ATA News

New school year, new budget, more students

Earlier this year, the government made announcements that increased funding for schools in Alberta. While additional funds are welcome, some wonder if the boost will be enough to address the rising costs associated with a growing—and increasingly complex—student population.

In February, the Alberta government increased education funding by $10 million “to combat pandemic-related learning disruptions.” Then Budget 2023 announced a 5.2 per cent increase in funding for 2023–24 and an increase of more than $1.8 billion in funding over the next three years, including the hiring of 3,000 more education staff; $1.5 billion was allocated in 2023–24 for learning support funding for vulnerable students. This sounds like a lot of funding, but what will these increases look like in the coming year?

The 2023–24 budgets for three large urban divisions signal that funds will be focused on addressing complex learning needs. The budget for Edmonton Catholic Schools emphasizes that the division will continue “to allocate significant additional funding beyond Alberta Education’s Specialized Learning Grant to support the inclusive needs of our students,” while Edmonton Public Schools’ budget notes the need to use the Classroom Complexity Grant to supplement student supports. Meanwhile, the budget for the Calgary Board of Education states the division will use the Classroom Complexity Grant to provide added supports for English as an Additional Language (EAL) programs, hire more speech pathologists and support early intervention. 

Whether the funds will be enough to address not only complex needs but also the rising student numbers remains to be seen, especially given that how much funding—longstanding and recently announced—each school division is receiving this year is also impacted by the Weighted Moving Average (WMA) funding model.

The WMA formula takes the enrolment from the year before, an estimated current enrolment and the projected enrolment for next year to create an average that determines the division’s funding. Introduced in 2020, this model has been touted as improving stability, but has been criticized for benefiting schools with declining enrolment and harming schools with growing enrolment. 

“Our projected student count is 109,688, compared to our WMA funded enrolment of 106,207,” shares Kim Smith with Edmonton Public Schools. Smith adds, though, that a supplemental enrolment growth grant is available, providing additional funding for the additional students.

Similarly referencing an additional funding grant “due to rapidly increasing enrolment,” Joanne Anderson, media relations for the Calgary Board of Education, says, “The Weighted Moving Average brings predictability to school board funding.” 

While the spokesperson of Calgary Board of Education is optimistic about the WMA model, Edmonton Catholic Schools spokesperson Christine Meadows said the division doesn’t believe the WMA model is creating the intended stability and predictability. 

“For every 100 new students next school year, we only receive 50 per cent of normal funding,” Meadows explains. “In the following school year, we would receive 80 per cent of normal funding. A new student is, therefore, not fully funded until their third year. What that means is that if you are not growing, it’s not a big hit. But the more students you get, the less able you are to staff appropriately and meet their needs.” ❚