Can you explain more about class sizes? How much would it cost to decrease the average class size? Is there room in the budget for this?
Alberta Education provides guidance for average class size from kindergarten to Grade 12 and provides funding to help the CBE keep class size as low as possible.
For the 2016-17 school year, Alberta Education published the following average class size information for the CBE. I have provided a second column of numbers that sets out the Alberta Education guidance regarding class size for comparison.
It is important to note that average class size is just that – an average class size. Some class sizes are smaller to best serve a group of students’ educational needs, while some classes can be larger. There is a much bigger educational piece to this question that is best addressed by others; however, I can provide guidance on the financial end.
The CBE receives money from the government to reduce class size: all of this funding is allocated specifically for this purpose. Our lowest class sizes are in the kindergarten to Grade 3 division, as we use class size funding to ensure that smaller class sizes are maintained during these years. We know that small class sizes in early grades have a significant impact on student learning.
As you can see above, average CBE class sizes are fairly close to Alberta Education’s class size guidance. However, achieving the suggested class size in every classroom would require $32 million per year for more than 300 new teachers and support staff. We would also require hundreds of additional classrooms to accommodate smaller classes. Unfortunately, we do not have the extra classrooms, and finding an additional $32 million in an already stretched budget would be difficult.
Thankfully, we did receive some additional help from Alberta Education last year and for the next year. Under a special Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF), the Minister of Education made $13 million available to the CBE for 2017-18 and we will be receiving another $13 million for 2018-19. Those dollars will be used to pay for about 130 additional teachers and education assistants in classrooms. This will help to moderate class sizes, but we would still need to find another $19 million to meet the government targets.
Is $19 million hard to find in such a big budget?
The CBE’s total 2018-19 expenditures are $1.4 billion.
Of that total,
instructional programs consume $1.1 billion. This includes all school-based staff and a range of school-based and central supports to schools (psychologists, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, curriculum specialists, etc.).
The cost of operating and maintaining (gas, electricity, water, sewer, garbage, insurance, grounds and building maintenance and custodial staff, etc.) over 250 schools rings in at $169.9 million: not much room there to assist in class sizes in an already stretched budget.
Transportation services absorb another $49 million. These dollars are required to be dedicated to transportation services, so we can’t move funds from here to assist with class size funding.
Noon supervision, international student programming, etc. consumes about $33.3 million. For each dollar spent here, the CBE recovers at least one dollar. Said another way: if we direct those dollars to fund smaller class sizes we would actually end up further in the hole, as the offsetting revenue would also disappear. This is not an option.
Finally, there are board and system administration (BSA) costs. Board and system administration pays for the cost of our elected Board of Trustees, the leadership team within the CBE, and the range of other costs associated with running a large school jurisdiction. For the 2018-19 budget year, board and system administration is forecast to be $46.3 million. Finding the dollars to shrink class sizes here would take 41 per cent of the BSA budget; meaning we would not have the staff required to hire and pay our teachers, or pay the bills to keep the lights on in schools.
I hope this has helped explain the financial piece to the class size dilemma. There are no simple solutions. Even in a $1.4 billion budget, we cannot find $19 million without affecting important classroom supports.
In all our financial decisions, we remember our values: students come first, learning is our central purpose, and public education serves the common good.