Cutting the budget is compromising the quality of education

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X

In October, the United Conservative Party government released its provincial budget. For kindergarten to Grade 12 education, funding will be frozen at $8.2 billion. This is a problem because enrolment in schools is expected to increase, so teachers must make due with less funding.

Considering the new budget, is Alberta adequately preparing for the future? 

As we all know, education is not cheap. The new budget has presented a situation of uncertainty among students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. It also begs the question: what impact will this cut have on the education system and the quality of education being provided to students? 

Trisha Estabrooks, Edmonton Public Schools board chairwoman, shed some light on this issue. “As a result of the most recent provincial budget,  Edmonton Public Schools is facing a funding shortfall of $34.4 million. This comes as a result of the province’s elimination of three crucial sources of grants to our district, as well as other reductions. While a one-time transitional grant was provided, it made up only about one-third of the funding we lost in the three grants.”

The education budget will be frozen for the next four years. 

“If our funding is frozen while our student enrolment continues to grow, our budget shortfall will grow even more. Our district has a modest surplus to cushion the shortfall, but it will not be enough to make up the shortfall this year, nor will we have surplus for future years.”

Estabrooks explains the school board will take steps to try to alleviate the circumstances.

“Despite the funding reduction, we are not re-opening this year’s school budgets and will continue to operate with the staffing levels and current allocations we planned from the start of the year. Our district will begin with central cost-saving measures to help keep as many dollars in the classroom as possible.”

But when the school board receives the new provincial budget this spring, they will need to re-evaluate their strategy. 

“We’re going to do everything we can to support students. But, together, we’ll have to examine our priorities and support high leverage strategies that are making a difference for kids,” says Estabrooks.

The timing of the budget cut makes it even more difficult to cope with the change. Swift action is needed to deal with such a challenge. 

Estabrooks explains, “As you know, we began the school year without a provincial budget. As such, we had to develop our 2019-2020 budget under a number of assumptions. When the budget was announced in late October, we were able to look more closely at the impact on our own budget and the reductions needed for our district. We will be taking immediate action to find efficiencies and cost savings wherever we can.”

This plan includes a hiring freeze for central departments, a new process requiring approval for hiring staff for new positions, eliminating unnecessary travel or professional development, and reducing spending from the district’s equity fund and external contractors in regards to student assessments.

Although the school board has a plan, if the resources needed to educate our children are significantly reduced, the quality of education will inevitably be compromised. With less money available to hire teachers whilst the student population continues to increase, there will not be enough staff to effectively teach the students. Similarly, if there is a decrease in professional development opportunities, teachers may be less equipped to deliver high quality instruction.

The fact is, education funding is not something you want to freeze or cut. A solid education system is essential to society. After all, according to Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Therefore if our government allocates enough funding to educate our students, we will reap enormous benefits by creating a stronger economy.

Featured Image: Education isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. | Pixabay