Alberta will act briskly to get COVID cash to schools

$262 million has been earmarked for educational upgrades due to COVID-19

The province says it will move quickly to distribute nearly $262 million in funds for schools provided by the federal government.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange made the announcement Wednesday, saying the funds will be released in two phases, the first of which is expected to be this month. The remaining money will be transferred later in the school year.

LaGrange said the funding will be distributed on a per-student basis, and the majority of the funds — $250 million — will be passed on to school authorities.

The money must be used to support additional COVID related costs in one or more the following areas: staffing, adapting learning spaces, personal protective equipment, cleaning and safety considerations for schools and busses, supports for special needs students and online learning and teacher training.

The remaining $12 million will be dedicated to supporting school authorities that are experiencing a large influx in enrolment due to demand for online or distance learning programs.

“I believe this approach is the fairest and the most equitable way to disperse the funding,” LaGrange said, adding she’s directed her department to make sure the money flows to school boards quickly.

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling was happy the federal and provincial governments recognized the financial strain on schools. He added the association has already outlined seven priorities to improve classroom safety.

“Funding should be focused on significant staffing needs,” he said.

“More teachers are needed to reduce class sizes, substitute teachers need to be available and need to be supported and protected.

“Custodians are needed to ensure that ongoing sanitization occurs throughout the school day and more EAs are needed to help students with learning needs and hygiene.

“Teachers want schools to stay open, so we have to make sure the return to school is done as safely as possible.”

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t entirely helpful, because many school boards have already passed enrolment deadlines.

“Today, tens of thousands of parents waved goodbye to their kids as they dropped them off in over-crowded classrooms,” said Hoffman.

LaGrange called the NDP plan to reduce class sizes by half and add more teachers impractical.

“I do want to reiterate that the plan that was put forward by the NDP is unrealistic,” she said.

“We do not have a pool of tens of thousands of teachers out there waiting to be hired, nor do we have 800 new schools, which would be required to reduce our class sizes in half.”

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