The Alberta Education Budget: Child Abandonment?

This is my seventh school district budget. Each one has been riddled with dissonance. When I try to explain some part of Education funding to bemused questioners, usually parents, the response is often: “That must be wrong. It doesn’t make sense.”

My answer? “Yes.”

This article, The F-word that defines education funding, by Licia Corbella in the Calgary Herald, is a marvelous tongue-in-cheek – with undertones of anger – framing of key Education funding issues. This, is for me, the crux : “Because the province has, once again, not provided predictable stable funding for education, like it did for health care… Unlike health care, where overstressed emergency wards lead to fatal tragedies and therefore action, overstressed education systems simply lead to unknown children slowly falling through cracks, unable to grow to their full potential. It is no less a tragedy, it’s just not as immediately evident.”

Our political masters have sometimes said: “You know, a government budget is not that different from a household budget…” What a simplistic absurd reduction! A justice system, social services and natural resource management are not found on my Excel spreadsheet. Sure, a deficit budget, whatever the scale, is unsustainable in the long-term. But I can’t mandate taxes from my neighbours and local businesses to pay for my expenses. That being said, I want to use the same premise – hey, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want (see disclaimer).

So here’s how the Alberta Government funds Education… just like any (dysfunctional) household in the province:

Picture a couple with children. Lee is the wage earner while Chris stays at home to manage the household, completely dependent on the dollars brought in by Lee. Lee allocates a weekly allowance to cover the overhead. Chris has provided a comprehensive list of all the expenses to maintain the joint endeavour in… how shall I put it? The style to which the family would like to become accustomed? Feel they deserve? Need to thrive and grow as human beings? Okay, that last one.

Lee then assigns a reasonable sum to carry the freight – sometimes. At others, without warning or reason, the amount is summarily halved, or doubled, or decimated.

Chris is driven to distraction trying to obey the orders of the provider, Lee. The unremitting demands? A constant diet of the finest food, spotless housekeeping, the thermostat set at 21° and the family vehicle fully gassed and tuned up. But the cupboard is often bare because Lee, who has the key to the larder, keeps it locked; dust lies on those bare shelves; the family goes to bed in socks and toques; and the car needs snow tires and an oil change.

Friends and family, seeing these unhappy living conditions, take Lee to task. “Not my fault,” Lee says, “I just furnish the readies, Chris makes the spending decisions. It’s Chris’ fault.”

At what point would the provider’s erratic behaviour require intervention by Family Services? When the roof is falling in and the kids are starving?

P.S. My colleague, School Board Chair Kim Bater, wrote a great post on May 10, 2011 on his (and the Board’s) reaction to the Canadian Rockies Public School District budget. A backgrounder is available on the district website. Kim also urges people “to influence decision-making around education funding” by writing a letter to our MLA, and the Minister of Education as well as other politicians.

Further, the petition filed by CAPSC (Calgary Association of Parents & School Councils – Calgary’s city-wide public school School Council Association) in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta on May 11, nails the problem by asking our legislators to: consider increasing the funding to the Ministry of Education so that sustainable and adequate
funding is provided to address the needs of every student, every day, no exceptions.  Hear, hear! I also encourage this kind of advocacy.

About Esmé Comfort

My husband Jim and I moved to the Bow Valley in 1980, settling in Canmore in 1983. Both my children were born in Canmore and attended K -12 in Canadian Rockies Public Schools District (CRPS), French Immersion. For the past six years I served as vice-chair of the board. Alberta Government support to the CRPS Inspiring Hearts & Minds initiative created opportunities for provincial, national and international outreach. In the past I held positions on the Canmore Daycare Board, the preschool board, and various school councils/PACs; I served as president of the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French for five years and sat on the provincial board for two. I currently sit on the board of the Canmore Folk Music Festival, work full time at an events management firm and edit, copy-edit and proofread on contract. My husband and I ran a small main street business for 18 years: supply and install floor wall and window coverings.
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6 Responses to The Alberta Education Budget: Child Abandonment?

  1. Colin says:

    Thanks for all the great work Esme and other members of the board. Our kids really get one shot at this – and so do WE. If their education doesn’t inspire them they will switch off, and even those who stay switched on do so in neutral. It’s imperative that we pay attention to each one of them and large class sizes make that more difficult. Differentiation, Individual Programme Planning, and Creativity are huge buzzwords now in the system but these ideals aren’t achievable unless class sizes remain small (and ideally even smaller than present) and teachers have enough time and energy to pursue their own life-long-learning and professional development. Mr Hancock seems to understand much of this and we should praise his efforts to promote excellence in education. However we need to keep up the struggle against the factions in and out of government that are less enlightened.

    It’s not just about the students’ future, it’s also about their parents’ and Alberta’s prospects in a world that is changing faster than anything we have seen in the past. Today’s kids will inherit a world with totally different dynamics than the one their parents have known – a world which already is challenging the hegemony of the west in every area and will do so more in the future. Simply stated: if this generation wants our children to have anything like the standard of living or prestige in the world that we have enjoyed and most of us likely expect Canada to continue to have – WE need to ante up now. This is not an overstatement. Education holds the key to the future and Alberta education has enjoyed a good international reputation in the past but many other nations are nipping at our heels. If we have a vision for ourselves beyond being miners of gas and oil we need to have adequate and sustainable funding for education NOW. Otherwise we risk losing our standing in the world. We will be left in the dust and lose our standard of living. The speed of change and development around the globe is accelerating. Tomorrow will be too late.

    • Esmé Comfort says:

      Colin, support from parents is greatly appreciated. We are all in this together. What makes me angriest about this last budget is that it is clear that the majority of the government (unlike Mr. Hancock – who I truly believe “gets it”) does not value public education. Also they know that Boards will do whatever it takes to give the children what is needed. Those benighted politicians do not understand that the interruptions to progress in learning/pedagogy/best practice and the stresses put on the system and its people are a backwards step. This is not a “bump in the road”; with this budget, we are stalled on a hill with a frayed emergency brake cable.

      • colin says:

        Esme, part of the problem is that the government thinks that the tar sands will solve all or our problems – in fact it may the biggest cause of them. The bump in the road stuff is code, as we know, for “we need to wait until revenues return to a higher level”. We need education now so that our kids can move past oil and gas and into a more diverse future and an economy with long term sustainability, and to achieve this we need another, more reliable way, of funding it dependably. To meet the demands of the future we need imagination and creativity and this is what is undeveloped in students and schools when educational funding follows the price of or demand for oil. All parents need to get on this by writing letters to their MLA and the minister.

  2. Reid Reid says:

    You know that one of the my guiding beliefs is “All problems are solved through relationships.”

  3. Reid Reid says:

    Esme, great post! I will indeed write a letter, it won’t be the first, but maybe if more of us do this the message about sustainable education funding will at last get through.

    Believe it or not I dreamed about this last night. I woke up thinking this question. If the teachers union represents the teachers and the job of the school board is to represent the tax payers, whose job is it to represent the students? My thought is that it is the parents and other concerned adults who must speak for them. So I will and I hope that many others will as well. These children are our future and it is in the best interest of all of us that our future be bright.

    • Thanks Rose for your ongoing interest and support.
      The School Board’s job is not so much to represent the tax payers, but to be accountable to our community for the delivery of our vision: “To empower students to be their finest – Today and Tomorrow. Encourager les élèves à faire de leur mieux aujourd’hui et demain!” and our mission: “Creating dynamic learning environments that ensure student success.” The Board statement of beliefs guides our decision making:
      We believe student learning thrives when:
      1) The needs of students are recognized and come first.
      2) Each student’s knowledge, skills, attributes and interests are identified and developed.
      3) The learning environment is physically and emotionally safe and secure.
      4) Opportunities are provided for challenge, discovery, action and reflection.
      5) Each school and the district as a whole function as a Professional Learning Community – engaged together in ongoing learning.
      6) Parents are well informed and have meaningful opportunities to participate in their child’s education.
      7) There are healthy connections between the schools and their communities.
      8) Relationships between the board, staff, students, and community model mutual respect and support.

      It’s all about learning and the kids.

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