Funding for Alberta Distance Learning to be phased out over next two years

Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) will be defunded and phased out by the provincial government over the next two years.

And, former students and education advocated fear the end of ADLC in its current form may cause serious inequities in education for rural and vulnerable students.

Over the weekend, the school board responsible for the program, which caters to thousands of students a year, announced it had been told by the province that their service agreement would not be renewed beyond the 2021-2022 school year. 

Funding will go from more than $18 million this school year to $14 million next  year, and then halved in its final year to $7 million. 

“ADLC and division leadership does not have any further information at this time. We hope to meet with representatives from Alberta Education in the very near future,” wrote David Garbutt, superintendent of Pembina Hills School Division online.

“In the meantime, we will continue our commitment of providing instruction to your students. Your teachers can also continue to use ADLC resources through Teacher Support.”

Colin Aitchison, spokesman for Alberta Education, said the changes that were introduced in Budget 2020 will provide equitable funding to all distance learning providers in Alberta. 

“The government will work with Pembina Hills School Division over a two-year transitions period, and we are confident that these changes will not prevent current ADLC students from completing their high school diploma,” he said.

Kathy, who CBC News has agreed to call only by her first name in order to protect her employment, said without ADLC and the flexibility it offers, she would not have completed high school. 

“I found myself pregnant and and knew I had to go to school but there’s no way I wanted to face the shame and stigma at the school,” she said. “So I signed up for distance learning, and it was ideal because I was working and supporting myself.”

But. Kathy said she fears other vulnerable youth are now losing that opportunity. 

“I think they’re going to be pushed even further out of the education system,” she said.

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teacher’s Association, said the impacts of ending ADLC will be big.

Jason Schilling is president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

“About 80 teachers worked in an ADLC. And so there’s a big question of uncertainty there about what will happen to

“There’s also an impact on delivery of education to students. A lot of students rely on an ADLC and the materials that it provides and the service it provided to a lot of rural school districts.”

Schilling said a lot of rural districts in Alberta rely on the program to offer their students courses the schools aren’t able to.

Education advocacy group, Support Our Students Alberta, said they’re disappointed, but not surprised by this. 

“It is just another strategy in the undermining of of access to quality public education that’s going to be a real hurdle for rural folks and for adults who are looking to upgrade to get to post-secondary,” said communications director for SOS.

“More than anything it is market creation. It really is opening the door for privatization to come into public education.”

Barbara Silva, with Support Our Students, says this move will lead to privatization and for-profit online learning models. (CBC)

Aitchison said when the ADLC was created in 1997 it was the only distance education provider in the province. 

“Today, 32 school authorities are offering distance education to students across the province,” he said.

“ADLC was the only distance education provider to receive dedicated block funding. These changes now put all distance learning providers on an equal footing, funding them all on an equitable, per-credit basis.”

Silva said while this move may look like it’s offering school boards further autonomy, SOS believes that is misleading. 

“It means school boards who are tight for funding already will find it more efficient economically to outsource this and outsourcing is what results in privatization and for profit online learning,” she said.

Aitchison said it’s too early to comment on next steps for ADLC. Pembina Hills School District did not return CBC’s request for an interview.

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