‘Absolutely devastating’: Alberta parents concerned about education support funding review

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‘Absolutely devastating’: Alberta parents concerned over support funding review
Some Alberta parents are outraged by the provincial government’s decision to review program funding for young children with disabilities. Emily Olsen reports – Jan 23, 2020

In a season of heavy fiscal restraint and cuts to many programs in the province, the Alberta government is turning its attention to Program Unit Funding — or PUF.

PUF currently offers school-based therapy programs and multidisciplinary supports for students two-to-six years of age with different challenges and disabilities.

In a statement to Global News Thursday, a spokesperson from the ministry of education said:

“We have been engaging school boards and education partners to hear their perspectives as we work towards a new funding model.

“The goal with this new model is to better manage system growth, ensure funds are directed to the classroom, and to provide all boards with sustainable and predictable funding for the years to come. Program Unit Funding (PUF) will continue to be an important part of this new model.”

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With no confirmation of whether PUF will face cuts or in what capacity it will continue, some parents say the review hits where it hurts.

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“To hear that it might be cut is absolutely devastating,” said Lethbridge mother Madison Webber-Begovich.

Webber-Begovich’s five-year-old son, Novak, is in kindergarten and has been receiving supports for two years through PUF that have allowed him to now meet his grade-level requirements.

“They put him in the regular preschool program,” Webber-Begovich said. “And when he needed help with speech, they would pull him aside and work on that specific skill.”

She adds that the program is about more than just school-based therapy.

“It wasn’t just about him. It was about empowering me to help him,” she said.

“I don’t know where he would be if he didn’t have this funding and this support.”

Webber-Begovich says the province’s decision to review the framework for PUF shows a lack of foresight.

“That tells me that they don’t recognize how important early interventions are,” she said.

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Chinook Autism Society in Lethbridge guides young families to resources like PUF.

“It’s a starting block,” said Hope Rudics, Chinook Autism Society secretary.

“It’s literally a starting block for parents who don’t know where to go.

“It’s such a part of our system that if we disrupt it and make drastic cuts, it’s going to affect more than the kids.”

As a parent of a child with autism herself, Rudics also knows first hand the difference this type of funding can make.

She says PUF helps to maintain children’s schedules and structure while providing the supports they need built into their school day.

Rudics says that has made all the difference for her son and for her family.

The province’s review is still underway.

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