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Parties air differences on education funding

March 24, 2015 Kim Dewar, ATA News Staff

Reduce spending or increase revenue? Political reps offer their views

Depending on who’s talking, Alberta either has a spending problem, is too lax about collecting its fair share of taxes or has been dragging its feet for years instead of investing in schools.

Those were the differences of opinion that emerged during an all-party forum on education hosted by the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) March 14 at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald.

Education funding was the hot topic among the three representatives of the Alberta Liberal, NDP and Wildrose parties. The PCs declined the Association’s invitation to attend.

Sharon Smith, the Wildrose candidate for Leduc-Beaumont, said her party has always maintained that Alberta has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem. Prioritizing spending is key for ensuring predictable and sustainable funding for education, she said. For example, carbon capture and storage initiatives in Alberta cost $1 billion, which equates to 75 new schools. The Wildrose believes that Alberta’s education system should be a top priority for government spending that follows inflation and population growth, but would trim spending in existing areas rather than seek to increase revenues, she said.

Alberta Liberal interim leader David Swann said Alberta’s tax system is equivalent to the government foregoing $11.6 billion compared to the next lowest taxed province. At 10 per cent, Alberta’s corporate tax rate is the lowest in the country, he said.

“The PCs have historically looked out for their political interests rather than the interests of Albertans. This government does not operate under evidence-based decision making; rather, it is decision-based evidence making,” he said.

“Alberta Liberals believe it’s time to look seriously at reforming Alberta’s tax structure so that the education system can be properly funded and children — the future of Alberta — are the priority for government.”

The NDP’s Deron Bilous said that, with Alberta’s birth rate among the highest in the country, it’s “shameful” that the government has “dragged its feet on investing in new schools.”

“Education is not a cost, it is an investment and the government has failed to adequately invest for decades,” he said.

Moderated by Jennifer Martin of Shaw TV, the event focused on three themes: education funding, education policy and the teaching profession. The forum took place in front of a live audience and was also livestreamed via the ATA’s website.

The three political representatives answered questions from the audience and a number of prepared questions along the themes of funding education policy and the teaching profession.

In response to a question from a teacher about the lack of classroom support for students with special needs, both the Liberal and NDP representatives pointed to misplaced government priorities.

“I think this province has not taken your workload seriously,” Bilous said. “I think they’re not providing adequate funding for support staff like aides — plus these are the first positions that get cut. I would argue that inclusive education has actually seen a decrease in funding over the last few years.”

An audience member’s question about curriculum redesign sparked more discussion about the government being out of touch with the reality in today’s classrooms. Bilous answered that a complete overhaul of Alberta’s K-12 curriculum cannot be successfully implemented within a year-and-a-half, as proposed by the government.

“I don’t think that’s a responsible way to go forward,” he said.

Smith, the Wildrose representative, said her party believes that teachers and their professional association — not Alberta Education — should be in the “driver’s seat” when it comes to changes in curriculum.

Task force issue

Additional questions on the recommendations contained within the report produced by the Task Force for Teaching Excellence led to Smith stating that the Wildrose party supports some of the points, including longer, more in-depth teacher practicums, and a provincewide mentorship framework for new teachers but she also clearly expressed support for an ATA that had both union and professional functions.

Bilous, the NDP representative, answered that his party had several issues with the task force from day one — in particular, the fact that the teacher’s association was not invited to the table, nor were any other important, relevant stakeholders. The task force amounted to an attack on teachers and the teaching profession but also proved that the then minister of education, Jeff Johnson, lacked understanding of the realities that teachers face, Bilous said.

An Edmonton teacher asked the representatives how their parties would ensure that teachers’ increasing workload is addressed.

Swann said today’s classroom is composed of students with varying degrees of income, health status and language capabilities, and that the proper way to mitigate the burden on teachers is to implement a specific plan to address each concern.

“That’s a pretty fundamental question of any leadership team — to look at what the expectations of the job are, what resources are available and how we’re matching the demands with the results,” he said, adding that real leadership from government would mean that the plan is continually evaluated and changes are made as needed until the desired results are achieved. ❚

Watch the forum online.

Upcoming Shaw Broadcasts (subject to change)

Sunday, April 5 at 1:30 PM
Monday, April 6 at 10:30 AM
Tuesday, April 7 at 10:30 AM
Tuesday, April 7 at 6:30 PM
Wednesday, April 8 at 6:30 AM
Wednesday, April 8 at 7:30 PM
Thursday, April 9 at 3:30 PM
Saturday, April 11 at 1:30 PM
Sunday, April 12 at 7:30 AM
Wednesday, April 15 at 6:30 AM
Lethbridge/Pincher Creek
Sunday, April 5 at 9:00 AM

Medicine Hat
Saturday, April 4 at 7 PM
Fort McMurray
Tuesday, March 31 at 5:00 PM
Wednesday, April 1 at 5:00 PM
Thursday, April 2 at 5:00 PM
Sunday, April 5 at 6:00 PM
Red Deer
Tuesday, March 31 at 5:00 PM
Wednesday, April 1 at 5:00 PM
Saturday, April 4 at 5:00 PM
Sunday, April 5 at 9:00 PM

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