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Funding adjusted for official languages education

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Adjustments in the funding formula of the Official Languages Education Protocol (OLEP) in Alberta will mean fewer funds for French immersion programs like those offered at École Mountain View and Harry Collinge High School.

Michael Tyron, executive director of Canadian Parents for French (CPF) French Alberta branch, stated that the distribution changes result in funding reductions from 11.5 per cent to 27 per cent per student in french second language education and french immersion, despite the total amount of funding remaining the same.

Tyron said French and Francophone schools in Alberta had 8,779 students enrolled this year, while French immersion had 46,636 students, and core French had 147,766 students enrolled.

“The programs that have the most students are going to get less money per student, the programs that have fewer students are going to get more money per student and more money overall,” Tyron said.

This past school year, French immersion from K to Grade 6 received $80 per student for the year, moving forward that will decrease to $68.

Grade 7 to 12 French immersion previously received $129 per student, which is decreased to $114 going forward.

French as a second language or core french programming received $65 for K to Grade 6 and $89 for Grade 7 to 12 in the past year, which has now decreased to $53 and $65. 

“We’ve also been told that it will decrease again next year,” Tyron said.

While those two programs will lose funding, funds for francophone or French as a first language schools will increase.

Francophone funding for K to Grade 6 is going up to $69 per student and Grade 7 to 12 is going up to $120.

Colin Aitchison, press secretary of the minister of Education, stated the ministry is updating how  federal funding for K to 12 language education in Alberta is distributed so all learners are treated more fairly. 

“Beginning in 2020-21, we will move to a 50-50 split in the allocation of funding between minority-language education and second-language instruction, bringing us in line with the majority of other provinces across the country. This decision was made after significant consultation with education partners, including Alberta’s Francophone school authorities,” said Aitchison.

CPF posted that adjustments to the OLEP funding formula will have a negative impact on the ability to provide programming, and would affect the enrollment trends for French immersion. 

Kurt Scobie, principal of École Mountain View, said enrollment in French immersion has been steady in the past few years.

“Sometimes there’s more enrolment in English, sometimes there’s more enrolment in French. We have more French students overall, maybe 60/40 is the percentage. Sixty per cent French, 40 per cent English,” Scobie said.

Harry Collinge High School also offers French immersion for students beyond Grade 7.

Tyron said CPF doesn’t wish to steal funds from the francophone community as it is their constitutional right and added that the two support each other. He also stated that as enrolment in French programs rise, federal funds haven’t increased.

When asked what local impacts of these changes are, a representative from the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division said since the OLEP news for next year was just released, work to unpack and determine the implications of the grant announcement has not yet been done.

Tyron said potential impacts of less funding can include the loss of a language consultant or the loss of an entire French program.

The provincial and federal governments are now negotiating the Canada-Alberta agreement for minority-language education and second-language instruction. 

The Canada-Alberta Agreement takes an average of six to twelve month to negotiate and hopes to expand on important objectives in the Protocol for Agreements for Minority-Language Education and Second-Language Instruction, identify strategies and initiatives specific to Alberta, and create a detailed action plan to show how Alberta will distribute federal funding.

Governments renegotiate the protocol every four or five years to reflect changing priorities and it takes an average of two years to negotiate each new protocol, stated the Government of Alberta website.

CPF is now running a campaign to educate parents on what is happening with this funding, and addressing government officials about the changes. Tyron added that bilingualism should be considered a benefit to Alberta.

“Especially with the downturn in our economy, if we have kids that speak these languages and they’re in our workforce, that’s going to assist our economy because we live in a global economy and they can communicate in those languages.”