Alberta isn’t even trying to hide its postsecondary cuts

There’s a reason why the minister of advanced education isn’t claiming that they’re maintaining postsecondary spending. Because they aren’t. Not even close.

Last week, I wrote a story about how Alberta isn’t maintaining spending on K–12 education. It centred around a tweet posted back in February by Adriana LaGrange, the minister of education.

Not only does she claim that her government has “maintained education spending at record levels”, but her image indicates the same for spending on health. And like I debunked the myth that they’re maintaining education, I debunked the myth that they’re maintaining health spending.

What I wanted to point out from LaGrange’s tweet is that her chart doesn’t show post-secondary funding being maintained. Like, not even close.

In the 2018–2019 budget year—the final year of the NDP government—spending on universities, colleges, and trade schools was $5.392 billion. In the UCP’s first year, they cut the budget down by nearly $300 million, to $5.117; although it’s forecasted to $5.471. They’ve increased the budget slightly—by only $9 million—for this year, up to $5.126 (unless you count the forecasted amount, then it’s another decrease). Next year, they plan to lower it to just barely above $5 billion. Finally, in their last budget year, the one leading up to the election, they’re reducing it by another $110 million.

In total, the postsecondary budget will drop by nearly half a billion dollars over the UCP’s first term.

If you’ve been following this series—or you took the time to read the links I posted above—you probably already guessed that this isn’t the worst of the news.

Here’s another image of the same data. I created it just for comparison’s sake regarding some more graphs I created. (I included the forecasted number for 2019–2020 rather than the budgeted number.)

Now, this graph does seem pretty bad, except it fails to account for two things: population growth and inflation.

If population increases, demand on postsecondary education increases, too. You need more teachers, more grad supervisors, more lab instructors, more administrative staff, and so on.

And that’s just the workers. You’ll also need more schools, more buildings, more equipment, more supplies, more desks, and so on.

If inflation increases, the cost of delivering services also increases, too.

And I’m not even talking about just salaries. The cost of supplies goes up, the cost of fuel for maintenance goes up, the cost of repairs go up, the cost of utilities goes up, and so on.

If you don’t keep up with population increases and inflation, but your student population increases, then your classroom sizes get larger, supplies get rationed, repairs get delayed, and so on.

Alberta’s population in 2018 was about 4,301,000. In 2019, it was 4,371,000. That means there are 1.6% more people in the most recent budget year potentially needing education services than there were at the start of the first budget year of LaGrange’s table.

A good way to measure spending based on population is to see how much we spend per capita. (This chart assumes the same population growth for every budget year.)

It’s not that surprising that spending per capita decreases over the 4-year budget. After all, for most years in the budget, the actual budget amounts also went down. However, note that despite increasing the forecasted amount for the 2019–2020 budget, the per capita funding for that forecasted amount actually dropped slightly that year, compared to 2018–2019, but only by a couple million dollars.

Remember, however, that population was only one of the factors we must consider. The other is inflation.

The following graph shows what per capita spending is based on 2018 dollars. (I assume the same inflation for the last two budget years that occurred for 2019 and 2020: 2%.)

Alberta not only spent less on postsecondary education per person in the most recent budget year, they spent even less when you account for inflation.

The UCP government spent $1,227.25 per capita in 2018 dollars on education in the most recent budget year. They should have spent $1,278.82 per person in 2018 dollars. That $5.472 billion that they spent in 2019 should have been $5.590. That’s over $100 million more than they had budgeted, or rather forecasted. It’s nearly $500 million more than they had actually budgeted.

And that’s for the most recent budget year. The current budget year should be $5.669 billion instead of $5.126 billion. Next year should be $5.885 billion instead of $5.016.

And the budget year right before the next provincial election should be $6.073 billion instead of $4.906 billion. In other words, in the year leading up to the election, the UCP will be underspending on post secondary education by over $1 billion in that year. If you add up the difference from each budget year, the UCP will underspend by $2.728 billion during their entire term.

When Demetrios Nicolaides, Jason Kenney, a staffer, or even your own UCP MLA tells you that this government is maintaining spending on postsecondary education, you can tell them why they’re wrong.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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