Impact of Provincial Budget Changes, PUF, Transportation Fees

The Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees is continuing to meet by Zoom during the pandemic, and we had a very full meeting last week. At our most recent Board Meeting on April 28,2020, Trustees discussed requested reports on the response of  our school division to the shift to on-line learning and the impact of class cancellations. We also discussed details of changes to the way school boards are funded in Alberta, cuts to Program Unit Funding, and debated changes to our transportation fees for next year.

Weighted Moving Average

The Government of Alberta has changed the way school boards will be funded starting next year.  In previous years, school boards received a specific amount of funding per student enrolled in the school division.  Now, boards will be funded on a formula that creates a “weighted moving average” of enrolment for the past three years. Now, half of a board’s funding will be tied to current enrolment, while the other half is based upon enrolment from the previous two years.

This funding formula is helpful and provides stability to school boards with declining enrolment.  It means that these boards have some time to make decisions on how to best support students with decreasing funding.  However, this formula has severe consequences for growing boards like Edmonton Public.  Our board has grown by several thousand students over the past several years.  This new funding change means that we will no longer receive full-funding for any students over and above our enrolment from previous years.

Although our 2020-2021 enrolment is estimated to be approximately 106,828, the weighted moving average is 105,135.  This is significant underfunding for our growing school board. Our board has proposed a solution to the weighted moving average, and we would like to see growing boards receive funding for their actual current years’ enrolment, as decreases to our funding have a direct impact on staffing and supports to students.

Cuts to PUF

Our board also received a report outlining the provincial cuts to Program Unit Funding (PUF).  This funding supports students with disabilities who need specialized supports in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten programs, to receive wraparound supports from specialists including Occupational Therapists and Speech-Language Pathologists. The Government of Alberta’s cuts to this funding has meant that the funding we received was reduced by 76%, from $39.5 Million to $9 Million.  The loss of this funding is significant and will mean that Edmonton Public Schools has to reduce the number of children enrolled in our Pre-Kindergarten programming from 1,040 to approximately 600.  Our administration has made the difficult decision to close 22 of our satellite program sites in schools, and reduce the number of Pre-Kindergarten hub sites from 10 to 6.  This means that programming that was available at 32 of our schools, will now only be accessible at 6 schools.

I am very concerned about the impact of this provincial decision. We know that early intervention has a significant impact on the learning trajectories of students. In our board meeting we heard that approximately 27% of students who receive early support will no longer require additional supports as they enter school. The loss of this funding will impact families and it will mean a net loss for school boards who will now be racing to provide intervention to children when they enter kindergarten, without the dedicated funding that PUF provided. If only looking at the financial consequences of this decision, it is one that will cost our system significantly, as the return on investment for early intervention is great.  However, we know that the loss of this program is more than just numbers in a spreadsheet, it will impact students and families directly. I am hoping that this decision will be reversed, and our board will be exploring further advocacy efforts.

Changes to Transportation Fees

Our board also passed a new fee schedule for transportation fees.  After losing $5.3 Million in transportation funding with this years’ budget, we sent a survey to families, which informed our board vote on a change to fees going forward.  The new fee structure will be based solely on the type of transportation offered, with a $38 monthly fee for students riding the yellow bus, and a $60 monthly fee for students riding ETS.  During disdussion of this change, we heard that this will be a net increase for most of our families, as anticipated due to a reduction to our transportation grant. The changes will also mean a simpler set of rules for families.

An important factor for me in making this decision was a concern for the 16% of our families living in poverty.  In our meeting, we were assured that any family who is unable to afford transportation fees may request a reduction or waiver by speaking to their principal, and we discussed ways to make this process more transparent to families.  In addition, families may apply for the Ride Transit Program, which offers a reduced rate of $38 on ETS bus passes based on family income.