A group of concerned educators and parents gathered in the Esplanade on September 7 for a town hall meeting with Alberta NDP MLA Sarah Hoffman, Opposition Deputy Leader and Education Critic. The NDP are in the process of building their platform and are looking for feedback.
Hoffman opened the meeting by telling those assembled a little about herself and saying, “I believe the foundation of any good society is education. I believe that when we provide every student with an opportunity to succeed that we build a better society. I don’t want any kid to fail at reaching their full potential.”
One concern is the discredited Alberta curriculum that is currently being taught and how many students are seeing gaps in their learning. Not only discredited locally, but partnerships with the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, who have used the Alberta curriculum for almost 40 years, have decided this year to drop it.
“I want to say that we are concerned about the harm that is being done right now through the curriculum, as mentioned, but also through the reduction of staff in our schools,” continued Hoffman. “We have 1,000 fewer teachers now in Alberta classrooms than we did when Rachel (Notley) was premier. Numbers of kids have gone up and the needs of those kids, especially over the last two and a half years, have also gone up.”
Not only the needs of the students, but families also. Inflation in Alberta is the worst it’s been in 40 years, the highest in Canada.
“About 20 per cent of households say they aren’t sure how they are going to put food on the table next month,” added Hoffman.
After speaking for about 10 minutes, Hoffman opened the conversation to the room.
Heather McCaig, a teacher in Medicine Hat, said, “We are seeing rising class numbers. I have taught since 1998 in my current building, and I’ve never seen the needs I see in front of me as today. There are more needs in every single classroom, and it is commonplace throughout my entire building.”
Hoffman clarified if the needs were disabilities and mental health, to which McCaig replied it was all of it.
Getting more support into the classroom, teachers not having enough resources to do their jobs, wages for teachers, nutrition programs in schools, complex needs of students, and special needs students were all topics discussed.
The cuts to the decades long Program Unit Funding made by the UCP came up several times along with the desire for it to be reimplemented. PUF provided funding for children aged 3-5 years who had delays so they could have access to early educational interventions. The UCP took the funding away for five-year-olds and reduced the funding for the younger ages.
“All the research shows it is the most economically sound way to invest your money if you have learning gaps in the youngest,” stated Hoffman.
Money was also a hot topic.
“In the last two education budgets,” said Hoffman, “when you look at the audited financial statements after the budget was done, there was $1 billion less when you combine those two years.”
The money was recorded as surplus by the UCP, with the question raised as to why the money wasn’t put into education when there is so much need in and out of the classroom, she added.
Funding to private schools came up more than once. Currently, Alberta has the highest amount of funding for private schools anywhere in Canada.
“In Alberta there is a certain dollar amount that every kid gets when they are in school,” explained Hoffman after the meeting concluded. “Public, Catholic and francophone get one dollar amount, charter schools get the exact same amount and private schools get 70 per cent of that funding, which is the highest of anywhere in Canada.”
SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News