Alberta schools will be funded on three-year average enrolment, province says

Alberta schools will receive per-capita student funding based on three-year average enrolment, the education minister said Tuesday, as she promised every district in the province will get more operation money in the budget coming later this month.

New funding model intended to help boards plan ahead, education minister says

Alberta's Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has set out guidelines for student instruction while Alberta's schools are closed during the covid-19 crisis. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Alberta schools will receive per-capita student funding based on three-year average enrolment, the education minister said Tuesday, as she promised every school division will get more operational money in the budget coming later this month.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the province plans to save money by reducing red tape, such as eliminating the need for annual assessments for student with disabilities. But she could not provide reporters at a news conference in Edmonton with an estimate of the amount. 

 LaGrange said under the new model, each school's per-student funding will be calculated using a formula:

  • 20 per cent based on actual enrolment for the year just passed;
  • 30 per cent based on an estimate for the current year, and;
  • 50 per cent based on a projection for the upcoming year. 

The three-year weighted average will allow school divisions to know what they are getting for the upcoming year at the end of March, LaGrange told a news conference in Edmonton.

Under the current system, final budgets aren't set until schools conduct a full count of students at the end of each September. 

The education budget will remain at $8.223 billion. LaGrange insisted boards will have more operational funding next year even though student populations are rising. 

"We are going to ensure that school boards actually have more dollars to operate next year," she said. 

Under the new system, a school division with 16,438 students in 2018-19, 16,487 in 2019-20, and a projection of 16,734 student  in 2020-21 would be funded for the weighted average of 16,601 students.

Alberta Education acknowledged the system favours schools with declining enrolments in rural areas. A school with a steadily declining enrolment of 6,058 in 2018-19, 5,941 in 2019-20 and a projection of 5,791 in 2020-21, would end up with a weighted average of 5,889 students.

Trisha Estabrooks, chair of Edmonton Public Schools, said the weighted average system means large urban districts with rapidly increasing student populations will always fall behind. 

"It means our funding will be based on the numbers of students we've had in our classrooms in previous years," she said. "In essence, it's sort of like looking in the rearview mirror and we can never catch up. 

"What we need is adequate funding for the students that will be in our classrooms." 

Estabrooks's concerns about the weighted averages were echoed by Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association. 

"Students need funding on day one, they don't need funding two years down the road," he said. 


Sarah Hoffman, the NDP opposition critic for education, said LaGrange's announcement was short on details and amounted to nothing more than a political exercise. 

"I think its really shameful to come here today and announce a new formula and not actually show us the formula, not show us any of the numbers, not show us what it means for individual boards," she said.

The new model will also include measures to keep school boards more accountable for student outcomes, LaGrange said. 

In the past, the government allocated funding through 36 different categories of grants; that number will be reduced to 15 categories, ranging from base instruction to transportation and administration.

Funding grants for administration costs will be handed out separately from grants for classroom instruction. Currently, boards spend on average three to five per cent of their overall funding on administration.

Alberta Education intends to reduce the amount spent on administration.

The actual amount of each school board's grant won't be revealed until the budget on Feb. 27.

The new funding formula will take effect on Sept. 1, 2020.