January 20th, 2021

Understanding the province’s new school funding model

By Submitted Article on March 4, 2020.

On Thursday, Feb. 28, the Alberta government released Budget 2020. Almost instantly social media became abuzz with both negative and positive comments – comments which can generally be attributed to those who support NDP or UCP ideologies, and a general fear of change and the unknown.

What is evident is that while everyone has an opinion, not everyone’s opinion is based on a thorough understanding of the facts. Online comments make it clear that many do not understand what the numbers actually mean. For instance, the new funding framework reduces the 36 current grants to 15. There were comments such as, “Where will students get the supports they need now?” and “Where can school divisions apply for these grants now?”

The 36 funding sources were not grants in the sense that we needed to apply for them. They were funding envelopes that were automatically provided to school divisions. In fact, Budget 2020’s 15 funding envelopes provide more funding to every school division in Alberta than the 36 funding envelopes from Budget 2019. It is true that those divisions with significant growth may not have the same increase in all funding sources under the new model that they would have received under the old model. But it is also true that funding allocations from the new special-learning supports, social-economic status and geographic funding envelopes may provide more funding in the new model than school divisions may have received under the old model.

We cannot look at just one component of the new model and compare it to the old model. We also cannot make the assumption that every time you have a class of, say, 22 students, and we add one more student to the class, that there will be an increase in expenses. If one was to look at program unit funding, one would quickly realize that Horizon will receive significantly less funding for severe-disability, early-learning students. What is not readily apparent is that the PUF funding is now only for early-learning students, not those in kindergarten. Some parents may assume that this funding no longer exists for kindergarten students when, in fact, the funding is now provided within the specialized learning supports funding without burdensome reporting requirements.

School divisions still have the same mandate of meeting the needs of their students. What Budget 2020 has done is release a new funding framework that provides predictable and sustainable funds – something every school board in Alberta has been requesting from the government for years. Budget 2020 has revamped a 15-year-old funding model that was developed in a different provincial context. It has been so modified over the last 10 years that it no longer equitably meets the needs of all school divisions.

For instance, under the old model, two neighbouring school divisions with the same student count and general demographic may have received a $3-million variance in inclusive learning funding. The new model realigns the playing field, maximizes school division flexibility and empowers locally elected boards to utilize local autonomy in order to prioritize contextual variables and students’ needs in order to meet the needs of their children. For instance, only two of the 15 funding sources are targeted. The rest are totally flexible and can be adjusted based on local context.

The model significantly reduced red tape and reporting, thereby increasing classroom funding, allocates funding in a predictable manner, assures long-term viability of rural schools, fosters collaboration, all while containing costs during fiscal restraint. It may not be perfect, but neither was the old system, and the new system does have some significant advantages.

Wilco Tymensen is the Superintendent of Horizon School Division

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