B.C. Education funding: Who’s figures add up?

Fraser Institute says funding increases absorbed by salaries, benefits

On the one hand, the BC Teachers’ Federation is calling for the need to ‘reverse cuts’ to the education system and “invest new money to address urgent needs like class composition, implementation of the new curriculum, and growing mental health issues in schools.”

On the other, the Fraser Institute claims that “education funding is not being cut” in Canada and that “spending on public schools has increased, with the additional money paying mainly for salaries, pensions and benefits”.

In the middle, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District has not responded to several requests from the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle for their analysis of the state of education funding in B.C.

On Sept. 17 BC Teachers Federation President Jim Iker appeared before the B.C. Legislative Assembly’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in Nanaimo to make a case for more education funding.

He urged the committee, which has recommended in past reports increased public education funding, to take a stronger stand. “The past recommendations to increase public education funding and address downloaded costs were excellent, but have gone unanswered,” Iker said.

“BC teachers strongly urge the Committee to go even further this year and ensure the government puts the needs of schools and students at the top of its priority list.”

In his submission Iker accused the provincial government of squeezing school budgets instead of providing the funding needed to cover the cost of a six-year negotiated settlement signed between teachers and the province last year.

Iker said the province is “forcing school districts to cut $54 million in a shell game so the government could claim it was fully funding the cost of 2014’s negotiated settlement.”

He added that a $400 million fund included in the agreement to address class size and composition issues over a five year period is not enough.

“The Teacher Education Fund we successfully negotiated last year was only able to hire back the 400 teachers that were laid off,” Iker told the commission. “That’s not going to solve the class-size and composition issues in our schools. It’s time the government made re-investing in education a priority.”

The Fraser Institute paints a different picture. Deani Van Pelt, director of the Fraser Institute’s Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education and co-author of Understanding the Increases in Education Spending in Public Schools in Canada, said education funding increased during the 10 years between 2003 and 2013 despite a decline in student enrolment.

Her report says that between 2003-04 and 2012-13, compensation costs rose from $30.9 billion to $44.6 billion –72.2 per cent of the overall $19.1 billion increase in education spending during the 10-year period.

Canada-wide pension costs rose by 89 per cent (with the steepest climbs in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where increases topped 100 percent). Salaries and wages increased by 42 per cent. And benefits increased by 36.2 percent.

These increases took place over a period when student enrolment nation-wide declined by 4.9 percent—from about 5.3 million to a just over 5 million, the Fraser Institute says.

“Canadians want a thriving and well-funded public school system, but increases in education spending have come despite declining enrolment and during an era of deficits in most provinces,” said Fraser Institute Vice President Jason Clemens, co-author of the education funding study.