average is measured is maybe projected to decline to 5,791 students by year three. Under the new formula, that school board would still receive funding for 5,889 students over and above the 5,791 projected based on their three-year average. So that school board would benefit with funding for 92 students more than their actual enrolment projections.
In a growing school division like the Lethbridge School Division the new formula may have the opposite effect.
Again according to the example provided by the province Tuesday, a hypothetical school division with 16,438 students in year one could be projected to grow to 16,734 students by the third year. Due to the new formula’s weighted average, that growing school division would only receive enough funding for 16,601 students; so 133 less funding than their projected need.
When challenged on this point, LaGrange stated she felt the funding model was “equitable,” but provided no numbers to back this up. She said the numbers would be out on Feb. 28 after the Alberta spring budget passes.
She also said by consolidating the current available grants from 36 to 15 school boards would gain more money in the 2020-21 school year.
Again, LaGrange did not release any budget details as to how this would be accomplished as Education funding in the province will remain flat in 2020-21 at $8.223 billion. She suggested it would be accomplished because the new funding model would reduce red tape and reduce administrative costs.
“The bottom line to school divisions: every single school division will actually receive more funding in the 2020-2021 school year because of the efficiencies, the containment of red tape and administrative (savings),” she said.
When asked if the new funding model and grant consolidations would make up for the $5 million cut from the Lethbridge School Division’s budget taken by the province out of its Class Size Grant this year, LaGrange stated there had been no cuts to Education as the budget had remained flat at $8.223 billion in 2019-20 and will remain flat at the same rate in 2020-21.
LaGrange’s statement does not reflect his school division’s experience, said Lethbridge School Division board chair Clark Bosch, when asked if he felt like his division had experienced a cut.
“Most certainly, I feel like we have had a cut,” Bosch emphasized, contradicting the minister’s statement. “In the fall we used some reserves, and we didn’t make any changes to the way we deliver our (services) this year. We took it out of reserves. We had $5.1 million less than we had the year before. We ended up with about $3.1 million we had to find to balance in mid-year.
“When you look at the huge picture overall in the whole province, and the funding is the same,” he stated, “that doesn’t mean everybody’s funding is the same.”
Flat budgets also do not account for inflation or enrolment growth, he explained, essentially amounting to a backdoor cut on their own.
Bosch was not certain what the new three-year weighted-moving-average (WMA) funding formula would mean going forward for Lethbridge School Division as no financial details were included in the minister’s announcement on Tuesday.
LaGrange stated the new system evens out the “ebbs and flows of increases and decreases across the system” and allows school boards to have greater funding certainty when setting their budgets for the year. School boards want sustainable and predictable funding above all else, she said, referencing her own experience as a former school board trustee, and stated she felt this type of (WMA) formula would accomplish that.
“They (school boards) want to know early on what their allocations will be rather than waiting to Sept. 30,” LaGrange stated. “They can make informed decisions for their whole system knowing that these are the dollars they will have.”
Bosch said he would agree with the minister, but also would add one important condition school boards also expect.
“The word that is left out a lot is ‘adequate’,” he said. “The hope is the funding will cover the responsibilities we have, which are very important. So saying it is consistent and predictable is not the same as saying it is consistent, predictable and adequate in my books.”
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