With the recent call of the Alberta election, all parties have—by this point—shared their education promises.
As President of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), I am writing to Albertans today to ask them to read carefully through each political education platform, and to think very hard about the future we want for this province’s next generation.
Yes, the economy is important. Because a strong economy means we have money to spend on education; however, it also works the other way around. A strong education system leads to a stronger economy, and prepares the next generation to meet the demands of a diversified future.
SBA represents Alberta’s 61 public, separate and francophone school boards, and our member school boards represent nearly 700,000 students across our province—that’s almost 700,000 reasons to invest in our education system. I know times are tight for all of us. But even in times of fiscal restraint, education is not the place to cut, it’s the place to invest, and investment is sorely needed. For example, of ASBA’s 61, public, separate and francophone school boards:74 per cent are reporting a facilities deficit;
81 per cent are reporting a transportation deficit; and,
79 per cent are reporting a deficit for special needs.
All these deficits mean money is being stripped from the classroom and used to pay for bussing, or to patch leaky roofs. But what choice do school boards have? Kids have to get to school, and that school needs to be safe, warm and dry. The truth is, Alberta’s current funding model doesn’t even come close to addressing the diverse needs of today’s complex student systems.
All students deserve a world class education, and yet student populations are increasingly complex, diverse and are growing every year. School boards are expected to provide mental health and special needs supports, keep class sizes small, provide literacy, numeracy and English language learner interventions, and maintain aging buildings.
Now believe me, if asked, each and every locally-elected school board trustee in Alberta will tell you they absolutely want to meet the needs of all students. Because they deserve it. But to meet those needs, school boards need adequate, long-term, sustainable, flexible funding to be able to provide programs and services.
This election, whomever you vote for, whether you or someone you care about had children in the school system, have or has children or grandchildren in the school system, or are thinking about having children one day, please consider the needs of Alberta’s students. They are the generation that will grow our economy. They are the generation that will make Alberta a better, stronger place, for each and every one of us.
Lorrie Jess, President, ASBA