Blog | June 12, 2013

By CAILYNN KLINGBEIL, Edmonton Journal JUNE 11, 2013EDMONTON - More than 400 students walked out of their high school classrooms and gathered at the Alberta legislature Tuesday morning to protest recent provincial cuts to education funding.Organizer Hayden Weir, 18, told the boisterous crowd it’s time for students to take a stand.“Opportunities are being lost and programs that we love dearly and have for our entire school career are being tossed out the window without a single care for the students’ opinions,” Weir said. “That is why we are here today. We are here to prove that we have a voice.”Students listened to music from a rock band playing on the legislature steps and to speeches from high school students, politicians, and representatives from organizations including Public Interest Alberta, #EdStake, Kids Not Cuts and the Coalition for Action on Post-Secondary Education.Weir and co-organizer Samantha Kennedy, 17, both students at Jasper Place High School, organized 19 charter buses to pick students up at 10 area high schools Tuesday just after 11 a.m. and shuttle them to the legislature.Kennedy said the Alberta Federation of Labour paid for the buses, at an estimated cost of $2,500 to $3,000.Other groups, including The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, Health Sciences Association of Alberta, and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, each donated $500 to help students purchase pizza, water, cookies and doughnuts.Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said student activists approached the organization last week and the federation offered up to $3,000.“The federation supports the students wholeheartedly and agrees with them that in a province as wealthy as Alberta, there is no reason to be dealing with these draconian and unnecessary cuts to education,” he said.Kennedy spoke to the media before the event, called Taking Back Our Education, and said high school students are more than just people who sit in classrooms.“We’re telling the government that just because we can’t vote in the election doesn’t mean you can completely disregard our voice,” Kennedy said.Students attending the rally said they are seeing normal school activities cut, including athletics, arts and music programs, because of the provincial budget delivered in March.“In art class we’re running out of supplies and the teacher is buying supplies out of her own pocket,” said Jordan Ulrich, a Grade 9 student at Victoria School of the Arts. “The government is not taking responsibility.”Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman commended students for their participation, telling the crowd “we are capable of so much more as a province.”Speakers included NDP education critic Deron Bilous, MLA for Beverly-Clareview, who called the provincial government’s cuts to education, including fewer teachers and larger class sizes, shameful.“This is the best class in democracy ever,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, with Public Interest Alberta, to loud cheers.Kim Capstick, Education Minister Jeff Johnson’s press secretary, said the minister was in Lethbridge and could not attend the protest.“We’re glad to see students are engaged, but we would have preferred that they not skip school to do it,” she said.Capstick said the province spends $35 million each school day on kindergarten to Grade 12 education.“Overall each student is actually funded more this year than they were last year. That being said, there’s 11,000 more kids that we’re expecting in September, so to make up the difference we did ask school boards to make administrative reductions,” she said.But students, such as 14-year-old Abraham Watson, say budget cuts are affecting more than just school administration.“I’m angry because of the cuts,” said Watson, a Grade 9 student at Kenilworth School, who held a sign reading ‘We are your future take care of us.’“I was going to go into advanced acting next year at W.P. Wagner and now that’s cut,” he said.Travis Manz, a Grade 11 student at W.P. Wagner, said he has heard budget cuts will likely mean reductions to the arts programs at his high school.“We do a big play every year and with the cuts, there’s a big chance we won’t do that next year because we can’t afford it,” he said. “It’s really awful. Lots of the time what got me out of bed and to school was acting, so I’m really bummed out that this could be cut.”Lori Nagy, spokeswoman for the Edmonton Catholic School District, said any students who missed classes because of the protest were marked as absent. “I don’t believe we had many students there,” she said.Edmonton Public Schools had a notice on its website stating the district was not endorsing the event.“Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about the protest and to make it clear that if students leave the school, there will be no district staff joining them or supervising them,” the notice said.cklingbeil@edmontonjournal.comtwitter.com/cailynnkRead the article at The Edmonton Journal