UCP increases K–12 funding, after 3 years of cuts

The UCP government released their latest budget, and it’s not good news for K–12 schools.

Late last month, the UCP government released the fourth budget of their first term as the Government of Alberta.

I’ve already addressed its effect on public sector jobs, where they’re getting revenue from, how it’ll impact postsecondary students, and how healthcare will fare over the next year.

Today, I want to discuss how this latest budget will affect education for children and youth in Kindergarten through Grade 12.

According to the 2022–2023 budget, the UCP plan to spend $8.390 billion on operating expenses within the ministry of education. Of that, $6.553 billion (or about 78.1%) will be spent directly on instruction of students within early childhood programmes right through to Grade 12.

Last year, the government spent $6.428 billion on ECS–Grade 12 instruction, which means they’re increasing funding by 1.94%.

That seems pretty good, right?

Well, there’s something you should know. Last year, the Consumer Price Index in Alberta increased by 3.2% in 2021. That means that the increases to instructional funding won’t even be enough to cover the bump in inflation.

Not only that, but Alberta’s population increased by 0.9% between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2021.

So, basically, the amount we’re increasing education funding by this year—at least as far as operating expenses go—won’t be enough to cover the increased demand on services in addition to the increased costs.

And even overall operational funding—not just instructional—won’t be enough to make up for inflationary and population pressures.

Last year, the UCP government spent $8.389 billion on operating expenses in the ministry of education. Which means they are planning to spend only 0.17% more this year than they did last year. That won’t even cover the population growth, never mind inflation.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Take a look at instructional funding over the last 5 years.

2018–2019$6.441 billion
2019–2020$6.318 billion
2020–2021$5.959 billion
2021–2022 (forecast)$6.428 billion
2022–2023 (estimate)$6.553 billion

In their last budget before losing the 2019 provincial election, the NDP government spent $6.441 billion on ECS–Grade 12 instruction.

During the UCP’s first 3 years in power, they spent less than that amount. It’s only in their last year that instruction operational funding will be higher than it was in the year before they took office.

That final-year increase is only 1.74% higher than what was spent 4 years ago. When you factor in the 3 years of funding cuts, the UCP increased funding by an average of 0.43% per year over the last 4 years.

Not only that, but check out their forecast for the next 3 years.

Budget yearInstructional
2022–2023$6.553 billion1.94%
2023–2024$6.663 billion1.68%
2024–2025$6.688 billion0.38%

While the UCP government plans to increase their instructional funding this year by 1.94%, their funding increase will be only 1.68% the following year, assuming they get reelected in the 2023 provincial election.

And in the second year of a theoretical second UCP administration, their plan is to drop their funding increase even more, to a measly 0.38%.

There’s no way any of these increase will cover cost pressures from inflation and population growth, especially considering 3 straight years of underfunding.

Plus, according to School Projects section of the Government of Alberta website, there are at least 10 new schools on schedule to be complete within that timeframe—9 in 2022, 1 in 2023—with another 14 under construction with undetermined completion dates.

Assuming all 24 of those new schools are completed during that time, they’ll be eating into that $6.668 billion instructional budget in 2024–2025. They’ll all need new teachers.

(And that’s not counting the 6 new schools they announced last week.)

Which makes me wonder how much of that 0.38% increase will actually end up being an increase, especially on a per school basis.

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By Kim Siever

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

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