Notley pledges more teachers, schools with $23-million boost to education

NDP Leader Rachel Notley on the campaign trail in Calgary, announcing she will add $23 million to fund 400 more teachers/support staff if elected this April.

Al Charest/Postmedia

Alberta schools will have 1,000 more teachers and support staff when kids go back to class this fall if the NDP is re-elected April 16, Leader Rachel Notley vowed Thursday.

Flanked by parents in supporter Tyler Ogilvie’s Renfrew-area townhouse kitchen, Notley said her government would bump up classroom spending by $23 million to add 400 teachers and support workers to 600 already promised.

And $1.3 billion would be invested over five years to upgrade and build 70 schools across the province, she said, “including a badly needed high school in northern Calgary.”

“No parent wants their kid to learn in a crammed classroom, no parent believes their child’s future should rise or fall with the price of oil,” said Notley.

But she spent much of her time with reporters attacking UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s education platform, part of which promises to abandon some of the curriculum reforms now being undertaken.

She said the UCP plan ignores the need to fund rapidly rising enrolment.

“Suggesting 15,000 new kids can walk into our schools and suggest outcomes will be better is magical thinking,” she said.

“Why? Because he’s promising a reckless $4.5-billion tax cut for profitable corporations, and you’ve got to find the money somewhere.”

That new education spending, along with other dollars promised during the NDP’s campaign, wouldn’t jeopardize the government’s plan to balance its books in 2023, she said.

Notley also said her government would spend $5 million to upgrade aging school playgrounds, while also creating language courses in Filipino, Cantonese, Somali and Punjabi.

The UCP education platform focused on improving academic outcomes by introducing more literacy test and diploma exams to target concerns over Alberta’s slipping standing in math and language test scores.

It’s a stance that’s come under attack by the Alberta Teachers’ Association, which argues those tests don’t provide an accurate glimpse of students’ progress.

By contrast, ATA president Greg Jeffery seemed to endorse the NDP’s approach of boosting teacher and school numbers.

“The province must fully fund enrolment growth just so we can keep up, and schools still need an additional infusion to catch up for years of unfunded inflation and to respond to the constantly growing expectations of parents and the community,” he said in a statement.

Kenney responded to the ATA by saying no teachers’ association in Canada likes standardized tests, but that parents do.

Notley said the UCP proposals overlook the need for more teachers, other staff and schools to handle the expected influx of students.

And she said Kenney’s hostility toward at least part of an ongoing curriculum reform threatens to move Alberta backward.

“To throw away the work of 100,000 participants is what will undermine the quality of education . . . it’s leaving our children to learn with resources that were developed in the 1980s, before the internet,” said Notley.

Kenney’s plan to roll back the NDP government’s Bill 24, which ensures parents aren’t informed about their children’s membership in so-called gay-straight alliances in schools, was also targeted by Notley.

“While Mr. Kenney is determined to pick on gay students, with us, all students will be protected,” she said.

The UCP called Notley’s announcement more fiscal disregard for Alberta taxpayers that’s added up to $5 billion in campaign promises and referred to a statement by their Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre candidate Jason Nixon.

“Rachel Notley’s balanced budget claims have zero credibility — year after year we’ve see the NDP increase spending and push back their path to balance plans,” he said.

“Rachel Notley and the NDP need to come clean on their secret plans to raise taxes before they ask Albertans for their vote.”

Later on Thursday, Notley spoke at a rally of about 100 people at the campaign headquarters of Calgary-Falconridge NDP candidate Parmeet Singh in the city’s northeast.

She assailed Kenney over a news report stating the UCP leader’s campaign is under investigation over accusations of computer-based voter fraud in the party’s 2017 leadership race.

“Mr. Kenney isn’t even in office yet and he’s already under investigation by the RCMP,” she told the cheering crowd.

Thursday marked the sixth day in the 10-day-old election campaign that Notley has spent time in Calgary, which is widely considered the election’s key battleground.

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn