Budget 2024 sets up stealth cuts to K-12 and post-secondary education

Alberta’s UCP continue to push towards private schools, K-12 charters, and turning post-secondary education into glorified job training in 2024 with an education budget that falls well behind inflation and population growth.

Danielle Smith discusses the education budget at a March 1st press conference. Photo by Chris Schwarz via the Alberta government newsroom

The advanced education and K-12 education budgets are set to increase by 4.4 per cent this year, but the government estimates population growth plus inflation will amount to 7.2 per cent. This is an austerity budget and these are stealth cuts. 

The K-12 education operating budget, which includes public, francophone, separate and charter schools, as well as 70 per cent of costs for accredited private schools, increased $393 million to $9.3 billion, a 4.4 per cent increase from 2023. 

That figure includes $408 million for accredited private schools and child care facilities, a 13 per cent increase from private school funding in 2023—nearly triple the overall K-12 education funding increase. 

Transportation funding, which is for students in public, francophone, separate and charter schools has increased to $540 million from $468 million, representing a 13 per cent increase. 

The 2024 capital plan includes $722 million in K-12 education spending this year, of which $507 million is dedicated to existing projects. 

But $80 million is going immediately towards expanding the infrastructure for specialized programming at publicly funded but privately operated charter schools and collegiate schools, both of which can turn away students, with another $22 million in each of 2025 and 2026 for a total of $124 million. 

Public education advocacy group Support Our Students called this funding a “wasteful diversion” of public funds in a Feb. 29 news release

Meanwhile, $50 million will be spent on acquiring modular, or portable, classrooms for schools which are overcapacity, with funding reaching $103 million over three years. 

K-12 enrollment increased by 28,000 kids last year and is projected to increase by 29,000 this year. 

“This budget is shortchanging our kids,” Support Our Students executive director Madeanna Moussa said in a statement. 

“When you have massive enrollment growth, but funding doesn’t follow every student entering the system, what they're really doing is cutting the pie into smaller pieces and asking each of our kids to make do with less. We see the results: ballooning class sizes, schools over capacity, fewer supports for students with special needs.”

Post-secondary prioritizes the market

Tracking spending on advanced education in Alberta is more complex than K-12, given the increasing role tuition and other non-governmental revenue sources play in funding operations. 

The operating cost for post-secondary education in Alberta this year is $5.65 billion, with government funding $2.5 billion, or 44 per cent, of the cost. 

By the 2026/27 school year, the government wants that figure to decrease to 42 per cent. 

Last year, the Alberta government capped tuition increases at two per cent, limiting post-secondary institutions’ largest non-governmental source of income. 

Revenue from tuition this year is pegged at $2 billion, or 35 per cent, of operational funds. 

The 2024 advanced education budget includes $393.7 million for student aid at private career colleges—a $76.3 million, or 19 per cent, increase from last year’s budget.

This consists of $90.14 million in loan provisions, offset by $15.3 million in one-time supplementary funding, and $1.6 million in heritage scholarships. 

The advanced education budget includes $102 million over three years to create 3,200 additional apprenticeship spaces in that time period, with funding increasing to $85 million this year. 

One of the government’s key goals for investing in advanced education is “to achieve labour market outcomes,” according to the ministry business plan included with the budget. In other words the government wants to turn post-secondary education into job training. 

In 2022, the most recent year for which data is available, 95 per cent of post-secondary graduates were employed, the business plan reads. That figure for apprentices is 92 per cent.  

The 2024 Capital Plan includes $117 million this year for post-secondary projects across the province, totalling $361 million over three years. The choice of projects demonstrates the job market-oriented approach the government is taking towards advanced education. 

Over the next three years, the government is spending:

  • $75 million for MacEwan University’s business school to increase enrollment in “high-demand sectors” 
  • $63 million for renovating Olds College’s W.J. Elliott Building, which is used for agricultural mechanics
  • $43 million for NAIT’s trades and technology learning facility
  • $55 million for the University of Calgary to create 1,000 new spaces in STEM fields at a “multidisciplinary hub”
  • $13 million for Red Deer Polytechnic to build a facility for businesses to conduct applied research
  • $26 million for the University of Lethbridge to train more physicians at its Rural Medical Teaching School

No capital funding appears to have been allocated for repair or renewal of the University of Alberta’s Humanities building, which closed in January after a fire