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Budget 2020 restores some cuts but still leaves boards short

PUF funding eliminated for kindergarten special needs students; teacher position losses expected


UPDATED July 17, 2020

March 9, 2020 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief


Cuts made to school board funding this year will be partially restored in the next school year as a result of a new funding model released with the 2020 provincial budget. But a $212 million bridge fund used to prop up the new funding model has an uncertain future.

School board funding was cut by $126 million (a now revised estimate) for the 2019/20 school year compared to 2018/19. It is estimated that school board funding will increase by $118 million in 2020/21, leaving school boards $9 million short of the funding received last year.

In addition, a $72 million fund for cross-ministry supports has also been cut for next year. The Regional Collaborative Services Delivery (RCSD) was created to help coordinate a number of services between the departments of Education, Health (including Alberta Health Services), Children’s Services and Community and Social Services.

Measured across school board fiscal years, total operational funding from the province to school boards is as follows:

School Year Operational funding for school boards  Year-to-year difference 
2018/19 $6.741 billion Base
2019/20 $6.615 billion -$126 million
2020/21 $6.714 billion +$118 million


The negative impacts of a net loss of funding will be compounded by increasing enrolment over those three years. The student population is expected to increase from 646,000 to 674,000 between 2018 and 2021. The combined effect of decreased funding and more students will result in a 4.3 per cent cut in per pupil funding, or about $464 per student.

ATA president Jason Schilling is expressing concern about how education underfunding will continue to affect schools.

“You don’t need to be good at math to see that more students with no additional funding means larger classes,” he said. “More students will go without learning supports and the individual attention they need to be successful; teachers will not be able to fill the widening gaps.”

Schilling also expressed grave concerns over the loss of Program Unit Funding (PUF) for kindergarten students.

“There will be program cuts to supports for five year olds with severe delays and disabilities,” said Schilling. “The government is downplaying the effect of this cut, but teachers know that these kids benefit greatly from early interventions that will no longer be there. This cut is simply immoral.”

School boards tap own-source revenue

School boards are being urged to maintain staffing levels despite reduced funding in 2019/20. They have been authorized to use reserve funds and to increase parent fees previously capped by the NDP government. This means that consolidated spending will continue to increase even though provincial funding to boards has decreased, the difference being made up from the so-called “own source” revenue of school boards.

Provincial budget documents account for that increase in spending but report spending estimates across government fiscal years that run from April 1 through March 31. Therefore, each government year blends five months of one school

Government year Board spending funded by government  Board spending funded from own-source revenue and reserves  Private school funding Department spending and other  Total operating expense,
K–12 education 
 2018/19 $7.208 billion $566 million $286 million $162 million $8.222 billion
 2019/20 $7.218 billion $560 million $291 million $153 million $8.222 billion
 2020/21 $7.209 billion $681 million $294 million $139 million $8.322 billion


Government spokespeople are pointing to the increase in total operating expense as an increase in education funding, but it is being driven partly by the increase in funding for 2020/21 and partly by the increase in school boards’ use of reserves and own-source revenue in the 2019/20 school year. Across government fiscal years, private school funding has increased by $8 million between 2018/19 and 2020/21.

Schilling is concerned about staffing reductions in the summer ahead.

“School boards, at the insistence of government, kept staffing levels up, but they will not be able to do that again in the year ahead,” said Schilling. “We are predicting the loss of up to 1400 teaching positions across the province.”

New funding model

A new funding model, set for implementation in September 2020, was also introduced with Budget 2020. That new funding model would have implemented a significant further cut in school board funding, but it was buoyed by $212 million in bridge funding for transition to the new funding model.

The new funding model reduces the number of grants provided to boards. Base funding—which makes up about 60 per cent of total grants to boards—is reduced in the new model, but increases have been made in other grant areas, like supports for inclusion, plant operations, and maintenance and transportation. The new funding model also provides dedicated funds for system administration, instead of having school boards fund those central costs out of grants provided for other purposes.

Another significant change in the model uses a WMA to calculate enrolment for funding purposes instead of using an actual student count. The WMA weighs projected enrolment in the year ahead at 50 per cent; current school year enrolment (at budget time in February) at 30 per cent; and the previous year enrolment at 20 per cent. The WMA will smooth out the financial impacts of rapid student growth or decline.

