By Nikki Jamieson
Westwind Weekly News
The province will be transferring federal funds to school authorities in two phases.
The $262 million for school’s COVID-19 related expenses will be distributed once in September and again later in the school year.
“Since (last month’s) by the federal government, I’ve had numerous conversations with education stakeholders, school boards, disability advocates and school administration about how this funding would be best used. Based on those conversations, and the guidelines which the federal government has set out, I believe this approach is the fairest and most equitable way to disburse the funding,” said Adriana LaGrange, minister of eduction for Alberta, in a press conference last week.
The majority of the funds will be distributed based on a per-student model, and it must be used to support additional COVID-19 related costs for staffing, adapting learning spaces and personal protective equipment, cleaning and safety considerations for schools and buses, supports for special needs students and online learning and teacher training.
$250 million will be distributed to school authorities on an equal per-student basis, with another $12 million to support school authorities seeing a large influx in enrolment due to increased demand for their online learning programs. This represents about $350 per student for the upcoming school year, which the federal government calculated funding based on census population data for Albertans age 4-18.
“I know that many teachers and parents are concerned about returning to school— this is normal. After all, these same concerns are being raised right across the country and right across the world,” said LaGrange. “That is why my department and Dr. Hinshaw’s team have closely followed school openings in other jurisdictions and around the world, so that we can learn from their experiences. These experiences have helped inform both our education decisions and our public health guidance.”
The federal funding is in addition to the increases in provincial funding, which include a $120-million increase in provincial operating funding for this school year, $250 million in accelerated Capital Maintenance and Renewal Funding, $10 million in PPE — which includes 1.6 million masks for staff and students — and the authorization for school boards to access their reserves, of which there is $363 million available across Alberta.
The federal funding will immediately flow to school authorities once it is received from the federal government.
“I know COVID-19 has demanded herculean efforts from schools over the past six months,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health for Alberta. “In schools, it is critical to limit exposure as well as limiting the spread of the virus as much as possible. It is also vital we support an effective learning environment, which mitigates other risks to our children, such as impacts to their educational and social development. While minor differences exist, Alberta’s plan is generally consistent with other provinces across Canada and many countries around the world.”
“We all have a role to play in the school year to come. The successful reopening of schools depends on the choices each of us make every day to limit the spread inside schools and within our broader community.”
The Alberta Teacher’s Association has urged the province to ensure the funding is prioritized to urgent staffing needs.
“Funding should be focused on significant staffing needs. More teachers are needed to reduce class sizes, substitute teachers need to be available and need to be supported and protected, custodians are needed to ensure that ongoing sanitization occurs throughout the school day and more EAs are needed to help students with learning needs and hygiene. Teachers want schools to stay open, so we have to make sure the return to school is done as safely as possible,” said Jason Schilling, ATA president.