The provincial body representing school boards has seen almost all of its funding disappear in the past year, threatening its critical advocacy in supporting parents’ voices.
Executives at the Alberta School Boards Association, which supports more than 1,500 school boards and more than 50,000 volunteer parents, say their group has seen its funding go from $650,000 in 2020 to nearly zero this spring, fearing the UCP government will has become irrelevant.
“We have not received any funding for our project work this year, so it will be a real struggle to represent school communities and the voices of parents,” said Brandi Rai, president of ASCA.
“We provide the training, the education to help school boards do their job in a meaningful way so they can engage their wider parent community.
“Their work is not just about school board meetings with the principal. It’s about ensuring that all of the parents’ voices are captured and that they get a diverse representation of their school community.”
According to ASCA, the UCP government has provided the nonprofit group with up to $650,000 in funding for the 2019-20 fiscal year. In 2020-21, its funding was significantly reduced to $170,000, resulting in multiple employee layoffs and reductions in project work.
But this year, they were told they will not receive even the previous year’s reduced funding of $170,000 and that they will only qualify for $15,000 to conduct a parent survey on COVID learning loss.
“Our reserves are depleted and future services and support for school boards are at risk without alternative funding,” said Wendy Keiver, executive director of ASCA.
At the same time, Alberta Education created a new “Minister’s Parental Advisory Board” comprised of 40 hand-picked government appointees to act as representatives of parent concerns to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
ASCA representatives fear it is another move to undermine their role as representatives of thousands of diverse parenting voices.
“There is a deep feeling from our parents that their voices are simply not being heard by this government,” Rai said, adding that last month’s annual conference brought together thousands of parents who raised concerns about the UCP’s controversial new curriculum and the lack of from COVID. support in schools.
“It’s been a difficult two years and parents want to rebuild connections within their school community. And COVID has been an ongoing disruption to learning,” Rai added.
“However, now school boards are at risk of losing the resources we offer.”
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Krista Li, president of the St. Joan of Arc School Board in the Calgary Catholic School District, argues that ASCA has been a tremendous resource for school boards like hers across the province.
“ASCA is the vehicle through which school boards make their case,” Li said.
“This gives us incredible resources, ensuring we understand the work we do to support students in our schools.
“And now to see it eroded is actually quite scary.
“We have to ask ourselves to what extent the voices of parents are relevant to this government.”
Katherine Stavropoulos, press secretary to the education minister, confirmed that ASCA has requested money to represent, develop and communicate parents’ perspectives through school boards.
But she added that “we have made it clear to them that we will no longer fund their operations,” without explaining exactly why.
Instead, Stavropoulos said the government will provide a $15,000 grant to ASCA to “identify and mitigate COVID learning loss” and other requests for “specific work aligned with the ministry’s objectives will be considered.”
Stavropoulos also added that the province is providing up to $1 million through an “Alberta School Board Engagement Grant,” which provides up to $500 to each individual school board.
But Rai says the money won’t help ASCA stay afloat and will provide the vital resources — from workshops to annual conferences — volunteer parents need to make a difference in their schools.
Li cited several examples of critical work done at St. Joan of Arc, thanks to ASCA’s support.
“It is the work of volunteer parents that fills the gaps in public education funding. We go out and buy robotics equipment, sports uniforms, band instruments, theater equipment. It’s what we do,” Li said.
“However, what we are seeing is an invalidation of school boards. We are seeing underfunding that shows a lack of respect for the voices of parents.
“And we’re seeing a handpicked advisory board that says, ‘We don’t respect school boards, we just want an echo chamber for ourselves,’ and the real parents have been taken out of the equation.”