Grant plan to cut Alberta class sizes has failed, says education minister

Alberta’s education minister says a grant program to cut class sizes in schools has spent $3.4 billion over the last 15 years while failing to deliver results.

Adriana LaGrange says a report on the Class Size Initiative has barely “moved the needle” and they have to look at more effective ways of spending the money.

The initiative began in 2003 under the former Progressive Conservative government, directing money to schools to specifically reduce class sizes.

However, an education department audit released by LaGrange says kindergarten to Grade 3 classes have dropped by only 1.4 students on average during that time, well below targeted levels.

The report says the reason is schools were given autonomy to spend the money, with some diverting funds to other areas, such as support for special needs students.

LaGrange says she and her officials are now deciding what to do with the grant, but that overall funding to education will not be reduced.

“We are committed to education,” LaGrange said Friday. “We are not cutting funding to education and we are going to look for better (funding) solutions.”

The report says schools believe the grant is not an effective tool and the money should instead be rolled into base funding.

It also notes studies that say cutting class size is not the only method of improving education and that the quality of teachers can have an even greater affect on student learning.

The grant program began with $90 million in funding and has grown every year as school enrolment increased, with $291 million delivered in the current budget year.

Kindergarten to Grade 3 is where class size is believed to have the biggest affect on learning. The grant initiative targeted class sizes in those levels to come down to 17 students per class, but as of this year the average is more than 20.

A 2018 auditor general report found that the department could not explain why the targets had been missed.

LaGrange said the bottom line is that the program has failed.

“We’ve spent $3.4 billion and we have not moved the needle hardly at all in terms of addressing the class size issue,” she said.

Further details on how the province will allocate education resources will be announced Thursday, when Finance Minister Travis Toews presents the 2019-20 provincial budget.

(Dean Bennett – The Canadian Press)