Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips called out Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on Tuesday after she said documents recently obtained by the NDP have shown funding cuts to Lethbridge school divisions.
Alberta’s UCP government has remained adamant that education funding has been maintained, but based on the documents (which can be viewed at the bottom of this article), Phillips said that is misleading.
“If the government wants to cut education, and the children aren’t a priority, they should just say so,” Phillips told Global News, “instead of engaging in these situations where it’s clear that they have cut budgets but they won’t admit that they did it.
“These documents show that the Lethbridge School Division and our Catholic Separate School Division both saw cuts between last year and this year, but they saw more students enter the system; and as a result, we will have larger classes with fewer supports.”
But according to a statement from LaGrange’s office, the UCP do not believe they have misled Albertans.
“Budget 2019 was extremely clear, we have honoured our commitments to Albertans and maintained education funding at $8.223 billion, equal to last year’s budget, and the base instruction rate for each student remains the same,” the statement from LaGrange’s office read.
The newly released documents show overall cuts of $427,000 for the Lethbridge School Division in 2019-2020 versus 2018-2019, and a total difference of more than $1.5 million for the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.
Notable eliminations to the school divisions’ budgets include the Classroom Improvement Fund — which expired in August of 2019 — and class size initiatives for Kindergarten to Grade 3.
“It is completely normal for program-specific funding to vary year to year,” read the statement from LaGrange’s press secretary. “But total education funding remains the same, and enrollment growth was accounted for.”
The UCP have maintained that all the funding has remained in the education budget, with grants like the Classroom Improvement Fund and Class Size Initiative reallocated internally.
The repurposing of funds has led to a one-time transition grant to school boards for the 2019-2020 school year, equal to $2.229 million for the Lethbridge School Division and $954,000 for the Holy Spirit division.
But Phillips told Global News the one-time grant does not make up for budgeting shortfalls.
“What we’re looking at is larger class sizes and fewer education dollars to educate the more children that are going into the school system every September,” she said.
According to the document, enrollment for students in grades 1-12 in the Lethbridge School Division went up by 3.6 per cent from last school year; but in the Catholic school division, that number jumped just 0.6 per cent year over year.
The UCP government will be tabling its next budget on Feb. 27.
View the documents cited by Phillips below: