Provincial Minister of Education David Eggen spoke to media Feb. 22, responding to the release of the February Report of the Auditor General, which is scathing in its critique of the ministry’s failure to measure, monitor or have an action plan to deliver its Class Size Initiative.
Eggen said he was not surprised by the conclusions in the Auditor General’s report.
“We knew there needed to be greater accountability. This is a step I obviously knew about with the Auditor General and we will pursue it most vigorously, finding ways to have both accountability and reporting to specifically target reducing class size here in the province,” he said.
The Education Ministry provides funding to school boards under the Class Size Initiative to hire and retain teachers. The initiative has a budget of more than $293 million for the current year.
Alberta’s Auditor General Merwan Saher presented his February report to the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) Feb. 22 in Edmonton. It states the vast majority of school boards are not meeting the accepted targets for class sizes at the kindergarten to Grade 3 level.
According to the report, average class sizes are actually larger than they were in 2004, when the initiative began. In 2004, the average was 19.7; in 2016-17, it was 20.4. The target for kindergarten to Grade 3 classes set forth in the Class Size Initiative is 17 students. In Rocky View Schools (RVS), the average class size for this group is 21.4 students.
“We welcome this important report from the Auditor General,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery in a statement on the association’s website. “It highlights a number of issues that we have been pointing out for years.”
Jeffery said the government should introduce funding in this year’s budget to hire an additional 2,000 teachers to help reduce class sizes, particularly at the kindergarten to Grade 3 level.
However, Eggen was short on specifics as to how his ministry would actually implement the recommendations of the Auditor General.
“We’re looking for ways to have greater accountability and certainly this report…lets me know that we need to work together much closer with school boards to make sure that we get the money spent in the classroom at every opportunity,” he said. “We’ve been working…to ensure that we’re funding for enrolment and that we’ve making the investments in education even during a significant economic downturn.”
Eggen said he recognized the growth rate specifically in RVS was “remarkable.”
“Certainly, we have globally been working to address the needs of a growing school population, building schools, hiring teachers, funding for enrolment,” he said.
The Minister said the Class Size Initiative would continue to be implemented. His department would take the report of the Auditor General seriously, he added, and will work with school divisions to determine better reporting processes.
“We will make sure that we are focusing very specifically on the Class Size Initiative. I’m not taking this line item out – we’re going to make it better and we’re going to make it better around accountability and recording,” he said.
“We know that class size is important for students and for families and for teachers and we are certainly going to take action. You can judge us on our actions again in the future, how we tackle this Class Size Initiative.”