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Education, health care among 'range of issues' UCP government asked to address in upcoming Alberta budget

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The head of the association representing 46,000 teachers in Alberta is calling on the province to help with growing classroom sizes and inflation.

"This government is failing the students of Alberta, and they deserve better," Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), told media on Tuesday outside the Alberta legislature.

"Where is the funding for enrolment growth? Where is the funding for inflation? And where is the added funding necessary to repair the damage that has been caused by this government (due to) a lack of funding for so many years?"

A December survey by the ATA of more than 2,000 teachers found 61 per cent of them reported increased class sizes this year compared to the year before.

Thirty-nine per cent of them reported having more than 30 students, with class sizes averaging 32-37 students.

The survey also said roughly half of teachers are waiting months -- even up to a year -- for students' specialized assessments.

"Parents to wait 12 months to get the assessments they need in order to enhanced their learning and their supports at school - the government should be ashamed of that fact," Schilling said.

The call from the ATA for more government education funding comes a little more than a week before Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner is slated to deliver the province's budget for the upcoming year.

Despite estimates the UCP government will end the current fiscal year with a surplus of more than $5 billion, demands on the province are growing.

Education isn't the only sector calling for cash. Alberta's official Opposition says major investments are needed to save what they call an underfunded and understaffed health-care system.

"The number one thing the UCP needs to address in budget next week is how they plan to fix the mess they have created in health care and ensure we have the funding in place to address infrastructure and staffing shortages," Shannon Phillips, the Alberta NDP's critic for finance, told media on Tuesday.

That call is being echoed by the Alberta Medical Association, which wants to see stabilization funding provided to family doctors immediately as well as a new payment model.

How much the province has to spend comes down to one thing, says University of Calgary Economist Trevor Tombe: the price of crude oil.

"No other factor matters more for the government's bottom line than oil prices," Tombe told CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday.

He says the province's sensitivity to oil prices is increasing rapidly.

"Each dollar for the coming fiscal year will be worth about $750 million to the Government of Alberta," Tombe said.

At last estimate, the province projected a $2.1-billion surplus next year, a surplus that could be wiped out completely by a $3 change in the price of oil.

Horner was not available for a pre-budget interview, but in a statement to CTV News Edmonton, he says he heard from a range of Albertans during budget town halls on a range of issues, including education, health care and wildfires.

“Their input reinforced our priority of saving for the future and providing targeted supports to those who need them now," Horner said in the statement.

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