UCP underfunding K–12 education in new budget

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.

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According to the 2023–2024 budget, the UCP plan to spend $8.836 billion on operating expenses within the ministry of education. Of that, $6.857 billion (or about 77.6%) will be spent directly on instruction of students within early childhood programmes right through to Grade 12.

Last year, the government spent $6.601 billion on ECS–Grade 12 instruction, which means they’re increasing funding by 3.88%.

That seems pretty good, right?

Well, there’s something you should know. Between January 2022 and January 2023, the Consumer Price Index in Alberta increased from 149.3 to 158.9, or 6.4%. 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 went from 4,466,124 in the fourth quarter of 2021 to 4,601,314 in the fourth quarter of 2022. That’s an increase of 135,190, or 3.03%.

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.

Plus, remember how I said that funding spent directly on instruction of students accounted for 77.6% total operating expenses for the education ministry? Well, last year, that percentage was 78.1%.

We’re not keeping up with inflation. We’re not keeping up with population growth. And we’re spending a smaller share of the budget on direct instruction.

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 $8.477 billion on operating expenses in the ministry of education. Which means they are planning to spend only 4.23% 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$6.056 billion
2022–2023 (forecast)$6.601 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 was higher than it was in the year before they took office.

That final-year increase is only 2.48% higher than what was spent 4 years previously. When you factor in the 3 years of funding cuts, the UCP increased funding by an average of 0.62% per year over those 4 years.

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

Budget yearInstructional
2023–2024$6.857 billion3.88%
2024–2025$6.950 billion1.36%
2025–2026$7.081 billion1.88%

If you factor in the upcoming year, then we’re looking at an increase of $0.416 billion, or 6.46%. That’s barely enough to cover inflation for just the last year alone, let alone the previous 4 years or even population growth since the 2018–2019 budget year.

While the UCP government plans to increase their instructional funding this year by 3.88%, their funding increase will be only 1.36% the following year, assuming they get reelected in the 2023 provincial election.

And in the third year of a theoretical second UCP administration, their plan is to keep their funding increase limited to a measly 1.88%. It’s almost as though they’re boosting funding this year in anticipation of a provincial election.

Even so, there’s no way any of these increases 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 19 new schools on schedule to be complete within that timeframe—9 in 2023, 10 in 2024—with another 1 under construction with undetermined completion dates.

Assuming all 20 of those new schools are completed during that time, they’ll be eating into that $7.081 billion instructional budget in 2025–2026. They’ll all need new teachers.

(And that’s not counting the 10 new schools they announced last week.)

Which makes me wonder how much of that 1.88% 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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