Working with Alberta’s education budget a balancing act

While the new government has removed cuts in Alberta’s education, the price of a barrel of oil is still challenging planners.

Alberta Education’s assistant deputy minister Gene Williams speaks to WCPS teachers Wednesday

While the new government has removed cuts in Alberta’s education, the price of a barrel of oil is still challenging planners, says Alberta’s assistant deputy education minister.

Gene Williams spoke to teachers at Wolf Creek Public Schools Wednesday, Aug. 26 at Ponoka Secondary Campus about initiatives for education planners. He said changes in the provincial leadership has been refreshing, but the focus is always on students.

The push for stable funding in education is coming from Premier Rachel Notley and Education Minister David Eggen, explained Williams.

Part of that drive includes emphasis on First Nations students, where Williams says there is a large gap in learning compared to non-aboriginal students. “We know we need to provide supports on that in the fall.”

Student population increases while the dollar drops

As the price of a barrel of oil drops, the student population is doing the exact opposite. There are expected to be another 12,000 students enrolling in schools this year, which is going to increase costs of education.

To deal with these challenges, Alberta Education is looking at money that school divisions across the province have been saving.

“If you’re saving for a purpose, when does that money get used?” asked Williams.

He added there is approximately $400 million saved by divisions across the province and he suggests planners want to know why the money is being saved. Students, said Williams, should be the focus behind whether that money is used.

A question from the audience asked if money could be saved by the removal of the diploma exams.

Williams answered the province needs a way to assess students’ education. He added that Student Learning Assessment tests such as those taken in grades 3, 6 and 9 help parents see where their children’s skills are and provides taxpayers a way to see those results.

Teacher leader development

The new government is not responding to recommendations from a Task Force for Teaching Excellence report.

When the findings were released in May, 2014 Alberta Education drew fire from several groups, including the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA).

Williams said teacher leader development is still a priority for the province, but a new group of stakeholders, 25 in total, including teachers, the ATA, the Alberta School Boards Association, First Nations and superintendents, will be weighing in on how that could look.

“Some of the things we’re talking about is the teacher quality standard,” explained Williams.

He added planners are looking at all aspects of leadership development for teachers.

Changes to diploma exam weighting

School trustee Bob Huff asked how teachers can prepare students for post-secondary education considering changes to this year’s diploma exam weighting.

Starting this school year, outcomes will be weighted more heavily on the exams written during the school year, 70 per cent, while the final exam will have a 30 per cent weight in the assessment of success. In previous years, the weighting was a 50/50 split.

Williams answered that universities and colleges were consulted before making the decision and he said planners responded that there will be no change to how new students are evaluated.

 

Williams took other questions from attendees and spoke on areas such as funding for rural schools and career and technology studies.

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