The Alberta government has slashed public funding to a provincial organization that prepares parents to serve on school councils.
The ministry of education has cut its yearly grant to the Alberta School Councils' Association (ASCA) by 75 per cent, which has seen its public funding drop to $170,000 this year from $650,000 last year.
"This is definitely a game changer," ASCA president Brandi Rai said. "But more importantly than that even, it came without consultation."
Provincial funding had been about 85 per cent of the organization's budget, she said.
Since 1995, all Alberta public and charter schools are legally required to have a parent council. Council members advise school principals about planning, budgets, educational issues and more.
Parents volunteer to serve on the councils, and need training and professional development to do those roles well, Rai said. That's how the association spends the bulk of its provincial funding.
Alberta's Education Minister, Adriana LaGrange, said the funding cut was a difficult decision. The $480,000 will be diverted to classrooms, she said Thursday.
"I very much appreciate the relationship that I have with them," LeGrange said. "It's been very positive, and it will continue to be positive."
She said the cut will bring the ASCA's funding in line with grants to other provincial education organizations.
But Rai said the ASCA isn't comparable with groups like the College of Alberta School Superintendents or school boards' associations.
Members of those associations are often employees, who receive professional development from associations or employers.
Volunteer parent council members wouldn't have those opportunities without the ASCA, she said.
Opposition says government silencing parent voice
As Alberta grapples with a $24-billion deficit, the government has been looking for ways to cut spending.
Opposition NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman says she think's the government's move is both cost saving and political. Parents have voiced concerns about changes to the education funding formula, cuts to school supports for young children with severe disabilities and a dearth of mental health services in schools, Hoffman said.
"I think it seems pretty vindictive and cruel that the government's going after parent voice," she said on Thursday.
"They pretend that they care about parents and parents making choices, but when it comes to parents actually working collaboratively to defend their children, the government tries to stifle that."
The UCP government lifted limits on fees schools were allowed to charge. Now, parents are being asked to foot the bill for their advocacy, Hoffman said.
"I just think that is so incredibly out of touch with the reality that Alberta families are facing today," she said.
LaGrange denied the funding cut was a political move. She said she's pleased to hear the association plans to continue its advocacy roles.
Rai said the ASCA is still determining how the cuts will affect the services the organization offers. The association has about 1,300 school council members across Alberta.