Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, flanked by deputy party leader Sarah Hoffman and Calgary NDP candidates, made multi-millions of dollars in promises to correct what they say have been growing class sizes and declining educational quality in the province.
Notley has promised that if her party is elected, they will invest in hiring more than 4,000 new teachers, 3,000 new educational assistants, and reducing class sizes.
She also took aim at the record of the United Conservative Party on the topic of education.
“We will invest more than $700 million into our classrooms. This will take a major step towards reversing the UCP devastation imposed on our classrooms and the children and students inside them,” said Notley.
“Restoring these teachers and EAS and planning to keep up with growth in the future will help to reduce class sizes.”
That $700 million would be over four years, and would be used towards classroom enrollment. She said that further announcements would be made towards restoring the Program Unit Funding that was cancelled by the government in February 2020.
At the time, a government spokesperson said that schools were using PUF funding as an extra revenue source, without that revenue translating into student outcomes.
The NDP also referenced the 2020 decision by then Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange to lay off more than 20,000 education staff, with the government redirecting more than $128 million in funding at that time toward Covid-19 relief and away from schools.
Notley cited the growing numbers of students in classrooms as a concern, saying that the student population in the province had grown by 36,000 since 2019, having a big impact on teachers.
“I visited schools and I’ve asked teachers how they’re doing in the face of that. And I’ve literally, I’ve watched them break down in tears,” Notley said.
Hiring thousands ambitious goal says Notley
The hiring of 4,000 teachers, or 1,000 per year for the four life of the NDP’s plan, was an ambitious but achievable goal said Notley.
“We know it is an ambitious goal, but we are also confident that it is a goal we can achieve between the number of roughly 1,900 folks graduate from Education in Alberta every year,” she said.
“We will also be looking to recruit teachers from outside of the province. We’re very serious about this.”
She said that in the case of educational assistants, making schools more attractive places to work was the start of that hiring process.
“One way we make it a more attractive place to work is that we ensure that there are enough folks in our schools to actually provide support to our students so that we don’t have people going to work every day and literally suffer suffering moral injury because they’re unable to provide the education that they know our students need,” Notley said.
Notley said that there was no question in her mind that the pay for educational assistants had fallen in the province, and that there would be a focus on addressing the compensation gap with other provinces.
“Will be in our platform talking about the principle of focusing on our compensation plans around supporting those who are on the lower end of the pay spectrum.”
“But of course, we anticipate that there will be robust collective bargaining, but I don’t want to go faster than that or any farther than that… I’m not really interested in bargaining during the campaign or in the media.”
Funding would be discussed with school boards
Notley did not commit to reversing the province’s method of funding schools through a rolling weighted average of enrollment but said that she would be restoring funding to school boards that lost out due to rising student populations.
“When it comes to the funding formula as a whole, we would respect school boards. And we will sit down with them and talk about what funding formula works best and how we ensure that some of the unique needs of our boards are recognized,” Notley said.
The weighted rolling average system averages the prior year’s enrollment, the current estimated enrollment, and the projection for future enrollment to determine how much money schools receive.
Under that calculation, growing schools receive less funding per student, while schools that are declining in population retain their funding.
“That rolling weighted average, there were winners and losers in it,” Notley said.
“We want to make sure that some of the communities that lost out in that funding, which is of course how they justified cutting the funding, get resources back.”
An example cited by Notley was urban schools with increasing numbers of students with special learning needs growing at a far faster rate than other schools in other areas of the province.
The focus before changing any funding formula would be on hiring teachers and educational assistants, said Notley.
UCP takes aim at funding, hiring, student class sizes in NDP plan
Former Minister for Education and current UCP candidate for Red Deer-North, Adriana LaGrange, called the NDP’s platform lies and defended her government’s record on education.
“As is often the case, the NDP pitched a lot of numbers, with no details. Notley said the NDP would provide $700 million to address enrolment growth over the next four years, which is $120 million less than the UCP has already budgeted over the next three years,” she said.
“Notley should explain how she plans to do more than the UCP with less money.”
Under the province’s 2023 budget, funding for ECS to Grade 12 instruction would rise from $6.86 billion in 2023-24 to $7.08 billion in 2025-26, for an increase of $220 million.
Total operating expenses for Alberta Education (prior to ministry consolidation costs) would go from $9.42 billion in 2023-2024, to $9.69 billion in 2025-2026, for an increase of $270 million.
LaGrange also took aim at the NDP’s record on the number of students in classrooms.
“While the NDP say they will reduce class sizes, their record shows they failed to do this when they were in government. In 2018, the Auditor General found the NDP did not have an effective process for monitoring their ‘Class Size Initiative’.”
Alberta Education stopped reporting classroom sizes in 2019, following the last provincial general election.
“As I’ve said before, the NDP need to go do their homework, before going out with these kinds of attacks,” said LaGrange.