Alberta Education Must Rethink its Changes to PUF
Since Alberta Education announced changes to Program Unit Funding (PUF) funding we have been in consultation with organizations, such as GRIT (Getting Ready for Inclusion Today) in Edmonton. Our core interest in PUF has always been in its capacity to support early childhood and kindergarten inclusion on an individual child basis. Added to this was PUF’s capacity to support a thoughtful and planned transition into an inclusive classroom in grade one.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of children with disabilities accessing PUF were and are placed in segregated and congregated (sometimes called clustered) settings which is not as effective an early childhood strategy, no matter how many hours of therapeutic intervention are provided, relative to intervention within an inclusive setting.
Alberta Education’s reductions in PUF funding may end the individual inclusion of children with disabilities in regular kindergarten classes operated by schools and private providers. While school divisions can access the funding available to them within the new Alberta Funding Model to provide inclusion in kindergarten, families are going to find it much harder given how difficult it has been to find a school or division willing to do this when PUF was in place for kindergarten.
GRIT and other non-school providers that have supported inclusion in kindergarten and facilitated inclusion into grade one will no longer be able to do so – this will end.
What Alberta Education needs to end are decisions that will lead to greater segregation and congregation and lessen or eliminate a parent’s right to choose. Given all the research that supports quality early childhood education and the benefits to children over time, particularly inclusive practices, this decision runs contrary to what has become common, evidence-based knowledge.
In the past, when Alberta Education announced an end to one funding stream, even though equivalent funds were made available in a different stream, schools and school divisions have been prone to tell parents funding is gone. This is partly a consequence of a lack of accountability and monitoring by Alberta Education, in failing to provide family-friendly explanations as to how funding actually works and the failure to ensure parental choice for inclusion is honoured. This will begin again when schools and school divisions so inclined will tell parents PUF funding for kindergarten is gone. They will not explain how the funds they do continue to have access to could be used to support inclusion in their kindergarten classes.
Alberta Education’s new requirements for PUF funding are a clear and unequivocal reduction in the amount of individual intervention a child can receive. Therefore, if a school or division wants to retain close to the same amount of funding PUF previously provided, many will do what they have done in the past – assess and reassess children to be “coded” as having a more significant disability and group more children together. There will be a move back to “testing for dollars” not assessment to determine which educational strategies or interventions will best meet a child’s needs. Retaining funding will become the goal, particularly with other shortfalls in education now taking place.
Alberta Education has not sufficiently collaborated with families and stakeholders who represent the interest of children with disabilities who have the knowledge and understanding of how to enable and support inclusion in education, before releasing the new Interim Funding Manual and subsequent changes to PUF. We call upon Alberta Education to consider the input it has received on the Interim Funding Manual and work with us, GRIT and allied groups to rethink the changes to PUF and advance quality inclusion in early childhood settings and kindergarten, both in private settings and schools.