News | June 11, 2013

By Andrea Sands, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON-High school students are expected to walk out of classrooms across Edmonton in unison Tuesday morning to rally at the Alberta legislature against recent provincial cuts to education funding.Student organizers Samantha Kennedy, 17, and Hayden Weir, 18, are using social media sites such as Tumblr and Facebook to promote the walkout scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday.“Many of you know about the HUGE cuts that Alberta schools are facing next year. Schools in our own city are losing millions of dollars, and because of that, a ton of the programs we have come to accept as normal school activities are being cut — athletics, arts, music, etc. — and while we may not be able to take these cuts back we can be heard,” says the Edmonton Walkout page on Facebook.“It is for this reason that we are going to be loud.”Kennedy and Weir were working Friday to charter buses that will pick students up at various high schools Tuesday just after 11 a.m. and shuttle them to the legislature. Hundreds of students from about a dozen public and Catholic high schools have indicated they hope to attend.Students plan to rally outside the legislature, eating lunch, listening to live music and guest speakers and celebrating education and extracurricular school programs, some of which have suffered funding cuts, Kennedy said. Various unions are supporting the rally with funding and equipment.“As a group we hope to make students aware this is happening,” Kennedy said Friday.“There has been a lot of focus on budget cuts in Edmonton and I feel like it’s time that we looked at education for high school, junior high and elementary that’s being cut as well.”Students want to send a message to the provincial government they won’t quietly accept cuts to education grants, said Kennedy, a Grade 11 student from Jasper Place High School.Despite a Tory promise a year earlier to increase education funding by two per cent, the provincial budget delivered in March froze overall education funding. The government paid for increased student enrolment but eliminated and reduced numerous education grants. That left Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools with millions of dollars less for 2013-14 than they had last year to educate more students.The Catholic school district is mainly cutting spending on administration and supplies to make up its shortfall but expects larger class sizes in the fall. Edmonton Public Schools is cutting administration costs, cancelled raises for several staff groups and is predicting larger class sizes and possible layoffs. In recent weeks the district stopped funding a music enrichment program, raised rents for groups leasing space in public schools and cut spending on central-office physical education consultants who coordinated after-school sports programs.At a public school board meeting Tuesday afternoon, trustees will discuss the 2013-14 budget and decide whether to ask voters in the fall civic election to vote for a special new tax to collect more money for schools.It is important that students speak out against the provincial cuts that are affecting education programs across Alberta, said Weir.“Individual schools are losing so much money because of this,” Weir said.“We’re not rallying against specific schools, or administrative staff, or teachers or principals. We’re acting in solidarity with teachers. We’re celebrating their achievements and what they’ve been able to instil in their students…The province is passing down the cuts and it’s the local schools and districts that are having to deal with how those cuts happen.”Grade 11 student Melissa Wilk said she will be at the rally no matter what the weather. Wilk, 17, attends Jasper Place High School where she uses a peer-tutoring service to get extra help in math. It appears that service will be reduced or eliminated to save money, she said.“That has been especially important to me because I get help from my peers without having to pay for it,” Wilks said.“I just hope people become more aware of how the budget cuts are affecting the students. We want to be heard and we want to show we care about our education enough to stand up to what’s happening.”The executive director of Public Interest Alberta, an advocacy organization, said young people know the cuts will affect their education.“You can’t cut millions of dollars out of education and have 11,000 more children in the school system without impacting the quality of their education,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon.NDP education critic Deron Bilous, MLA for Beverly-Clareview, is speaking at Tuesday’s rally. Bilous, a former high school teacher, said the student-organized, citywide protest is an effective way to tell the Conservative government students oppose the recent cuts.“There are decisions being made that are going to affect their education — from class size to fewer teachers, fewer supports in the classrooms, fees are going up — and I’m sure the students are feeling very frustrated and disenfranchised,” Bilous said.“We’ve seen decisions made by the government reversed in the past because of public outcry, so I never discount the fact it could lead to a change in policy or decisions and to restore some funding, which would obviously be ideal.”asands@edmontonjournal.comTwitter.com/AnsandsRead the article at The Edmonton Journal

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