'Pure cruelty': Opposition says government cuts to education during pandemic will force layoffs
Published Saturday, March 28, 2020 1:30PM MDT Last Updated Saturday, March 28, 2020 5:48PM MDT
EDMONTON -- The provincial government has temporarily cut funding for K-12 education amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was announced on Saturday.
The government says with in-school classes cancelled for the foreseeable future, funding is being temporarily adjusted to reflect the cost of at-home learning by students.
Funding for transportation and some services not being utilized in an at-home learning environment, such as substitute teachers and educational assistants, is being temporarily reduced.
"Approximately $128 million will be temporarily redirected from school authority funding to Alberta’s COVID-19 response. Staffing impacts will be determined on a school authority-by-authority basis," said a spokesperson for the ministry of education in a written statement. "School authorities will look at the specific funding impact to them, and then determine the best course of action. They will consider how they are delivering at-home learning in their communities and take action based on their own circumstances."
The province says the funding will be restored when in-person classes resume.
But the opposition said the decision will force school districts to lay off support workers during a health crisis. Sarah Hoffman, education critic for the New Democrats said the decision would especially impact special needs students and their families.
"This is pure cruelty," said Sarah Hoffman, NDP Opposition Critic for Education in a news release. "Jason Kenney is doing harm to students with complex needs, their families, and to tens of thousands of Alberta workers."
"What kids need right now is stability and support with their learning at home. Jason Kenney doesn’t seem to care about that."
The NDP says there are 16,000 educational assistants supporting students with complex needs in the province.
The province says any staff impacted by the adjustments will qualify for the federal government’s enhanced employment insurance program and other programs for workers, but opposition MLAs say the EI payments will only pay a fraction of what staff would make if the retained their jobs.
The Edmonton Public School Board said they were planning to introduce new online learning tools for parents this week, and say the decision will impact their ability to do so.
"This decision affects staff and their families and the people that they care for, and it affects all students at Edmonton public schools," said Edmonton Public School Trustee Trisha Estabrooks."I would add that it has added another layer of uncertainty to many, many family’s lives in our city during such a strange and uncertain time."
"While we certainly understand the difficult position the government is in, and realize that funds need to be directed to health and the COVID-19 response, our concern at Edmonton Public Schools does still remain with our students and how we can support them during these very strange and uncertain times," she said.
EPSB doesn’t know yet how many positions will be impacted by the funding cuts.
Edmonton Catholic Schools also released a statement on the cuts.
"Alberta Education’s direction to reduce staff deemed non-essential at this time was difficult news to receive today," said Laura Thibert, Chair of Edmonton Catholic Schools. "Each of our employees is deeply valued and we are doing everything possible to support our staff. We will now begin to identify the impact this news will have on the number of employees affected and are thankful that this will only be a temporary measure until class instruction resumes. These are challenging times as we navigate the new reality of the COVID-19 Pandemic."