Education explained: Why Alberta's schools are overcrowded
Posted on September 04, 2014 by Greg Clark
As the excitement of the first day of school gives way to the usual routine I've been reflecting on the state of public education in Alberta.
Simply put, public education is less accessible to Albertans than ever before. Many parents are required to spend nearly $500 per student in school fees, busing fees and lunchtime supervision fees. And don't think this is just for those who make a choice to send their kids on the bus; most don't have a choice because they either don't have a school in their neighbourhood or the one they do have is full. Multiply that by two or three or four kids and it becomes a significant burden for many parents.
And what about class sizes and school infrastructure? The situation at my daughters' schools is illuminating. My eldest daughter is in Grade 5 this year and has moved to a new school (her elementary only goes from K-4 because of capacity issues), but this school is nearly full too. How full? So full they need to stagger lunch hours, and the kids only get 15 minutes to eat. The staffing situation isn't great either. Here's a quote from her back-to-school newsletter:
"2014-15 will be a year of increased student number and the same number of teachers as last year which is, again, a reduction of staff."
As a parent that sure doesn't feel right. And neither does the fact my younger daughter's school (the one that only goes from K-4) had to convert the library into classrooms because of a space crunch. That's right; in a province with the vast resources of Alberta we're squeezing kids into library space because we don't have enough schools. I can assure you there are parents and kids out there in similar (or worse) situations. Like the kids in Okotoks who have to take classes in a teachers' lounge.
What the heck is going on? It made me wonder how we got here so I did a bit of digging. It turns out funding hasn't kept pace with the growing number of students, simple as that. Here's a helpful chart that explains the situation. You can find the original here.
That's right, per-student funding has dropped 2.9% over the past four years. If your schools feel full that's because they are.
The blame lies squarely at the feet of our longstanding PC government who obviously don't believe public education is a worthwhile investment. While Alberta continues to fund private education at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country our public schools are bursting at the seams.
While this has been going on the focus has been on building new schools, primarily in newer suburban communities. But who will staff these schools? Will the PC government step up and increase per-student funding or will they continue to rob existing schools to pay for staff in new schools?
We need consistent, predictable funding for education in Alberta. We need our new schools built right now, we need them to be fully staffed and we need the funding required to keep our existing schools from growing out of control.
What we really need is a government that's able to make a long term plan and stick to it. With the PC party changing leaders ever year or two, that's hard to do.
We can do better. It's time for real change in Alberta.