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Local school boards cautiously optimistic about new funding model funding
Local school boards are hoping the new provincial funding model is a positive for them. File Photo.

BONNYVILLE – Local school boards are feeling heard after the provincial government announced a new way of funding Alberta’s kindergarten to Grade 12 education system.

“We knew that the funding model wasn’t serving the needs, particularly us because we come from a rural Alberta setting,” noted Arlene Hrynyk, board chair for Northern Lights Public Schools (NLPS).

Diane Bauer, chair for Lakeland Catholic School District (LCSD), agreed, “It was absolutely time to look at a different framework. Hopefully, this one will cut red tape, mean less paperwork, and give the division more flexibility to put the dollars where they feel they need it to be.”

The new model was introduced on Feb. 18 and will come into affect for the 2020/21 school year. The province said the change will provide more predictability in funding by switching from a one-year enrolment count to a moving three-year average, which would minimize the need for mid-year adjustments to school budgets. They will also provide a targeted grant for system administration, instead of a percentage of overall funding, that will standardize spending within a reasonable range and maximize dollars intended for classrooms.

According to the province, the model for kindergarten to Grade 12 funding hasn’t changed in more than 15 years.

When discussions happened between the government and Alberta school divisions, the feedback focused on more predictability in the dollars they receive to budget for the school year better, flexibility in how they can spend provincial dollars based on the needs within their communities, and reductions in the reporting obligations for grants.

“Our board has long advocated for a new funding formula that provides predictable and sustainable funding and meets the context of our students' needs for today,” Hrynyk expressed, adding NLPS appreciated being involved in the meetings.

“There were a number of consultations held with boards, our staff, and with the systems to try and inform the new funding model. Although we don’t know a lot yet of our composed budget, we’ll get more information.”

Under the new system, school divisions will be informed in March how much provincial funding they’ll be receiving for the upcoming school year, as opposed to previously not finding out until September.

Funding for enrolment will be based on a weighted moving three-year average. Actual enrolment figures from the prior school year will account for 20 per cent, estimates for the current year will be weighted at 30 per cent, and 50 per cent of the funding will be based on the division’s projections for the next school year.

Hrynyk and Bauer agreed the predictability in funding was something they were glad to see included.

“It’s something that we want because then you can plan for the future,” Bauer added.

The number of grants school boards can apply for has decreased to 15, from the 36 offered under the previous system, which the province claims will reduce the number of reporting obligations.

The grants will fit into five categories, including base instruction, services and support, school, community, and jurisdiction.

The amount of money for high schools is moving away from the Credit Enrolment Unit (CEU), which is based on the number of credits offered, an area Bauer said LCSD will be looking into further.

“There will certainly be some discussion for the board on what we’re currently offering and what dual-credit (programs) look like in the future.”

With the information currently released, Hrynyk and Bauer are both cautiously optimistic about what it could mean moving forward.

“If we find deficits, there’s been that invitation (by the provincial government) to say ‘we recognize there might be something that we missed, but we’re willing to work with the school boards going forward to try and ensure that certainty in the model to address all those nuances and things that may have been missed.’ That’s a promising feature,” Hrynyk said.

Specific details for each grant and school division’s funding will be available in the province’s 2020 budget, which is being tabled on Feb. 27.

“Alberta will continue to have one of the best-funded education systems in our country,” said Alberta’s Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange in a press release. “This new model will drive more money to our school divisions for use in the classroom and provides them with the flexibility they need to meet the unique needs of their students. These changes will ensure our divisions continue to be equipped to provide our students with a world-class and high-quality education.”

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle

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