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Edmonton school boards welcome temporary change to funding formula, but want permanent fix for growing populations

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The Alberta government announced on Tuesday $30 million more for schools, which some say isn't enough to keep up with the growth they're undergoing.

For the 2023-24 school year, the government is changing how it funds higher-than-expected school population growth.

As soon as December, school boards will receive $1,500 for the first 100 students they enrol beyond their original budget projection and $2,000 for every student after 100.

The funding will be delivered through the supplemental enrolment growth grant, which previously only considered school authorities eligible for extra dollars once they reached a growth rate of two per cent.

"We're on track to see 2,600 additional educational staff, including teachers, be recruited by our school divisions, so parents will be able to see that and I think that's the direct, tangible effect," Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said during a news conference at Holy Child Catholic Elementary School in Edmonton.

According to Edmonton Catholic Schools' math, the change means it will receive $1.9 million more than it would have under the old formula.

"It is going to make a difference," board chair Sandra Palazzo confirmed to reporters at the news conference, saying the altered formula better accommodates unexpected growth.

Yet the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) called the amount "a mere drop in the bucket" after years of underfunding, as well as unsupported since Alberta stopped collecting class size data in 2019.

The ATA was disappointed to see a private bill by Calgary NDP MLA Amanda Chapman to resume class size reporting defeated in the legislature on Monday.

Chapman and the NDP accused the United Conservative government of avoiding accountability. The ATA said the government's logic doesn't make sense.

"It's the government saying, 'There's nothing to see here; maybe we don't have an issue,' on a Monday, and then on Tuesday, make an announcement for putting more funding into place because class sizes are growing. So how do they know class sizes are growing? They're not collecting the data," ATA president Jason Schilling told CTV News Calgary on Tuesday.

He said class sizes, the variety of supports that students need, and Alberta's new elementary curriculum have left teachers under a lot of pressure.

According to Palazzo, in more than one third of Edmonton's Catholic schools, "every space is being utilized."

"Including our learning commons and in some cases even our staff rooms," she noted.

She said the division could use three more schools today. It had counted nearly 47,800 students by the end of September, a 5.5-per cent increase over 2022.

The Catholic division's 2024-27 capital plan says it needs to start work on seven new schools in the first year of the plan, and four more in each of the following two years, to avoid "significant overcrowding."

"We're hoping capital announcements will be made soon and that will be able to alleviate some of the concerns that we're currently experiencing," Palazzo said.

"We're working through that. Hope to have more to say when Budget 2024 is released," Nicolaides told reporters.

Twice the size of the Catholic division, Edmonton Public Schools anticipates it will receive $5 million more than it would have under the original supplemental growth formula. Its student body grew 5.3 per cent over 2022-23.

In a statement, board chair Julie Kusiek said the public school division was grateful for the additional funding and called Tuesday's announcement "recognition" the funding model was not working well.

However, Edmonton Public Schools and the ATA criticize the three-year weighted moving average Alberta uses to fund schools as disadvantageous to faster-growing school boards.

Kusiek added, "We look forward to seeing the impact of this change and continuing the dialogue with the provincial government about improvements to the funding formula.”

Demetrios has not committed to reviewing the three-year weighted moving average funding formula.

The NDP's education critic Rakhi Pancholi said Demetrios' vote against Chapman's bill was a sign the UCP government is "not interested" in addressing systemic challenges.

"If we had had that transparency with that [class size] data, there's no way that the government could have gone for three years with a flat education funding model where they basically did not increase funding at all because they would have seen that data to know that the class sizes were growing bigger and the needs in those classrooms are higher," Pancholi said, speaking at the Alberta legislature Tuesday.

Demetrios said he voted against Chapman's bill because it also called for a nine-person panel to deliver a report within two years to the education minister with recommendations about class sizes, programming, and funding formulas – which he said was too long a timeline to take action.

He also recalled that an audit during the NDP's reign found class sizes did not shrink in the early 2000s and 2010s when reporting was mandatory and the NDP government was trying to reduce class sizes.

With files from CTV News Calgary's Mark Villani and CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson 

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