Block funding for Alberta Distance Learning to be phased out over next two years
Service agreement between ADLC and province will end after 2021-22 school year
Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) will be defunded and phased out by the provincial government over the next two years.
Former students and education advocates fear the end of ADLC in its current form may cause serious inequities in education for rural and vulnerable students.
On the weekend, the school board responsible for the program, which caters to thousands of students, announced it had been told by the province that its service agreement would not be renewed beyond the 2021-22 school year.
Funding will go from more than $18 million this school year to $14 million next year, and then halved in its final year to $7 million.
"ADLC and division leadership does not have any further information at this time. We hope to meet with representatives from Alberta Education in the very near future," wrote David Garbutt, superintendent of Pembina Hills School Division.
"In the meantime, we will continue our commitment of providing instruction to your students. Your teachers can also continue to use ADLC resources through teacher support."
Colin Aitchison, spokesman for Alberta Education, said the changes that were introduced in Budget 2020 will provide equitable funding to all distance learning providers in Alberta.
"The government will work with Pembina Hills School Division over a two-year transition period, and we are confident that these changes will not prevent current ADLC students from completing their high school diploma," he said.
Kathy, whom CBC has agreed to identify only by her first name in order to protect her job, said that without ADLC and the flexibility it offers, she would not have completed high school.
"I found myself pregnant and and knew I had to go to school, but there's no way I wanted to face the shame and stigma at the school," she said. "So I signed up for distance learning, and it was ideal because I was working and supporting myself."
But Kathy said she fears other vulnerable youth are now losing that opportunity.
"I think they're going to be pushed even further out of the education system," she said.
Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said the impacts of ending ADLC will be big.
"About 80 teachers work in ADLC. And so there's a big question of uncertainty there about what will happen to these 80 teachers and their employment," he said.
"There's also an impact on delivery of education to students. A lot of students rely on a ADLC and the materials that it provides and the service it provided to a lot of rural school districts."
Schilling said a lot of rural districts in Alberta rely on the program to offer their students courses the schools aren't able to.
Education advocacy group, Support Our Students Alberta, said it's disappointed, but not surprised by this.
"It is just another strategy in the undermining of access to quality public education that's going to be a real hurdle for rural folks and for adults who are looking to upgrade to get to post-secondary," said Barbara Silva, the communications director for SOS.
"More than anything, it is market creation. It really is opening the door for privatization to come into public education."
The Alberta Distance Learning Centre started nearly a century ago as a provincial correspondence school, using the postal system to reach rural and remote areas.
It adopted its current name in 1991, and five years later joined forces with the Pembina Hills school board, which was operating a virtual school.
Aitchison said it was the only distance education provider in the province at that time.
"Today, 32 school authorities are offering [their own] distance education to students across the province," he said.
"ADLC was the only distance education provider to receive dedicated block funding. These changes now put all distance learning providers on an equal footing, funding them all on an equitable, per credit basis."
Silva said while this move may look like it's offering school boards further autonomy, SOS believes that is misleading.
"It means school boards who are tight for funding already will find it more efficient economically to outsource this, and outsourcing is what results in privatization and for-profit online learning," she said.
The Calgary Board of Education said none of its schools operate primarily through ADLC, and said the CBE is one of the 32 boards offering their own distance learning.
"CBE students are fortunate to have access to our own comprehensive distance learning course offerings through CBe-learn. Currently, we offer distance learning opportunities for CBE students in Grades 6-12 using online technologies," the board said in a written statement.
The CBE said its students on occasion access ADLC course offerings in areas where the board has not developed resources — for example, courses for students in Grades 1-5.
"With a phased-out approach to ADLC funding, we may see an increase in demand for our own distance learning course offerings as a result," reads the statement. "We are currently examining how we might expand our online and blended learning opportunities."
Aitchison said it's too early to comment on the next steps for ADLC.
Pembina Hills School Division board chair Jennifer Tuininga said the board will continue to advocate for the services that ADLC provides, and the students who are served.
"We are working with Alberta Education and minister [Adriana] LaGrange around this matter," she said.