Course offerings for students will be reduced
Education funding cuts in the provincial budget will have a lasting effect on services for rural students and at-risk students.
The March 7 budget’s Funding Manual for School Authorities 2013/2014 School Year shows that funding to high schools for courses taken through the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) will be reduced by more than half. Elementary and junior high courses and programs will not be affected by the cuts.
What does ADLC offer?
ADLC provides provincially approved course content to schools for use by students who require alternative delivery methods. ADLC often provides high schools with courses for those students who, for a variety of reasons, do not succeed in traditional classrooms. These students may require alternative delivery methods because of social, personal or health reasons and are often at risk of dropping out of school. In small and rural schools, ADLC provides a greater variety of courses that cannot be offered to the larger student population. For example, ADLC assists students who need to obtain a missing prerequisite course; students who have scheduling conflicts between courses they need; and students who are interested in less popular courses or courses not offered through the school, such as law, business and calculus.
How ADLC funding works
Before the March 7 budget, school jurisdictions through which ADLC delivered courses received full funding for credits taken by students. ADLC also received funding equivalent to 56 per cent of the Credit Enrolment Unit (CEU) rate to fund program development and hire teachers and staff to support teachers supervising the programs in the school. ADLC will continue to receive 56 per cent of funding, but the CEU funding received by schools will be reduced to 44 per cent of the funding received for other courses.
ATA President Carol Henderson expressed concern about what funding cuts will mean for the course and delivery options available to students. She questions whether schools will be forced to push students seeking alternative programs into courses that are not a good fit because those courses are funded at a higher rate.
“How does this funding decision mesh with the goals of Inspiring Education, which discusses the importance of learner-centred decisions that value individualization?” asks Henderson. “For students, this will result in round pegs being shoved into square holes.”
Henderson is also raising questions about how Alberta Education plans to implement customized learning without a well-supported publicly delivered distance learning centre. “Public education fulfills an important social function, and students deserve to be in schools in their communities surrounded by professionals that care about them,” says Henderson. She points to the important role ADLC plays in providing courses for students and resources for teachers so that tailor-made programming can occur in the communities where students live.
A further erosion of course offerings for small schools will result from reduced funding for work experience and special projects courses. Starting next year, these courses will be funded at 60 per cent of the regular CEU rate. Work experience and special projects provide students with programming options where the general school schedule does not fit individual student needs. Work experience is particularly valuable for students who aren’t likely to go on to postsecondary education and helps them obtain the credits required for a high school diploma.
Cutbacks will affect teachers employed by ADLC
The ADLC operates through a contract with the government as a branch of the Pembina Hills School Division. Teachers employed with ADLC are certificated active members of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
Frank McCallum, local president with Pembina Hills Local No. 22, is also concerned about potential fallout from funding cuts. McCallum says reduced funding for school boards will mean that fewer students will take ADLC courses.
“Teachers in Pembina Hills, at ADLC, at our alternative delivery schools and in our community schools that use these courses are obviously concerned about what the future might bring for ADLC,” says McCallum. “We are bewildered by the government’s abandonment of students who need, for whatever reason, access to distance education resources and the support of teachers who understand distance education pedagogy.” He is equally baffled that the government would cut funding to a program that proved indispensable to students in the aftermath of the Slave Lake fires. “It’s hard to believe that a school that was so necessary to the department just two years ago… is now so disposable.”