Alberta school boards seek funding model changes in light of COVID-19 impacts on enrolment

·3 min read

Alberta school boards say enrolment has taken a hit across the province this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they're asking the province not to allow this year's enrolment numbers dictate future funding.

Bryan Szumlas, chief superintendent with the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD), said prior to the pandemic the district projected a student population of 59,000 this school year.

"Then we came in much lower at 56,500 students," he said.

Szumlas said the drop in student enrolment could have a significant financial impact if used under the new funding model — which was introduced in September, and is based on a three-year rolling average of student attendance. Lorrie Jess with the Alberta School Board Association (ASBA) said that model has school boards concerned.

"Currently, many school divisions are reporting a reduction in the number of students attending in-school learning and an increase in schools structured at home, so online learning and parent-directed home education programs, and some families have chosen not to send their children to kindergarten," she said.

Szumlas said that's something the CCSD can attest to.

"A drop of approximately 2,000 students. When we dug a little deeper to try to figure out, you know, those 2,000 students and where they've gone — a big chunk of those students, roughly a thousand, have to do with kindergarten and pre-K."

Submitted by ASBA
Submitted by ASBA

Jess said it's a trend being seen across the province.

"[Education Minister Adriana] LaGrange has told us that she knows for a fact because they're counting the student numbers that they know that kindergarten student enrolment is way down across the province," she said.

"I think it's just parents being unsure with the pandemic and keeping their kids home for for another year, or holding them back, or teaching them at home."

At a recent ASBA meeting, Jess said a motion was passed to lobby the province for a "hold harmless year" — which asks that Alberta Education not use the weighted moving average, but rather enrolment numbers from last year when considering funding.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Alberta Education said it is currently reviewing this request.

"[We are] sensitive to the unique situation caused by the pandemic this year," wrote acting press secretary Nicole Sparrow.

"That is why we gave school authorities more time to provide their enrolment data to the province, and we remain committed to ensuring schools are not penalized for enrolment that may have been affected by a pandemic that is completely out of their control."

Sparrow said there will be a final decision made in next year's budget.

"But in the meantime it should be noted that the benefit of the new funding model is it smoothes out sudden changes in student enrolment numbers," she said. "Both for increases and decreases in enrolment because it is based on three school years of data — not just one year as under the old model."

Alberta Education did not provide a breakdown of enrolment numbers.

"Once we have this data early next month and it has gone through the usual verification process we will have a proper understanding of provincial enrolment data and the impact of the pandemic on student registrations," said Sparrow.