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Alberta schools battle budgets as future of nutrition grant remains unclear

Click to play video: 'Future of Alberta school nutrition grant unclear' Future of Alberta school nutrition grant unclear
The UCP government hasn't announced its education budget yet, and with school starting back up in September, the future remains unclear for some nutrition programs that are funded by the province. Jasmine Bala has more – Jul 18, 2019

Lethbridge school districts have created their budgets already, despite uncertainties of the funding they’ll be receiving from the United Conservative government’s first budget.

“[We] really hope that the assumptions [we’ve] made on the upcoming budget are correct,” said Chris Smeaton, superintendent of the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.

“Because if they’re not, [we] could be making some drastic changes come September, October when the budget actually comes out.”

One of the assumptions the Holy Spirit school district has made in its budget is the loss of the provincial nutrition grant, a program that allows the district to offer free breakfast and lunch programs for students from low-income families.

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“Kids that are coming to school hungry are not [at] their best to be able to learn,” said Smeaton.

The grant was put in place by the previous NDP government in 2016. Since then, the province has provided nearly $30 million to schools across Alberta.

READ MORE: ‘It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry’: Alberta launches school nutrition program

Global News asked the Alberta education minister on Thursday if the government will commit to funding the nutrition grant program once the school year begins.

“Our government recognizes the importance of nutrition programs across the province,” said the minister’s spokesperson, Colin Aitchison, in a statement.

“As is standard procedure, funding and grant information will be communicated to school divisions following approval of the budget by the legislature.

“We remain committed to funding education and supporting our students.”

The fall sitting, however, doesn’t begin until October, after kids are already back in class.

READ MORE: All publicly funded school boards will have access to Alberta school meal program

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In past years, the Holy Spirit district received about $250,000 from the grant that went to funding breakfast and lunch programs at their schools.

“I can’t… say that the programs we have now [will] be exactly the same if we don’t receive the funding,” said Smeaton.

“But we still have to find a way to provide for the needs of our students that are coming into the schools on a daily basis hungry.”

The district, Smeaton added, will work with the community to allow them to continue providing these programs.

“We’re hopeful that we can continue to offer programs that feed our hungry kids and positively impact the learning,” he said.

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