Guest Blog: School Fundraising in Alberta, Moving Beyond the Thunderdome

I was seven when the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome opened in theatres. I was too young to see the PG-13 flick but throughout my childhood, it was part of pop culture. Tina Turner was a bad ass and it was the days before Mel Gibson made questionable choices.

 Thunderdome is much like the state of school fundraising in Alberta today.

Every time a school completes a grant application or sends home another request for students to sell something, it feels like a silent crowd is chanting, “Two men enter, one man leaves”. Like Thunderdome, there is one winner and many losers, and the competition is fierce.

The competition for grant funding is fierce. Some grants receive hundreds of applications and only have funding for one or two recipients across Canada. More and more, grants are moving toward a most-votes-wins style that is more like a popularity contest than a measure of most needed. I can’t blame the organizations that structure grants this way – they also have limited resources and it is only natural to want to see a return on investment in the form of clicks to their website.

The competition for parent dollars is fierce. If you have children in more than one school or involved in extra-curricular activities, expect a constant stream of fundraisers coming home in the backpack. Buckle your seatbelt – you will never again worry about how to renew your magazine subscriptions, what book of coupons is the best or where to buy wrapping paper. You will have a continuous supply of bacon, steaks and cookie dough in your freezer. And your social calendar will be dotted with casinos, silent auctions and bottle drives. Every holiday will have options of flowers or chocolates and occasionally, you will even get an invitation to a cheque writing party.

The competition for corporate sponsorship support is fierce. With many non-profits looking to supplement donors that have dried up during the downturn of the economy, companies large and small are receiving more and more requests. Corporations must choose between supporting local projects (like school playgrounds), Calgary-wide initiatives (like the United Way) or national campaigns (like the Canadian Red Cross). All while balancing their own books during an economic recovery.

Although the competition is fierce and can feel like a fundraising Thunderdome, it is only open to those with the ability to compete. There are many schools where volunteers are scarce, and money is limited. There are just not enough hours in a day or bodies around the table to apply for grants, organize fundraising events or approach sponsors. These groups are almost always the loser in the fundraising Thunderdome.

Ultimately, the fundraising Thunderdome has an impact on students. The focus has shifted from raising a bit of money to support field trips and “extras” that enhance learning, to raising a lot of money to support basic needs like playgrounds. School councils dread the words, “We’ve been told we will need to replace the playground” nearly as much as, “Our student results are decreasing”. Increasingly, school councils are spending more time discussing grants and fundraising than students and learning. In the end, students always lose when the focus is forced away from learning.

The Alberta Government offered a ray of hope in July 2017 when they announced that new schools would each receive $250,000 toward a new playground – a huge step forward for schools and communities. However, the devil is always in the details. The funding only applies to schools announced in 2014 or later, meaning that the 8 schools in Calgary announced in May 2013 do not qualify. Nor do the countless schools that need replacement playgrounds.

As Tina Turner so famously sang it, “All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome”.

— Amber Stewart is a Calgary parent and former school board trustee with the Calgary Board of Education(2013-2017). 


Notes From the Playground – Winners & Losers October 19, 2018

This series about current issues in education, Notes from the Playground gives a nod to the very early beginnings of SOS Alberta and where we first organized, as citizens talking to each other about one of the most powerful influences on our daily lives, our kids’ education. These are my thoughts on education matters this week, as always we welcome yours!

Carolyn Blasetti – Executive Director

Since Support Our Students Alberta began we have been concerned with the way schools consistently need to fill funding gaps through fundraising. There are few other issues more top of mind for Alberta parents than fundraising. Visit any school council or parent fundraising society meeting and you’ll hear both parents and administrators discussing how to raise money for basic resources, supplies and even infrastructure for their school. Often the conversation about fundraising hijacks discussions about other school issues and concerns. No longer are parents talking about building their school community or what’s happening in the school’s classrooms this month, they are talking about running coupon sales, deciding how to spend thousands of dollars on school furniture, flooring or computers or books. Schools find themselves becoming dependent on the rise and fall of fundraising dollars. And this is only if they are a school lucky enough to have the capacity within their school community to have a fundraising society.

