Support workers protest education funding freeze

City public and Catholic boards expect combined shortfall of $47 million

Education support workers and high school students rallied at the Centre for Education in Edmonton Friday to show their support for the Edmonton public school board and to get people talking about the provincial budget.

“A lot of people are really concerned about what it’s going to do to our education,” said Tessa Parker, 16. She said she wants to see stability in funding.

“To know that we won’t have to struggle to get basic things like classroom sizes, teachers, areas to do work, and areas to pursue extracurriculars,” she said.

Meg Walker, 16, said she missed school to fight for her education.

“Public education levels the playing field for students, but reducing funding and placing fees on the most basic of education services creates a gap, further marginalizing an already marginalized group of people,” said Walker.

“No one voted for this, and I certainly didn’t have a vote,” she said.

The provincial budget contained a funding freeze for K-12 education for the next three years, leaving school boards across the province feeling squeezed under enrolment growth pressures.

The Edmonton public school board has estimated a shortfall of $34.4 million, while the Catholic school board is expecting a reduction of $12.5 million.

The rally was held outside the Education Centre to show support for the public school board and school administration, said Gloria Lepine, worker and chief steward of CUPE Local 3550.

“It’s up to this government and our tax dollars to fully fund adequate education for children in Alberta. It’s not up to boards — it’s up to this government,” she said.

Edmonton Public Schools is cutting funds for external assessments for students who could have learning challenges in an effort to balance its budget. It will also pull $1.5 million from a $7.8-million fund schools can use to bring in extra staff, equipment, resources or other help for children with additional needs, such as those with disabilities, those learning English or those who live in poverty.

Organized by local chapters of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the rally drew about 50 people.

“This isn’t a case of balancing the books, this is trying to change the fundamental relationship between people and their government. Today is about highlighting to people in Edmonton what is happening because of the cuts coming down,” said Rory Gill, CUPE Alberta president.

More labour demonstrations will be organized across the province, Gill said.

“I don’t think it’s going to end any time soon unless the government heads in a different direction,” said NDP Opposition education critic Sarah Hoffman at the rally.