Edmonton public schools set to see enrolment growth, without funding growth: board chair

The Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) is expecting to see its enrolment levels return to pre-pandemic levels, but a new funding model might not be enough to keep up, says the division's board chair. 

“We are experiencing growth, 2.7 per cent enrolment growth is what we are forecasting for,” said EPSB Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks. “You can see that, although we are projecting an enrolment of, I think, 104,000 students, we’re in essence only really funded for 99,000 of those students based on the new funding formula.”

The new funding framework put in place by the province no longer provides money on a per student model, instead it is based on a three-year average.

“The province has signaled that the education funding in Alberta is frozen at $8.223-billion, and it’s been $8.223-billion for the last two or three years now,” said Superintendent Darrel Robertson. “That means that if enrollment increases in the province, that doesn’t mean educational funding or the total amount the province is spending on education is increasing.”

A report from school administration on the distribution of funds was presented to the board Tuesday.

“Our administration has done a really good job of reflecting some of the key areas and the key priorities that trustees have been advocating and talking about… one of those is early years funding and mental health,” said Estabrooks.

“I am really pleased to see a focus on increased spending on our division one students that’s kindergarten to Grade 3.”

She added that “significant investments” are being made towards students who are living in poverty.

The report outlines several uses for surplus funds including continuing pandemic relief, online resource development and the High Social Vulnerability Achievement Pilot project.

“It’s one thing to talk about the fact that one in five kids are living in poverty in Edmonton, and that’s contributing to some of the achievement gaps that we are seeing in Edmonton Public Schools, but it’s another to put money behind an action plan,” said Estabrooks.

The EPSB is projecting a surplus of $22.5-million this year. Surplus spending requests need to be approved by the education minister and will be submitted at the end of the month.

Another concern of Estabrooks is a shortage of supply staff.

“We have large numbers of staff in quarantine we need to call upon our supply pool of staff as well as support staff education assistants and custodians as well to come in and fill those positions,” said Estabrooks.

She said that while the current levels aren’t as bad as they were in November, there are 18 unfilled supply staff positions at the moment.

“Does that mean that there were 18 classes in our school that just didn’t have an adult guiding, no that’s not it at all, it just meant it put additional pressure on the staff within that school, perhaps it was a principal that stepped up and taught math for example today.”

Estabrooks said COVID-19 is to blame for the issues with staffing levels in schools.