ATA News

ATA president chastises government for underfunding

ATA president Jason Schilling speaks at the 2024 Annual Representative Assembly

The Government of Alberta is failing a generation of students through its chronic underfunding of public education.

This was a key message delivered by Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling during his address to delegates of the Annual Representative Assembly in Calgary on May 18. 

“It is time for government to stop the excuses and fund the future of our province in a way that honours [students’] future potential,” Schilling said. “Their failure to do so will be their shameful legacy.”

In arguing that chronic underfunding has put the teaching profession and public education in crisis, Schilling chastised the government for bragging about increasing education funding by 4.4 per cent when more than 13 per cent would have been needed to bring Alberta’s per-student spending up to the Canadian average. He noted that chronic underfunding hasn’t kept up with inflation and student enrolment growth, has led to flawed implementation of new curriculum and is failing to meet the social-emotional and cognitive needs of students. 

Beyond funding, Schilling expressed concern about a growing lack of respect for diversity, particularly members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, as evidenced by a September rally at Barnett House followed months later by Premier Danielle Smith’s announcement of upcoming legislation centred around the use of pronouns in schools and other gender and sexual minority issues.

“Let's be clear: it is not the role of teachers to out kids who do not want to come out,” Schilling said. “To do so would be unprofessional, disrespectful, illegal and potentially dangerous.”

Schilling said he is deeply concerned about the effect of Smith’s announcement on teachers’ ability to provide safe, caring and inclusive spaces for all students, but he added that teachers will not be swayed by those who have politicized sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We will not be deterred from doing the right thing for students by those who will misrepresent our actions and intents. We will not be intimidated by those who throw vulgar slurs at us. We will stand up for students.”

Schilling then moved on to curriculum, calling on the government to delay the implementation of the social studies curriculum until the Association’s recommendations are properly addressed.

Opportunity to share

Shifting from challenges to opportunities, Schilling promoted the ATA’s Let’s Get Loud communications initiative, which is gathering and sharing videos from teachers explaining the realities they’re facing in their classrooms.

“Sharing the stories of our classrooms is one of the best ways to let the public know what our colleagues and students are experiencing day in and day out,” Schilling said.

Schilling then touched on the fact that teachers are currently in the early stages of central table bargaining, stating that teacher unity will be critical given that this level of bargaining will affect all members in the province.

“Our goals can only be realized through our collective action,” Schilling said. “By recognizing our strengths and working together, it is now time to embrace our collective desire to make change and protect public education from the failures of government.”

Schilling encouraged teachers to remain united despite the obstacles, setbacks, and moments of doubt that are sure to unfold during the bargaining process.

“Remember, every great achievement in history has been the result of perseverance in the face of adversity,” Schilling said, “so let us stand together as one profession united, unwavering in our determination, unyielding in our resolve ... together, we are stronger.”