The Alberta government has announced additional monetary support for schools to help young students struggling with reading and math amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced $45 million will be available to schools to offer “intensive interventions” for students in Grades 1-3 who are identified by school authorities as needing more help.
“The new funding will focus on the area of literacy and numeracy as we know these are key areas where many young kids are struggling,” Kenney said.
Based on research done by the University of Alberta, students in those grades are the ones who have been most negatively impacted by school closures and interruptions, Kenney said. Some students were shown to be eight to 12 months behind their normal grade level in literacy and numeracy learning.
That same research showed schools that were able to intervene with those students quickly, were able to help 80 per cent of struggling students catch up to the proper grade level.
“Our goal is to help assess student reading levels and provide teachers with tools and interventions to support kids in bridging the achievement gap,” Kenney said.
In the fall, school authorities will assess students to see who may need these additional supports and then will apply to Alberta Education for that funding. According to LaGrange, schools will be able to do anything from hire additional teachers or educational aides, to hiring substitutes to relieve teachers and allow them to focus on smaller group or one-on-one learning to catch students up.
“It will certainly be up to the school authorities to determine how they’re going to spend those dollars, how they’re going to roll out those programs, but the dollars are there to assure they have the resources they need.”
Additional information will be available to school authorities in the coming weeks and students will receive this assistance when classes return in the fall.
“This is a major step by Alberta’s government to close the gap on pandemic-caused learning loss and ensure our students have a bright future ahead of them,” LaGrange said.
After the 16-week program, students will be assessed again.
For the Alberta NDP, this additional funding is too little, too late.
Education critic Sarah Hoffman said students are facing these challenges because the UCP failed to act at the beginning of the pandemic.
“They have fallen behind because the UCP cut education staff, cut funding to schools, and failed to provide the necessary supports so schools could stay open, and stay open safely,” she said.
“This $45 million is a drop in the bucket of what the UCP has cut from schools for this upcoming school year. We need to restore per-pupil
funding levels to what they were before.
“Jason Kenney is not taking responsibility for the situation he has put children and teachers in.”
The funding is expected to assist about 50,000 students and will be available to school districts across the province.
When asked how long the process to assess students and then apply and receive funding would take, Alberta Education spokesperson Nicole Sparrow said more information, including assessment details and reporting requirements, would be released in the coming weeks.
There are no current plans to offer a similar program for students in Grade 4 and up, but LaGrange said the government will continue to assess need during the 2021-22 school year and will provide funding if needed.