Grande Prairie, AB – It may be difficult to imagine an educational disadvantage in our communities, yet even the youngest students at Peace Wapiti Public School Division (PWPSD) can tell stories of transportation disparity. This Friday, PWPSD trustees will bring their ongoing fight for equitable transportation funding to the table during a meeting with local MLAs Wayne Drysdale and Todd Loewen, and Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, Minister of Energy and MLA for Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley.
Top of mind for trustees is the amount of time students are spending on school buses, in relation to students in larger centers.
"Imagine boarding a school bus in the dark prior to 7:00 a.m., to return home 10 hours later at 5:00 p.m. Now imagine doing that at six years of age," challenges PWPSD Board Chair Dana McIntosh. "That's a 10-hour day for a young child – longer than most adults'."
Like other school boards in Alberta, PWPSD receives funding from Alberta Education based on a one-size-fits-all transportation funding grid calculation that does not adequately take distance and rural population sparsity into account.
In the rural communities dotted throughout PWPSD's boundaries – stretching from Hythe in the west, north to Bonanza and Savanna, east to Ridgevalley, and south to Grovedale – most students have a single option for schooling. These students can spend up to three hours per day on a school bus as a result of Alberta Education's inequitable transportation grid formula.
"In attempting to maintain this less than adequate service for our rural students, we now have a transportation funding crisis on our hands that has snowballed to a combined $5 million deficit over the past 14 years," adds Ms. McIntosh. "During that time, we have lobbied Ministers and MLAs on the issue, to no avail. Now we are asking county and town councillors, parents and community members to speak out on behalf of our students."
"With a provincial election on the horizon, we believe this is a critical time for our communities to join us in the fight for equitable transportation funding. Our rural families can't continue to pay the price."
The Board has typically bridged the gap using funding from instructional grants. The combined 14-year deficit equates to 50 fewer teachers, 350,000 fewer books, or cuts to a lengthy list of programs that can make the difference for at-risk students. The data has been assembled into an infographic entitled The Unfolding Journey, available online at http://bit.ly/PWPSD-The-Unfolding-Journey.
Photo: The ongoing impact of Alberta Education underfunding has resulted a 14-year transportation deficit for PWPSD that has pulled a combined total of $5 million from classrooms. The data has been assembled into an infographic entitled The Unfolding Journey.