Last year we highlighted concerns around schools competing in corporate contests for basic educational resources like books. Our concerns went unheard by decision makers in both government and school boards. We shared these concerns again this year. This year again, schools in lower income neighbourhoods pleaded their case in corporate competitions so that their kids, in their schools, could have books. No one, not city councillors, not trustees, not MLA‘s, expressed any concern for the inequity and injustice of having to compete for resources.

Thankfully, Eva Ferguson of the Herald expressed an interest in this issue. What followed has been some engaged discussions around schools needing books and schools needing playgrounds. Our goal of starting a dialogue around fundraising as being a way to absolve the government of its responsibility to properly fund public schools was finally playing out in public discourse.


We subsequently pointed out that St. Peter Elementary School in Calgary is also currently competing in a national corporate contest for funds to build a playground because they do not have any playground at all. We were pleased that Minister Eggen responded to this situation by providing much needed funding to St. Peter Elementary School. However, the reality remains for many schools across this province that they do not receive enough funding for books, playgrounds, technology or other resources.

We find ourselves in the same position as four years ago when we began our advocacy,  wondering why schools must fundraise for the most basic of resources? Knowing that schools in affluent high income neighbourhoods will not experience the same hardships and challenges of lower income communities. This dependency on fundraising and corporate donations creates have and have not schools, winner and losers.

Our goal as public education advocates has always been and will always be to build a system on UNIVERSALITY. Every Alberta child deserves a safe playground to play, every community deserves a place to build relationships with their neighbours, every child deserves books to read and every child deserves access to the same technology. We are very happy St. Peter Elementary School received funding for their playground from the Alberta government. But they are not alone. Since the announcement came out we have heard from multiple people about the need for a playground in their community public school. There is no reason that roughly $275 million a year should fund private schools when public schools go without. So while we are very thankful this particular story has had a happy ending, we know there is more work to do and we will reiterate our calls yet again for a review of the Alberta education funding model so that no student, no school and no parent must plead or compete with a corporation for basic educational resources.

Please feel free to share your experience with fundraising at your school! Comment or email us at  


Notes From the Playground September 23, 2018

This series about current issues in education, Notes from the Playground gives a nod to the very early beginnings of SOS Alberta and where we first organized, as citizens talking to each other about one of the most powerful influences on our daily lives, our kids’ education. These are my thoughts on education matters this week, as always we welcome yours!

Carolyn Blasetti – Executive Director

This week in education news, light was shone upon teaching resources and materials used by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre which contained outdated and racist interpretation of Indigenous people, communities and the impact of residential schools.

We at SOS Alberta agree wholeheartedly that Alberta classrooms are long overdue for an update to all aspects of the Alberta curriculum. However, the materials used by teachers and students at ADLC were not part of the current outdated curriculum. The test was part of a supplemental RESOURCE that teachers have available to them. These resources are meant to compliment curriculum, but are not the actual curriculum. Teachers can and do choose from a wide array of materials, in this case the materials were far from the only ones available. In the same way a teacher might opt to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Hatchet for a language arts class, the choice is made by the teacher or teaching team, curriculum does not mandate the reading of a specific novel. There will be no argument from us that the the Social Studies curriculum, in particular how Indigenous history and the history of colonization in Canada is interpreted, needs a massive overhaul but the distinction between what is curriculum and what are supporting resources is an important distinction to make.

  • This incident is a clear example of how systemic racism works. Teachers have CHOSEN to use this resource for 8 years and students have taken this test year over year. Educators failing to recognize that this document was devoid of Indigenous perspective and perpetuating a narrow, oppressive view of residential schools until a student brought it forward shows how deeply systemic bias exists. If not for this student, how many more years would this document have been circulated in Alberta Education?
  • While we appreciate the minister’s response, we are disheartened by the obvious omission that this is in fact evidence of systemic racism. Calling this document hurtful and presenting it as a one off mistake as opposed to an explicit example of systemic racism does little to strengthen relationships in our community in accordance with the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Or in accordance with the Alberta Government’s own mandate that: “that current and future Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum includes student learning outcomes specific to First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and experiences, as well as content on the significance of residential schools and treaties. “ – Alberta Education March 27, 2014
  • It highlights the devastating impact on students and communities when outdated, biased resources are used and having educators ill prepared to teach perspectives which don’t follow the traditional eurocentric interpretation of Canadian history. We know the impact because we speak with students, parents, teachers, trustees and administrators daily, about the barriers that exist for marginalised students. That systemic bias within the education system is a reality for FNMI students, students of colour, disabled students and students in poverty. We applaud the student who bravely acted as an”agent of change” in bringing this forward, and hope that Albertans recognise this is NOT a unique incident and hope they will support initiatives that are working to change this.

As part of our advocacy we always hope to provide, actionable solutions:

  1. We hope the Education minister will acknowledge this is not an isolated incident, that he will include education voices in the Anti Racism Advisory Council.
  2. We fully support the writing of new curriculum and the commitment to Education for Reconciliation initiatives by the Alberta Education but would add curriculum support resources need to be thoroughly reviewed. Educators must also be trained themselves so that they can accurately teach about residential schools, treaties and Indigenous rights.
  3. Develop a province wide policy around anti-racism at all levels of education.

Resources – A Starting Place for Teaching for Reconciliation: (Please feel free to suggest others or add in the comments)

National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation

The John Humphrey Centre – Reconciliation in Schools

Residential Schools Teacher Resources – University of Alberta

decolonized Ed – A toolkit for Canadian teaching

GUIDING VOICES A Curriculum Development Tool for Inclusion of First Nation, Métis and Inuit Perspectives Throughout Curriculum

Walking Together Project, ATA


Rising Fees, Rising Inequity

This past week two of Alberta’s largest school boards voted yet again to increase fees around transportation and noon supervision. School boards have found a bottomless well for filling funding gaps, parents. Since 2011 the Calgary Board of Education(CBE) has increased school fees steadily, into the thousands for some families. In 2012 then parent Trina Hurdman  appealed to the minister of education Jeff Johnson that fees around noon supervision contravened the school act.

On May 22, 2018 Trina Hurdman Chair of the board of trustees of the CBE voted in favor of raising both transportation and noon supervision fees for the fifth year since being elected trustee. Voting this year to increase noon supervision fees by up to 3.9 percent and transportation fees by 4.5 percent.

In Edmonton, despite efforts by Trustee Michael Janz to eliminate school fees entirely, the motion was withdrawn, and trustees instead voted in favor of raising transportation fees 5% over the next four years.

Again recognizing that where the Alberta government is failing to provide adequate financial resources school boards can and will continue to fill funding gaps by tapping into parents pockets. This continuing reliance on fees is concerning on many levels for Albertans. SOS Alberta will continue to stand against fees that are a barrier to accessing public education for the following reasons:

  1. School fees are effectively a user tax that disproportionately and an unequally affect families and even more so families living in poverty. School fees, despite Bill 1(An Act to Reduce School Fees) have only increased over the years.
  2. When school boards use fees to fill funding gaps they absolve the provincial government of their responsibilities to adequately fund public education. When families fill funding gaps by paying fees and fundraising the wheels of education continue turning with the government and public falsely left with the impression that things are running smoothly. But Alberta parents are disproportionately carrying the burden of education costs that the government is failing to meet, and they are left with few options. Parents hands are tied by the need (indeed the legal requirement for kids to go to school), to get children to school, and with no option but to have kids stay for lunch. There is effectively no choice but to pay whatever fees the school board has declared.
  3. While the government congratulates itself for pouring millions into education, funding for growth, extending one time funding grants, and obligating parents to make up the funding shortfalls, $278 million of public dollars continues to fund private schools. This is a clear indication that the funding model is broken. Support Our Students Alberta will continue to advocate for a full review of the funding model. Establishing a funding model where parents are not required to fill funding gaps created by a government underfunding public education.
  4. All of this inequity in fees are symptoms of a public system built on competition and marketization. Inadequate funding for decades in the public system has left schools and school boards vying for funding. Boutique schools, charter schools and private schools all dipping into the same government purse while attempting to provide service for their students by having to outdo the school next-door. This has led to a labyrinth of systems where children travel long routes to schools and are left with no option but to stay at school for lunch and then are charged for this perceived privilege. The fact of the matter is since 2015 families and parents have seen little respite from the financial burden of sending their children to public schools. It is time to review the funding model.
  5. At a time when we should be looking for efficiencies to maximize the funding we have, collecting spare change from thousand of different sources (families) must undoubtedly be the most inefficient way of funding a primary public service such as education. Fees generate millions of dollars in ‘gap funding,’ and the administration and collection of these fees represents a huge inefficiency for schools boards such as EPSB and CBE. Certainly, chasing after parents for fees has time and time again lead to school boards resorting to collection agencies to recuperate the funds.

Once upon a time an Education Minister in Alberta said: “Every child is entitled to attend school and get an education without charge”. That was Dave Hancock in 2011.

On May 24, 2018 current Education Minister David Eggen said “ You do see school fees increasing from time to time, that’s normal,”.  We disagree fundamentally with Minister Eggen, it is not normal. What we are seeing is the slow, sanctioned creep of privatization in our public institution of public education.

SOS Alberta would like to see a long term commitment by this government to redefine public education, in the same way Dave Hancock once did. As free and without barriers.

We would also like to see school boards push the government to do this by taking bold, maybe even symbolic steps to eliminating fees. Someone has to move the needle. Our suggestions, while challenging, include:

  • Motion a full review of the funding model for Alberta Education that clearly is not meeting the needs of students across Alberta.
  • Petitioning Alberta government to redirect the 278 million dollars to subsidize private schools to reduce school fees for the 94% of kids who attend public schools.
  • Revisist legislation that has charter schools leasing public school board facilities for $1/year. This is lost revenue for public school boards like the CBE that lease out several CBE owned buildings to charter schools.
  • Consider a stance on a provincial sales tax so that the user tax of school fees do not continue to disproportionately affect families.
  • Use reserves, acknowledging that depleting reserves would be a bold statement forcing a discussion around the issue, while acknowledging that yearly funds should be used to benefit students in that year, and thereby highlighting whether or not the funds from Alberta Education are sufficient.
  • Stand in solidarity with the ongoing work parents do (IF their school is privileged enough to have a parent council) by attending fundraising events such as casinos, bake sales and cheque writing campaigns. We would love to see Trustees participate in these events to highlight how fundraising has impacted public education.

In our 10 Strategies to Achieve Equitable Public Education we state:

  • #3. Eliminate ALL barriers including all school-related fees (including, but not limited to, instructional materials, bussing, lunch supervision) and application procedures.
  • #10. Recognize that public education is a public responsibility not a consumer good.  Its quality and accessibility should be equitable across the province.

It’s time to acknowledge that no child should have to access finances or waivers to simply get to their school, less so for the privilege of eating their lunch on the hallway or gym floor. While we recognize our solutions are bold, we are asking school boards to think outside the box.

We are asking school boards to defend public education. We are asking schools boards to stand in solidarity with children who can’t afford fees, and parents who continue to fundraise for basic resources. We are asking schools boards to stop taking the path of least resistance, which is to increase school fees year over year.  Parents are currently a captive audience with no recourse but to accept a government sanctioned increase of up to 5% every year.

We are asking public education to be redefined in this province and as long as school boards and the Alberta government sanctions the use of a user tax to fill funding gaps SOS AB will continue to fight this creeping privatization of our public institution.


Perspectives on GSAs – Do Better, Be Better

This letter was submitted to the North Bay Nugget by David Killawee in North Bay, ON.

In reference to article “Alberta conservatives vote to end carbon tax, tell parents if child joins GSA”, Monday 07-May-2018, North Bay Nugget.

This letter will be a little long winded so please bear with me. It does come to a point. Many people in this country don’t seem to realize how fortunate we are in this country that independence was gained politically, and that our ancestors did’nt have to go to war against a European power.  Our military personel didn’t gain us our freedoms, but, with the exception of serious crimes against First Nations people, they have defended them.  Thanks to them, and militaries from many countries, no Swastika, Rising Sun, or Hammer and Sickle has flown in the wind atop Parliament Hill.

