Alberta will have $262.8 million more to spend on back-to-school planning after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged $2 billion in funding Wednesday to provinces and territories for safe school reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement comes only a week before students are set to return to classrooms across much of Alberta, as the Calgary Board of Education is set to welcome students back Sept. 1, with Calgary Catholic School District students beginning to return the following day. Both districts will stagger reentry to acclimatize the students to new measures.
The money will be distributed to provinces and territories based on student population. It will come in two instalments: the first this fall, and the other in early 2021.
Provinces will have broad discretion when it comes to spending the money, Trudeau said, as education is a provincial jurisdiction.
Alberta Education officials could not immediately detail how the money would be distributed to local school districts and what it would be used for, saying a review was ongoing.
“We appreciate this funding as it demonstrates how all levels of government can support the return to in-class learning across Canada,” said Colin Aitchison, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
“Given this is a very sudden announcement by the federal government, officials from Alberta Education are currently reviewing the program details in order to determine how to best distribute this funding to school authorities quickly and effectively.”
Trudeau said the funding could be used for investments including improving air ventilation, adapting physical and online learning spaces and bringing in additional hygiene measures.
The prime minister added reopening schools is important because it allows parents to work and the economy to recover.
“Our children must be safe in the classroom,” Trudeau said. “No parent should be losing sleep because they have to go back to work but aren’t confident schools are properly prepared.”
The federal funding equates to about $354 per student.
Alberta has invested $10 million in personal protective equipment for schools but has otherwise instructed school boards to use reserve fundings to pay for costs arising from making adjustments for the COVID-19 pandemic. Those reserves total about $363 million.
Some parents and teachers in the province, including the Alberta Teachers’ Association, have called on the province to increase funding to enable measures including smaller class sizes.
Aitchison touted Alberta Education’s school reentry plan and said school districts would be provided with necessary resources.
“Ensuring the safety and well-being of our staff and students continues to be our priority,” he said.
“We remain committed to ensuring school authorities have the resources they need to ensure a safe return to school. We will also continue to work with (Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena) Hinshaw and our education system and will adjust our provincial re-entry plan as necessary.”
More to come….
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