School authorities hoping for some of the COVID-19 school reopening funding promised by the federal government should see some of the money soon. Alberta’s education minister made the announcement Wednesday morning.
Adriana LaGrange said she has directed her department to transfer the funds to school authorities as soon as the province receives it. (A full breakdown of how the government plans to distribute the funds is below)
She says the federal government will be transferring some of the approximately $262 million promised to Alberta in September, while the rest will be sent “later in the school year.”
Read more: ‘It’s a nervous energy’: Edmonton students head back to school amid COVID-19 pandemic
“The $250 million will be dispersed to school divisions on a per-student basis so that they can utilize them for the needs that they are identifying, their local needs,” LaGrange said.
As mandated by the feds, that money must be spent on one or more specific COVID-related areas: staffing, adapting learning spaces and personal protective equipment, cleaning and safety considerations for schools and buses, special needs support and online learning and teacher training.
The other $12 million will be given to divisions that offer online learning.
“Some school divisions are experiencing tremendous growth so we want to make sure they have the supports in place and the dollars that they need to make those programs as effective as possible,” LaGrange said.
“I believe this approach is the fairest and most equitable way to disperse the funding.”
The funding breaks down to about $350 per student.
Read more: ‘I feel for parents’: Dr. Hinshaw regrets confusing COVID-19 orders as schools reopen
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the $2 billion for schools across the country on Aug. 26 while at an elementary school in Toronto.
While education is a provincial responsibility, Trudeau said he had been hearing from Liberal MPs that parents were still concerned even after the provinces laid out their plans.
“So we said, ‘Let’s give the provinces even more resources to be able to do everything that is necessary to keep our kids safe,”’ Trudeau said last week.
The entirety of the $262 million must be used for COVID-19-related costs, as mandated by the federal government, and LaGrange said her department will be developing a spreadsheet to allow school divisions to keep track of what they spend their share on.
“It’s up to the school divisions to allocate these resources where they see fit.”
According to LaGrange, even private and charter schools across the province will see some of the funding.
“Our safety relaunch strategy, our relaunch program is to ensure every child is safe across Alberta,” she said. “Those dollars are being dispersed equitably right across the whole province.”
Read more: Some Alberta schools delay start after positive COVID-19 tests
The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said he expects the funding to be used to address seven key priorities the association has been advocating for to improve classroom safety.
“Funding should be focused on significant staffing needs. More teachers are needed to reduce class sizes, substitute teachers need to be available and need to be supported and protected, custodians are needed to ensure that ongoing sanitization occurs throughout the school day and more EAs are needed to help students with learning needs and hygiene,” Jason Schilling said in a news release.
“Teachers want schools to stay open, so we have to make sure the return to school is done as safely as possible.”
Schilling encourages school boards to meet with teacher representatives and principals to determine how best to allocate money at the local level.
Read more: Alberta Teachers’ Association requests school year delay at meeting with education minister
In a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, the Opposition NDP expressed its disappointment the money wouldn’t be going toward smaller class sizes and said the government should have announced sooner where the money would be going.
“Today, tens of thousands of parents waved goodbye to their kids as they dropped them off in over-crowded classrooms,” education critic Sarah Hoffman said.
Hoffman argued the delay from the government was “unnecessary” and could have been made before students went back to school.
“The delay comes after the deadline for enrolment, leaving school boards and parents guessing about how the federal money would be spent,” the news release read.
The NDP reiterated its stance that the money should have been used to implement guidelines to increase physical distancing and reduce class sizes.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said achieving the NDP’s plan of capping class sizes at 15 would cost the government about $4 billion in new schools, equipment and training and certifying thousands of teachers, calling it a plan to keep schools closed instead.
Many students across Alberta will be heading back to school over the first week of September. Some school divisions are choosing to delay the start to the school year after positive COVID-19 tests in staff.
Breakdown of Alberta school divisions by Kirby Bourne on Scribd