Budget 2019: Alberta's post-secondary budget reduced, tuition freeze removed
K-12 education budget maintained, but changes to funding model coming
Post-secondary students in Alberta can expect to pay more for their education in the next school year, as the tuition freeze will be removed and operational funding for institutions reduced.
The United Conservative government's 2019 budget provides $5.1 billion for Advanced Education operations, which represents a five-per-cent cut over the previous year.
Operating expenses will be reduced by seven per cent to $4.8 billion by 2022-23, largely by reducing provincial grants.
Grant cuts will not be applied equally among institutions, but will vary depending on the institution's ability to absorb a financial hit.
"Our goal over the next four years is to adjust the way we deliver education in this province, to reduce the funding requirement of government," said Finance Minister Travis Toews.
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Institutions will face a range of cuts of up to 7.9 per cent. They will learn their fates later Thursday.
The tuition freeze, which had been in place for the past five years, will be removed in the upcoming school year.
Tuition increases will be capped at seven per cent at the institutional level, and at 10 per cent at the program level.
The tuition and education tax credits are also being cut.
Post-secondary students will also pay more in student loans. The interest rate, currently set at prime, will be increased to prime plus one per cent.
The cumulative impact of these cuts will be difficult for students, said Council of Alberta University Students chair Sadiya Nazir.
"We're really concerned," Nazir said. "Students as it is, with the seven-per-cent increase alone, would face affordability issues."
"It's really regressive and shortsighted," said NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman.
"It's going to make life more expensive and harder for people who are working hard to be part of economic diversification and to put food on their family's tables."
The Alberta government is investing in initiatives to link students with job opportunities, such as the Women Building Futures program, which will receive $10 million over the next four years.
K-12 education budget maintained
The budget for kindergarten to Grade 12 education is $8.2 billion, the same amount that was spent last year.
Three grants are being abolished: Class Size Funding, Classroom Improvement and School Fee Reduction.
The savings will be reallocated to cover a 2.2-per-cent increase in student enrolment.
The Alberta government is also investing $1.8 billion from its capital plan for the construction of new schools and the modernization of existing schools across the province.
The funding includes $397 million over five years for 25 new and modernized school projects, which will be announced at a later date.
In a statement, the Alberta Teachers' Association said the budget will mean larger classes and fewer student programs.
"This budget is, yet again, asking teachers to do more with less," said ATA president Jason Schilling. "The student population is expected to grow by 15,000 students, and school boards will not receive any more money to support them."
Schilling accused the government of playing a "shell game" with education funding, saying school boards will be receiving less money per student than the last school year.
New funding models coming
Schools will receive a transitional grant this year, to help pave the way toward a new funding model that is still in the works. A total of $150 million is earmarked for the grant.
The transitional grant won't be enough to compensate for the loss of revenue from the Class Size Funding grant, Edmonton Public School Board chair Trisha Estabrooks.
The school board received about $45 million through that grant for this school year, she said.
"It comes nowhere close to what we currently receive," Estabrooks said. "So there is a gap there of funding that will have a very real impact on our schools and on our students."
She said she hopes the new funding model will keep up with student growth.
"We need to see some dollar commitments behind the funding framework."
The new K-12 Assurance and Funding Framework will focus on containing cost growth, and increasing the share of funding in the classroom.
Post-secondary education will also be subject to a new funding model in 2020-2021. It will introduce performance based funding that responds to system performance.