Alberta Politics

Blue Ribbon Panel Report Might Make You Blue Too

It’s no surprise the panel tasked with cutting spending found the government spends too much. What’s on the chopping block? Healthcare, K-12 education, post-secondary, the public service and their wages, (excluding management).

The panel has recommended the Government of Alberta:

  • reduce the public service by making better use of not-for-profit and private delivery models
  • reduce government grants for universities
  • review the “viability” of the 26 post-secondary institutions in Alberta
  • reduce public service wages to be in line with other provinces
  • remove the cap on management salaries
  • reduce red tape for businesses
  • reduce costs of administration and governance for K-12 schools
  • reduce capital spending

In short: prepare for recession levels of spending that *will* impact businesses. Laying off the public service and cutting their wages (excluding management), increasing school fees and tuition costs will not help put more money in your pocket – moving on.

The recommendations, said Finance Minister Travis Toews, will be used to create the first budget. It is unlikely that the recommendations for K-12 Education will be given much attention at all, however, due to the self-imposed constraints on the UCP government.

The two recommendations that involve the K-12 education system are rather interesting. In addition to the public system, Alberta has a fully funded separate school system and a private school funding model that is unmatched in Canada. Alberta’s separate schools have their own governance, busing and administration.

The first recommendation, to “decrease the percentage of government funding that goes to administration and governance (currently 24.6%) to a level comparable to British Columbia (17%)”, takes aim at the requirement of having two separate boards, trustees, Superintendents, and other bureaucratic hierarchies for each publicly funded school district.

The return to Alberta’s Education Act also includes additional benefits for Catholic Albertans in that Catholic members of the public can run for election in, and vote for, both public and Catholic trustee and board positions but non-Catholics can only run for public boards. In terms of cost savings, according to the Act, one board, if it was Catholic, could do the work of both.

The second recommendation, to “completely review and revise current education funding formula to ensure enrolment growth is addressed and to provide incentives for sharing services and achieving better education outcomes for students”, touches on recent controversy between the public and separate schools and will likely be ignored. The issue made headlines in Red Deer in 2017 when two new schools in the city, one Catholic and one public, decided not to share services due to fear of a mixed values environment.

The funding model for separate and private schools in Alberta is the most generous in the country. Separate schools in Alberta, Catholic schools, are funded at 100%, just like public schools. Private schools are currently funded at 70% per student but during the 2019 election campaign, the UCP had called for that amount to be increased.

For reference, British Columbia does not fully fund a separate system and funds *some* independent schools at either 50% or 35%, Ontario, also controversially, fully funds the Catholic system but does not fund private schools, and Quebec does not fully fund either Catholic or private schools.

This post contains fact and a smidgen of snark.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean

contact: dmaclean@countersign.ca, hello@politicalrnd.ca

Twitter: @Mitchell_AB for all the commentary; @thisweekinAB for posts; @politicalRnD to guess “who tweeted that”?

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By the by, the UCP AGM is coming up and donations (or subscriptions) will help get me there.

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