Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter wipes slate clean on credit claw­backs

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Al­berta’s ed­u­ca­tion ED­MON­TON min­is­ter has can­celled an $11.3-mil­lion claw­back from 59 school boards whose stu­dents took too many high school cred­its last year.Frus­trated school board trustees and su­per­in­ten­dents said last week they may can­cel pro­grams and limit op­tions for high school stu­dents after re­ceiv­ing no­tices ear­lier this month say­ing Al­berta Ed­u­ca­tion was hold­ing back fund­ing for ev­ery stu­dent who earned more than 45 credit en­rol­ment units dur­ing the 2017-18 school year.After Post­media con­tacted govern­ment Wed­nes­day with ques­tions about the claw­backs, the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter re­versed course Fri­day, say­ing the move had “un­in­tended con­se­quences” and was now un­der re­view.“Our stu­dents de­serve to learn as much as they can while in our schools, and it has be­come clear to me that the CEU ad­just­ment could harm their aca­demic pur­suits,” David Eggen said in a Fri­day state­ment.Money with­held from boards ear­lier in the month was to be sent to school boards Tues­day, said an email from the min­is­ter.The new 45 CEU cap took ef­fect in Septem­ber 2017.Pre­vi­ously, the govern­ment funded high schools for stu­dents to take up to 60 cred­its in a 12-month pe­riod.The claw­backs didn’t hit boards un­til this month, as cred­its from the last school year have now been tal­lied.School boards and district lead­ers, who have raised con­cerns about the lower credit cap since its in­tro­duc­tion, were pla­cated by the move.“We’re re­lieved that the de­part­ment saw some of the un­in­tended con­se­quences that this fund­ing pro­gram brought into schools,” Darcy Ed­dle­ston, chair­man of the Wain­wright-based Buf­falo Trail school divi­sion, said Tues­day.Last Wed­nes­day, Ed­dle­ston was feel­ing “ex­tremely frus­trated” while look­ing at a Feb. 1 no­tice say­ing the govern­ment was with­hold­ing $108,975 for the 135 Buf­falo Trail stu­dents who earned more than 45 CEUs last year.Look­ing at un­funded costs, he was ques­tion­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of the divi­sion’s out­reach school in Vermilion, where stu­dents re-take classes to im­prove their marks and com­plete cour­ses that don’t fit in their school timetable.“School boards across the prov­ince are un­der a lot of pres­sure to lower dropout rates and yet we’re hav­ing our hands tied in of­fer­ing pro­gram­ming op­tions to stu­dents to keep them in­ter­ested and in­volved in school,” Ed­dle­ston said Wed­nes­day.He said the cap was dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect­ing ru­ral highschools, which of­fer fewer in­school op­tions and see more stu­dents regis­ter­ing in skill-based and ca­reer-based cour­ses out­side school hours.

ONE SUM­MER SCHOOL CAN­CELLED

The ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter in­tro­duced the cap to help fund a $50-mil­lion re­duc­tion in school fees fam­i­lies paid and to fund schools with grow­ing en­rol­ment.Ed­mon­ton Pub­lic Schools was set to lose $2.1 mil­lion after 10 per cent of high school stu­dents earned more than 45 CEUs. Ed­mon­ton Catholic Schools had more than 1,000 stu­dents ex­ceed the cap and was about to lose $803,000 this year.Ed­mon­ton Catholic school board chair­woman Laura Thib­ert com­mended Eggen’s change of heart.“This en­hances op­por­tu­ni­ties for our fu­ture in­no­va­tors and lead­ers by al­low­ing stu­dents to at­tain a well-rounded port­fo­lio and take a wide ar­ray of cour­ses,” she said Tues­day.In Dray­ton Val­ley, how­ever, sum­mer school is al­ready his­tory after the ex­pected CEU claw­back prompted the Wild Rose school divi­sion last year to de­cide it was un­af­ford­able.In the White­court-based North­ern Gate­way school divi­sion, su­per­in­ten­dent Kevin An­drea said last week he was set to meet with prin­ci­pals to de­cide how to cut $246,483 from high school bud­gets. That’s how much Al­berta Ed­u­ca­tion was to with­hold after 17 per cent of the divi­sion’s high school stu­dents ex­ceeded the CEU cap.“This may be the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin of dual credit within my juris­dic­tion,” he said on Feb. 14. The cour­ses give stu­dents both high school and post-sec­ondary cred­its as they learn trade and ca­reer skills.On Tues­day, An­drea wel­comed Al­berta Ed­u­ca­tion bump­ing the credit fund­ing limit back up to 60 CEUs. Just 20 stu­dents earned more than 60 CEUs last year, he said, which will mean a much smaller loss of $34,000 for the divi­sion.“Right away, it took quite a bit of the pres­sure off our pre-bud­get dis­cus­sions in the juris­dic­tion and I think it breathes new life into some of our off-cam­pus ed­u­ca­tion,” An­drea said Tues­day.

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