Throughout Alberta, concerns over changes to how the Alberta Government funds early education supports for students has many calling on the provincial government to return to its previous funding model. Wolf Creek Public Schools’ (WCPS’s) Board of Trustees is among that chorus of voices that includes parents and families, advocacy groups and fellow trustees through the Alberta School Boards’ Association (ASBA).
In the Alberta Government’s spring 2020 budget there were a number of changes to education funding for schools. One of those key changes was to Program Unit Funding (PUF). The change to PUF did several things that included impacting the age eligibility for students to qualify for funding.
Prior to this school year, a child with a severe disability/delay qualified if they were at least two years and eight months of age and under six years of age. What changed in the 2020 provincial budget, and the revised funding framework, was the age eligibility, which is now between aged two years, eight months and less than four years, eight months.
This change, paired with the COVID-19 pandemic, has created some increased concerns for Wolf Creek in how students will be supported. A number of families have decided, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to keep their children home for those early years of pre-K education. For our division that meant a drop from 140 to 25 PUF approved students from last school year to this year.
Our division, like those around the province, have also experienced a drop in kindergarten to Grade 12 enrollment because of the pandemic. The decline in both these areas means school divisions are unable to identify and serve the needs of many students due to them not enrolling.
The change in criteria around eligibility means there will be a significant number of students entering the school system in September, 2021 with, potentially, no targeted funding to support their diverse learning needs.
As the Board of Trustees, we have recently written to the Education Minister and our local MLAs to share these concerns, asking them to help address the scenario school divisions like Wolf Creek are facing due to the changes to PUF and the impacts created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, at the 2020 Alberta School Boards’ Association (ASBA) Fall General Meeting (FGM), public, separate and francophone school boards met virtually from across the province to discuss a variety of important topics in K-12 education, including PUF funding.
A resolution calling on Alberta Education “to ensure students with mild/moderate and severe disabilities/delays who require specialized early intervention provided by program unit funding are able to receive it, and that funding of the PUF program be restored to the equivalent per student amount as 2018 levels, including Family Oriented Supports, allowing ECS providers to offer fully funded half-day programming, and that program funding be extended from two years to three years to include supports for kindergarten” was made.
As a board we will continue to advocate for these essential supports for students and families, and continue to update our communities as we work together on this goal.
Pamela Hansen is the board chair of Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS).