Earlier this week, Airdrie parent, Dustin Horlacher was joined by members of the province's opposition in Airdrie to highlight school overcrowding.

Horlacher, who previously spoke out about the need for more support in the classroom for students with complex needs, said that while the few days before the start of school are met with anticipation, there is also anxiety. Horlacher explained that his son Kyptin is going into Grade 3 and Carson, 10, is starting Grade 5 this year. The family moved to neighbourhoods in order to keep both kids in the same school.

"...As Kyptin it is one of Carson's greatest supports. However, their schools are at 110 per cent capacity. So, it was a little bit of a challenge to keep them there. Carson has ADHD and ASD. Unfortunately for Carson and his classmates and thousands of other students, there's just not enough staff to adequately support our kids," Horlacher said during a press conference.

The issue of overcrowding in schools has been highlighted numerous times by the Rocky View Schools Division and their lobbying of the provincial government. While the provincial budget allocated design funding for an elementary school in southwest Airdrie and preliminary planning funding for three other schools in the division, RVS has underlined that this is not enough to address the current needs of students.

“If it wasn’t for Kyptin I am afraid to think about what school would be like for Carson. It’s especially important now that there are not enough educational assistants and teachers in our school system. Schools are already stretched to the max, yet teachers are expected to take on so much more," Horlacher continued. 

Horlacher said Carson often needs a little extra support to help him pay attention and not disrupt the class. 

“I really don’t know how any teacher copes with a class of 28 kids or more where students all have different needs, not to mention the extra attention my son often requires. It's so heartbreaking that for us every day, we send Carson to school with a lunch, but there's nobody to sit down and help him eat it. An educational assistant would take the strain off of the teacher, [of] not only addressing a few of Carson's needs but also by supporting the other 27 students in the class."

Prior to the May 2023 election, the provincial government announced that it would provide increased funding of $126 million over the next three years to address complexities in the classroom. Previously, the province stated that this would enable school authorities to hire more educational assistants or increase their hours, provide more training opportunities for staff, and/or hire specialists such as counsellors, psychologists and interpreters.

The Classroom complexity funding was a new grant in the 2023-2024 funding manual and would be allocated based on student enrolment. According to the province, funding for the 2023-24 school year would flow to school authorities in September as part of their operational funding.

However, Rakhi Pancholi, Alberta NDP Education Critic, said that underfunding by the UCP has led to severe overcrowding in Alberta schools and not enough staff to adequately support students. 

“We can see these problems in growing communities right across Alberta and it’s making life harder for families like Dustin’s,” said Pancholi. “We are calling on the Minister of Education to come out and clearly commit to Albertans that he will correct the mistakes of his last government.”

An NDP press release also added that RVS wrote to the Education Minister to say many of the district schools are already overcapacity that students and teachers are being negatively impacted as a result and that the situation is rapidly becoming untenable.

"The letter notes that the UCP’s new funding formula means that more than 800 students will enter overcrowded Rocky View Schools this year without a penny of funding from the province."

The Rocky View School Division's school year begins on Tuesday, September 5.

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