Good, bad and ugly

Looking together at the new funding model and the figures proposed in Budget 2020, here is a quick-hit analysis of the changes coming to school board funding:

Change  Notes  Verdict 
Partially restored cuts from 2018/19 Ministry officials continue to ignore data that shows funding was cut in 2019/20. They are happy to state that they increased funding for next year. Ultimately the partial restoration is good.   GOOD
Not adequately funding growth Boards will still be down $9 million in total operational funding compared to 2018/19. Combined with 27,000 added students over those two years and per pupil funding is down $464.   BAD
Uncertainty of bridge funding  The $212 million bridge funding is set to expire in two years. What happens after that is uncertain. This is a substantial amount of funding for some boards. It is worth $47 million per year to Edmonton Public alone; it makes up 15% of Northland School Division’s overall funding.    UGLY
Dedicated funding for system administration Boards now have dedicated funding for central administration, worth on average 4% of annual funding. Previously boards had to pay the costs of these services out of other funding envelopes.   GOOD
Reduced per pupil base funding  The per pupil amount for base funding in Grades 1–9 has been reduced from $6,680 to $6,064. This is likely because boards were already using money from base funding to cover other areas that now have dedicated funds.    BAD
Weighted moving average (WMA) Schools will have to wait up to three years to get funding for new students because of the WMA. Boards that are experiencing rapid population growth are being hit particularly hard by this dramatic change.   UGLY
New model winners 2020/21 funding compared to 2018/19:  GOOD
East Central Francophone up 5.8%
Horizon up 5.2%
Grasslands up 4.2%
Northern Gateway up 3.9%
Canadian Rockies up 3.5%  
New model losers 2020/21 funding compared to 2018/19:  BAD
  St Albert Catholic down 4.1%
Living Waters Catholic down 4.1%
Medicine Hat Public down 3.2%
Elk Island Public down 2.3%
Red Deer Public down 2.2%
Some boards lose really big if bridge funding is removed  2020/21 funding (without bridge funding) compared to 2018/19:  UGLY
Sturgeon down 13.3%
Northland down 12.3%
St Albert Catholic down 10.0%
Increased funding for specialized learning supports (SLS) School boards have been spending around $80 to $90 million more on inclusion than they received from government, while teachers were reporting a decrease in supports for students. Increasing this fund should help get better inclusive education supports in the classroom.   GOOD
Elimination of PUF for kindergarten students PUF provides significant funding for early intervention for some of the most disabled and delayed young children—worth up to $25,000 per year per student. PUF used to be available for prekindergarten and kindergarten students, but now kindergarten students will have supports funded under the SLS program. This is a significant loss for those children, who need it the most.  UGLY
Dedicated block funding for rural small schools  Schools with enrolment under 155 students will be funded with block funding of up to $1 million instead of a per pupil allocation. This recognizes challenges faced by smaller schools trying to offer a fuller array of programs and supports.   GOOD
Funding for the Alberta Distance Learning Centre will be phased out over next two years. Students can enrol with their own schools or through ADLC directly to take courses at a distance. ADLC programming was provincially supported but that funding will end by 2022 and many, particularly rural students, will lose access to programming options. It is expected that a number of teaching positions with the Pembina Hills School Division will be lost as a result.
Elimination of credit enrollment unit (CEU) funding  High schools will now all be funded on a per student basis instead of being funded based on numbers of credits enrolled. Part-time enrolment is no longer a factor in how much funding is generated; school will no longer have to push for more and more credits.  MOSTLY GOOD
School Nutrition Grant continuation The previous government’s school nutrition program continues to help provide food to students who need it.   GOOD
Restoration of refugee funding  A new grant program will bring back additional funding for refugee students who face language learning needs and require additional mental health and other supports.  GOOD
Increases to operations and maintenance for facilities  School boards typically ran a deficit in this area of $50 to $60 million per year. Increased funding here should mean less funding diverted from instruction. GOOD
Transportation  The government has left transportation funding mostly the same, but plans to develop a new model. It is expected that this model would encourage shared services between boards, as recommended in the MacKinnon report. Transportation is another area where school boards typically run deficits and pull funding from other grants. TBD


For more information related to Education Funding in Budget 2020, please see the following:

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