Why growth funding for education is so important

At yesterday’s Edmonton Public School Board meeting, we were presented with a report detailing the effects of cuts or freezes to education in the province. The scenarios presented in the report were hypothetical. There are no announced funding freezes or cuts. And while some are questioning the reasoning for contemplating scenarios that are hypothetical, I believe that the board is making public what every good board of governance does, which is to plan for any potential scenario when funding is uncertain, which happens every time there is an election looming, or provincial rhetoric of any kind about belt-tightening or compassionate cuts.

More importantly, the numbers provide important information on why funding for growth is important to public education in our province. Before I became a parent, and more keenly aware of provincial education funding, I thought that growth funding was a form of adding extra money into the education system to expand learning opportunities and services for students in schools. But this is not the case. Funding for growth simply means that a district with growing numbers of students will receive extra dollars to match the percentage of extra students in the district. Funding for enrolment growth means a status quo budget for a school district, it does not provide extra money for additional teachers or educational assistants per student, it does not provide extra dollars for specialized supports to students or services such as mental health supports.

And in fact, while Edmonton Public Schools has received provincial funding for growth over the past few years, that funding has not increased to account for inflation. This essentially means small cuts to our funding, as our costs tend to increase over time due to inflation. Every year we do not receive funding for inflation but our costs go up due to inflation, we are slightly behind in the services we can provide to students.

It is prudent for every school board who faces growing numbers of students to consider what it would mean if we were not funded for enrolment growth – if funding were frozen. This report shows that for our district alone it would result in the loss of roughly $40 million dollars, or 188 full-time staff, that would be required to keep up with the extra students coming into our system. It would be a significant loss, and would impact class sizes and direct supports to students.

And this is just the impact of a funding freeze. If deeper cuts to find provincial budget efficiencies were contemplated, it would mean less resources flowing directly to classrooms, less teachers and educational assistants supporting our students, cuts to wraparound supports, and impacts on students.

As a trustee, I want all of these situations to remain hypothetical. As a parent, I need these situations to remain hypothetical. Our board has requested all parties describe their position on funding for education, I sincerely hope all will commit to funding for enrolment growth, and secretly hope for additional funding to help us increase the resources available to students and schools. Investing in education is investing in our future, and our greatest resource, our children.