It’s a mis-conception that during World War 2, a war born of hate and bigotry (and the fear, cowardice, and ignorance that spawn them) and greed, that our military fought to make the world a better place.  That’s at best only partially correct.  The reality is that they mainly fought to keep the world from getting worse, but it’s the nature of war that they could only partially succeed.  “Better” had to wait until the war was over.  They defended us, but the duty to make things better was, and still is, on all of us.  And still we’ve only partially succeeded.  We’ve also slid down into worse with forcing Native children into Residential Schools, Quebec’s language laws, Minimum Mandatory Sentencing, and many other ways.

Now this week of all weeks, this week when we remember those who fought, suffered, and especially those who died, to stop monsters and give us the chance to do better we find yet another group trying to make things worse.

As stated in the article 57% of the UPC ( United Conservative Party) convention delegates voted in favour of having school staff informing parents if their children join certain clubs including GSAs (Gay Straight Alliance), or similar clubs effectively outing these kids.

Regardless of the terms that these delegates use, they’re trying to get teachers to be complicit in their bigotry, and worse, dump the responsibility of putting some of these kids in danger on teachers who would have no recourse but to use a version of “I was just following orders” (that would be the cowardice I mentioned earlier).

This next part of the lettter is directed to the delegates in question.  Delegates who would put these kids at risk from potentially abusive, or situationaly dangerous parents.  Neither you, sitting MPPs, or anyone else have any authority to put children in harms way.  You are not generals who can order soldiers into combat, nor police captains who can send officers into potential firefights.  Anyone, including you, who tries to get this into law or school policy is directly responsible for any harm suffered by these kids, even if the student is over 18, along with whoever does the actual reporting to parents, and is subject to prosecution.  Just putting this into law or policy can endanger some kids and therefore is the crime, so you cannot distance or shield yourselves from prosecution, nor can you claim ignorance of the risk you would be putting some of these kids at.  I’m actually wondering if the 57% can be prosecuted now.  Now I understand that it’s unlikely that some obscure letter in a local Ontario newspaper will have much impact, so I want you to understand that published or not, this letter is also going to the RCMP, Alberta Provincial Police, Ministry of Education, as many Alberta school boards as possible… You get the picture.  I know that there are limits to what I can do to make the world better, but I can do my part to protect these kids from you.

To any students feeling pressured, don’t give up, or give in.  These delegates are making use of fear, intimidation and threat, these are terrorist tactics, it makes them weak not you.  The only power they have is what you give them, so give them nothing.  You win by living on your own terms not their’s.

Do better, be better, honour and remember those who gave us the opportunity and responsibility to make it happen

David Killawee

North Bay, ON

Alberta Budget 2018 Celebrating the Status Quo

In today’s budget announcement the Alberta Government announced  8.4 billion dollars in education funding, keeping their commitment to fund for growth.  This budget is up from 8.2 billion dollars from last year. Funding enrolment growth 2.2% (approx 15, 000 students) but this does not fund for inflation and only covers the instructional cost.

Also announced today was the construction and maintenance of 20 new or modernized schools building through the capital plan, funding for which comes through Infrastructure.

There are no real surprises in todays budget. This government, prior to the 2015 election committed to fund for growth when the previous government had identified education funding cuts.  That news was welcomed then, and while funding for growth is important, Support Our Students Alberta has been waiting for a larger vision and commitment to public education from this government.

The reality remains for many Alberta students, of over crowded classrooms, crumbling infrastructure, under resourced libraries and staff, long bus rides and inequities cause by fundraising required to fill funding gaps.

We can no longer be satisfied with maintaining  the status quo.  This will be this governments last budget before the provincial election.  Next year, Albertans will be voting largely based on what visions are presented to them. Support Our Students Alberta is still waiting for a vision that recommits to public education.

We are waiting for a budget:

  • That focusses public dollars on public schools – Alberta government diverts approx: $260, 000, 000 to private schools.
  • That eliminates barriers such as fees and application procedures for public schools – Strengthen the regulations around Bill 1 an Act to Reduce School Fees, so that access to education programs is equitable and not based on other factors such as socio economic.
  • That fills funding gaps all too often by user fees. – For example transportation fees and needs vary widely across the province and the funding model needs to reflect the differences in the needs between rural boards and urban boards.
  • Creates a framework matrix for superintendent salaries – Similar to other jurisdictions.
  • Collaborates with other ministries (Alberta Health Services & Children’s Services) to meet the growing health needs of children in schools. – Mental health of youth in Alberta is a huge priority and concern for all involved

We will continue to advocate for a full review of the current funding model so that schools no longer need to compete for students to pad their budgets.

We will be watching and listening  very closely over the next year to the promises made in the hopes of winning your votes.  We hope Albertans will demand more than consistent funding, but instead call for the kind of funding that can support and promote an equitable and accessible public education for all Alberta students.

School Board Trustee Check-In


It’s been almost 5 months since the Alberta municipal elections, where we elected people to the position of school board trustee across the province.

At this point, trustees have had to disclose all their campaign funding (for Calgary: , they have had time to get started on some of their campaign promises, and should start to feel at home in the role representing their communities and constituents.

It’s a great time to look at how our elected officials are performing in their new roles, as school board trustees.

  • Have they been attending board/trustee/committee meetings?
  • Have they been engaging with their constituents and community?
  • Have they been attending school council meetings?
  • Have they been participating in board wide initiatives?
  • Have they made any progress on campaign promises?
  • Are they regularly showing up to meetings?
  • Are they easy to reach and communicate with?
  • Are they sharing accurate and relevant board information?

We understand the role of school board trustee in Alberta is a part-time position. We are very pleased to see so many trustees dedicate a lot of time and effort to the role while other’s efforts to fulfill their obligations are lacking.

We are asking our followers, as engaged citizens across Alberta, to look back on the past six months and decide if the promises candidates made during their campaigns are materializing into actions as trustees.

We applaud and recognize the many trustees that have done an excellent job of engaging with their constituents, responding to emails and phone calls, attending school council meetings, showing up to school events, and even publicly standing up in defense of public education funding (We’re looking and applauding you @TrishaEstabrooks!).

However, in some instances it is a challenge to engage and connect with trustees. For example it has come to our attention that residents of Wards 12 and 14 in Calgary are struggling to engage with their CBE trustee Mike Bradshaw. Their emails and calls go unanswered. Meetings go unattended. Election promises unmet. We recognize that family or work obligations can impact a trustee and that there are often extenuating circumstances why someone is not engaging but constituents deserve to have representation as board work proceeds throughout the year.

It’s because of these kinds of concerns we thought it was a good time for citizens across Alberta, to reflect on how their respective trustees are engaging, behaving and representing their constituents.

It’s time to ask questions, it’s time to expect answers.

Democracy is most effective when we engage continuously, including between elections, holding our representatives to account.

Is your trustee engaged, or deadbeat?

Comment below on your experiences.


Call to Review Alberta’s Education Funding Model

Silva and Blasetti: NDP needs to review how it funds schools

As we look toward a new provincial budget, conversations around private school funding are circulating again. Organizations aiming to protect public education and the public good are renewing their repeated ask to defund private schools and focus public tax dollars on public schools. We will continue to join this chorus, but we will deepen the request.

Fair Funding for ABED

Over the past few years of our advocacy work, we have observed that the current funding model based on a market model, not only encourages competition between schools/school boards for funding but that unregulated fees for alternative programs, programs of choice, and the funding of private schools, coupled with a reliance on fundraising has widened inequity for students across Alberta.  
It should be the mandate of the provincial government to ensure that students in High Level receive access to the same rich and diverse education as students in Elbow Park, Calgary. That every child has access to the same quality education in every corner of this province, irrespective of geography or socio-economic class, and that the public school they attend receives all the necessary resources to achieve that goal. 
It is our position, that years of a market based funding model has diluted the focus and definition of public education. 
We would like to see a recommittment and redefining of public education in Alberta, and a funding model that does not widen inequity. Our ask is simply to review the funding model so that schools no longer have to choose between PE teachers or music teachers, desks or smart boards, enter ‘Adopt -A -School contests’, or defer maintenance on aging buildings.