Alberta education minister will track teachers hired with class-size money through new required reports

Publicly funded schools across Alberta will now be required to report how many teachers they hired with class-size dollars from the provincial government.

Education Minister David Eggen sent a letter to school boards and charter schools across the province Thursday saying each school must report this winter how it spent money from the provincial class-size initiative, including which grades the new teachers will instruct.

Eggen is following through on a recommendation from Alberta’s auditor general, who said in a February report governments had failed to track how schools spent $2.7 billion meant to reduce class sizes over 13 years.

“Ultimately, it’s to improve learning conditions for kids in classrooms, and class sizes are a part of that,” Eggen said in a Thursday interview. “We know smaller class sizes allow for more individual attention for students and better learning outcomes. That’s irrefutable.”

The number of classes larger than provincially recommended guidelines has grown during the last decade, according to data posted publicly in June.

Reporting requirement eliminated in 2011

In 2004, the former Progressive Conservative government introduced the class-size initiative — targeted funding that was supposed to address teachers’ concerns about the growing numbers and complex needs of students per class. Using an online tool called the Class Size Information System, school districts had to report how much each school received and how many teachers they hired or retained with that money.

In 2011, the PC government changed the program and eliminated the reporting requirements, but the money kept flowing. As of this school year, $3.3 billion has now been given to boards to reduce class sizes, including $295 million this school year, yet class sizes continued to grow.

A Postmedia investigation found math and science classes in Calgary with as many as 47 students enrolled, and more than three-quarters of K-3 classes in Alberta’s three largest cities exceeding guidelines.

Teachers have said some schools used the class-size money for other expenses.

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen said he is following through with a recommendation from Alberta’s auditor general to better track how schools spend money from the class-size initiative.

Under Eggen’s new reporting requirements, schools must report by next Jan. 15 how and where they spent the money.

However, the minister said Thursday it will take more than better tracking to improve classroom conditions.

“I think we could realize some gains here, by reminding people where money can be spent, but there’s a limit to that. But, you have to invest,” he said.

He was mum on his next steps Thursday, saying he had to see the data before acting further. He has not ruled out capping class sizes in some circumstances.

‘Good first step’

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery said Thursday the new tracking requirements are long overdue, but only solve part of the problem.

“This is a good first step, but the elephant in the room remains total overall funding,” he said.

School trustees weren’t “going on holiday” with any re-directed class-size dollars, he said, which means there isn’t enough funding to keep class sizes manageable while keeping up with other costs, like upgrading computers or running school buses.

Alberta School Boards’ Association president Lorrie Jess said in a Thursday statement she’s pleased the government is gathering more information to understand the complexity of the class-sizes issue. However, she expects schools’ responses will show they need more funding to make class sizes smaller.

Most of Edmonton Public Schools’ class-size funding is allocated to Kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms, board chairwoman Michelle Draper said in a Thursday written statement.

It’s too early to say how the data survey will affect the district, she said.

jfrench@postmedia.com

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