The Edmonton Public School Board’s 2013-14 Budget and the Alberta Government’s Cuts to Essential Services

This year, the Alberta Government passed a budget through that both borrowed money to balance its books and heavily cut essential services. Today, Edmonton’s education system was dealt a serious blow when the Edmonton Public School Board approved its own budget for 2013-14: including cutting 339 jobs – 182 of which are teacher positions.

With close to $50 million being cut from grade-school education (don’t even get me started on the close to $150 million cut from post-secondary), many school in Edmonton saw significant cuts to their budgets. Jasper Place High School saw some of the largest budget cuts, while Terwillegar School saw some of the lowest cuts (I can’t help but notice the class discrepancy between the two schools as well, where the Jasper Place is an older area of Edmonton with lower income housing and Terwillegar is a newer area of Edmonton with much higher income housing, just a funny “correlation”).

It’s frustrating that the Alberta Government has cut so deep into education to the point where teachers need to bring their own school supplies to the classroom just to get through a semester, but still refuses to tax additionally on the massive industries we have tearing apart Alberta’s North. I understand that these companies are massive job creators and are good for Alberta’s economy, but let’s think about the kinds of jobs they are creating.

Any labour specialization in Alberta requires post-secondary certification. This means that anyone wanting to specialize in welding, pipefitting or crane-operating needs to graduate high school, right? Or at least get through university as a mature student after age 21.

Specializing in a trade is VERY different from traditional education. Skills such as critical thinking and reading comprehension aren’t explored as thoroughly (if at all). This is why high school is so important; these skills can develop that early.

Let’s think about our graduating high school classes though. How many people do you know finished high school, yet had no place receiving a diploma? How many kids are just pushed through the education system, learn nothing and are thrown out into the world because the education system doesn’t want to deal with them anymore? If you even counted one, you counted too many.

With funds dwindling in the education system, this problem is only going to get worse. Classes of 40 or more kids (many of which with special needs and now will not have teachers-aides to make sure that education is doing something for them as well) crammed into a single room is not an effective way to educate and I am optimistic about the next generation because of the ease of information that they have growing up in the age where anything you need to know about anything can be pulled up on your phone in a matter of seconds, but I’m so afraid that they’ll never be able to understand all the information they have available to them.

It’s the old “give a man a fish/teach a man to fish” dichotomy. Yet the Alberta Government has difficulty in applying even the simplest lessons that we learned in our childhood.

But maybe that’s the whole point.

I’m not saying that the Alberta Government is purposefully trying to make people dumber because then they will work for Suncor and Shell without question and not be able to read the contracts that they sign and not be able to organize unions so they can get better working conditions and not try to innovate new industries in Alberta that could potentially compete with oil and not realize how much tearing up land and creating tailings ponds and making a bunch of guys from Texas really rich will actually hurt themselves and all of Alberta in the end.

I’m not saying this is happening on purpose; but, it’s a funny “correlation.”

Worse, is that we’re dealing with a seriously broken system and the fix won’t come easy. Teachers’ unions and the public haven’t always seen eye to eye. When the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) went on strike in 2006, parents of kids were mad at how long the schools were closed for. I guess its hard to appreciate what wanting better working conditions feels like when you’re raking in hundreds-of-thousands of dollars for manual labour. I guess it’s harder to understand that, chances are, the school being open or not really wouldn’t have made a difference for a lot of those kids. How many high school kids today are already writing off school, figuring they’re going to make a ton of money working on the rigs anyways so what’s the point?

I have a lot of friends who work on the rigs. But, they can articulate what they’re doing. They can read their contracts and understand what the stipulations of their employment are. They were lucky enough to have a really good high school education that taught them to read and think.

Education is so important. I can’t figure out why the Alberta Government doesn’t think so. I mean, they haven’t come out right and said it. But, Jasper Place High School is dwindling right now. It has some of the largest class sizes in Alberta, yet is receiving some of the lowest funding per capita. They borrowed money and cutting essential services to balance their books while keeping corporate tax rates the lowest in Canada. They keep chanting this bizarre hyperbolic-conservative mantra to “never raise taxes.” Most of the people I’ve talked to would be really ok with a Provincial Sales Tax (Alberta is the only province in Canada without one of those) if it meant that we would never have to sacrifice essential services.

My father always told me that any education is a good education. He’s been a union worker for more than thirty years, was able to raise a family on what he made and signed more contracts than a lawyer. I understand why he always said that now.


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