Lack of Direct Funding for Syrian Refugee Students

This article covers the same topic as this post: the fact that the federal government accepts refugees, but then the provincial government and school boards are wholly in charge of sorting out how education looks from there.

Take a perusal if you would like, but here is a super short recap: in 2015 Canada’s federal Liberal government pledged to accept and resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees. While the federal government mentioned money to support these refugees, that support did not support the schooling of the Syrian refugee children.

According to statistics from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in a publicly accessible document named “Alberta – Admissions of Syrian Refugees* by Immigration Category and Family Composition”, over 1000 Syrian refugee families were settled into Alberta between November 4, 2015 – July 31, 2016. The majority of these families had school-aged children that needed to be schooled and accommodated. Most of the families were settled in Calgary and Edmonton.

The Calgary Board of Education reported receiving over 500 Syrian refugee students. Due to the complex needs of this population, the price tag for accommodating them was very high (over 2 million dollars). Refugees are also eligible for school and transportation fee waivers, meaning that these services are provided to them at no cost. Extra teachers to create additional LEAD (Literacy, English, and Academic Development) classes were hired, and the influx put added strain on the district’s intake centre in Kingsland. Since these refugees arrived after September 30th, the funding cut-off date for students, schools received no money for these refugees, neither regular funding, nor funding that took into account their numerous needs. Budgets needed to be changed and balanced in order to find money to help these students at the expense of other initiatives.

I am by no means laying out the facts in this way to support the conclusion that these refugees should not have been accepted. That is an important and valuable promise and I am happy that the federal government made it. Where the planning fell short, however, was in providing government funds to the schools to support the Syrian refugee children within them. Neither the federal nor the provincial government stepped up to fill in the funding gap caused by these students arriving after September 30th. Promises of the government should not be carried out at the expense of local schools. Future integration of refugee populations should address this issue and ensure that refugee students are funded whenever they join Alberta schools.

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