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BC's public school system is deteriorating. Has anyone noticed?

 “Half of B.C’s school districts to receive the same operating grant this year as last year”. This quote comes from a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, but the problem with public school funding in a time of declining enrollment is this: on the face of it, if a school district of say, 10,000 students loses 150 students, that should mean (at about $6,500 per student in funding) that the district does not need the $975,000 it loses.

Fewer kids equals fewer teachers and other services. Right? 

Wrong.

Unless all those kids come from the same one or two schools instead of a few from each of the districts 30 to 40 schools, the same level of required service is still there, but with a million fewer dollars to provide it.

The incremental impoverishment of B.C.’s public education system has its roots in forty years of indecision about funding structure, lack of trust between locally elected Boards of Education and senior government.

Another cause is the lack of consultation between policy makers and service providers and an absence of serious commitment and understanding of the documented economic relationship between the development of public education and provincial fiscal prosperity. 

It is a curious and indecisive history:

1. Non-residential taxes were transferred to provincial revenue in 1981 and not replaced by supplementary residential taxation.

2. A “Fiscal Framework” in 1983

3. Supplementary residential taxation  returned in 1986

4. A Royal Commission in 1988/89, “Block Funding” in 1990.

5. The Spangelo Review of public education funding in 1992 

6. The “Funding Allocation System” in 1994

7. The further annual changes to that system since 2002 and on it goes.

With each election and each new government and minister comes a revision of how public education is funded and allocated.

Those charged with responsibility of actually delivering education services in school districts, elected and employed, can only stand on the sidelines and watch the confusion and inconsistency.

Let’s consider the numbers. 

In 1991/92 a full 26.36 percent of the Provincial Budget was allocated to the Ministry of Education.

In 2009/10 that figure is 15.34 percent, a drop of  41.8 percent from the 1991/92 allocation.

While full time equivalent enrollment in public schools has declined, (falling steadily to 527,517 students this year from more than 600,000 in 1998-99, a decline of 12 percent), new demands on school district budgets, many of them mandated but not funded by the provincial government, have offset any potential cost savings.

The actual numbers involved are truly breathtaking and require an ability to comprehend figures with mind numbing zeros attached.

Recognized increased costs and services since 2001/02, including a provincially imposed labour settlement that cost just a shade less than $558,000,000,  have totaled more than $1,052,000,000, according to the B.C. Association of Business Officials, who are all qualified accountants.

During that same period, the Provincial Block funding to public schools has increased by close to $758,000,000 leaving a shortfall of close to $300,000,000.

That’s three hundred million dollars which, in effect, has been siphoned out of public education.

In other words, if this was your Visa bill, you wouldn’t even be keeping up the monthly minimum payments – and neither are school districts.

Many districts cannot afford to run their schools for five days each week. Spring break has, in many districts, been expanded to two weeks. This has caused a resultant decline in working productivity for parents and a general acceptance that the public school system is not what it once was, and, in balance, private school fees may not look so bad.

According to the B.C. A.B.A, the latest budget will see unfunded or partially funded cost pressures for school districts in the 2010/11 year increase exponentially.

These include the implementation of the Harmonized Sales Tax (an estimated $8,400,000 all by itself), only some of which will be rebated.

B.C. Hydro rate increases (an estimated $2,400,000,) plus a raft of other significant costs (teacher salary lift of 2% at $43,555,000, implementation of full day kindergarten, MSP premium increases, a CUPE Trades Adjustment which could add as much as $3,312,000.

Other costs over which districts have no control include the cost of Carbon Offsets, Teacher Pension Fund increases and more.

So yet again, it is as if while you are not meeting your monthly Visa minimums somebody, maybe an irresponsible teenager, is still out there, using your card and spending money on new stuff as if tomorrow will never come.

According to government documents, the overall downward trend in K-12 numbers will continue until 2013.
 But then by 2018 it's predicted that enrollment will have climbed to 568,304 - roughly what it was in 2006.

So if the government does have a new plan for public education, as the throne speech suggested, it might be wise to pay off the old accounts and square away with current obligations first, before renovating the house and putting that new SUV in the driveway.

And get that darn teenager under control.

 

 

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