660 News: ‘The kids will suffer’: Kenney government criticized for funding changes to schools

This article was originally published by 660 News on July 3, 2020. You can view the original article here.

The Kenney government’s move to offload support services to school boards is being called an ‘all-out attack and a systematic privatization’ of our health care system.

That from the head of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union for hundreds of healthcare workers who deliver supports for children in Alberta schools.

Association President Mike Parker says many of the kids that have been getting help will now fall through the cracks.

“These members of ours that are doing the occupational therapies, that are doing the speech aids, have been working for years with these kids, side by side, as they developed a relationship and worked towards building an improved life for these children,” Parker said.

According to the province, the school boards wanted this change so they could have more say over where the funding is allocated.

“It is clear that HSAA and Support our Students do not understand the needs of our education system, as this change was one that school authorities across the province requested. The decision to redirect Regional Collaborative Service Delivery funding to individual school authorities was made after extensive consultations with school authorities. The money from the program remains (in the) education system. Budget 2020 includes $556 million for the Specialized Learning Support grant for the 2020/21 school year. This flexible grant enables school authorities to provide a continuum of supports and services to meet the learning needs of K-12 students within an inclusive learning environment. The reality is, these changes are not resulting in less funding for schools. Every single school authority will be seeing an increase in their operational funding, and they will receive the funding they need to support all of their students. Funding profiles for all school divisions can be found (on the Alberta website).” – Colin Aitchison, Press Secretary, Office of the Minister of Education.

However, Barbara Silva, with Support our Students Alberta says the school boards, which are already struggling, will use some of the funding elsewhere.

She says the boards, which also have to contend with extra costs due to Covid-19 prevention, won’t be required to use the funding for the RCSD supports it previously paid for.

Silva says what’s happening is a deliberate move by the Kenney government to privatize a health service.

“Anyone who’s in the system has experience in the system, realizes it’s doublespeak and that children are going to suffer because of this. I mean we know how early intervention helps, we know the benefits of it, we should be investing more in it, not less, and the doublespeak is just rhetoric, and it’s hurtful to so many children across this province,” Silva said.

Silva says parents of kids who won’t get the help at school will be forced to pay for it, but there are many who won’t be able to afford it.

Layoff notices have already gone out to numerous speech-language pathologists and speech assistants in Calgary. Still, both Silva and Parker are bracing for an even bigger hit to supports when boards make their final decisions on what services will look like come the fall.

The Calgary Board of Education confirms there have been staff reductions:

“The CBE is creating a model to best support students within the funding that we receive. When we planned our budget for the 2020-21 school year, the removal of the RCSD grant was incorporated into our budget.
The CBE has opted to supplement the budgeted support we provide for students with complex needs by $2 million. This may result in some additional hiring of staff.
In other cases, positions that were funded by the RCSD grant will be reduced.” — Calgary Board of Education.

The Calgary Catholic School District says it is still assessing the situation as well.

“We are currently exploring the impact on our district. School districts support many student needs, including mental health, speech and language therapy, and other health-related matters that occur during the school day. As such, any reduction to supports for students with these or other complex needs are challenging. However, we are looking within our current budget to ensure we can continue to meet the needs of our learners.” — Calgary Catholic School District