||Volume 22, Number 7, May/June 2010
It’s time to dump declining enrolment
By David Denyer
The story told by the minister of education never changes; “highest funding ever” coupled with a precipitous decline in enrolment, should enable boards to manage. The claim of ever-increased funding is rapidly losing its effect as boards of education throughout the province struggle to cope with setting a budget with little or no increase in funding and ever-increasing downloaded costs and inflationary pressures. Rally after rally of concerned and angry parents show clearly nobody is buying the spin. Now it’s time to put enrolment decline into perspective.
Enrolment declines this year were less than had been projected. This is the front end of a likely recovery and increase in numbers of students. In 2009–10, the government overestimated the decline in student enrolment. Enrolment did decline, but only by about half as much as expected. In September 2009, there were 3,595 more students enrolled in public schools than the number initially estimated by the ministry in the 2009–10 Operating Grants estimates.
Looking ahead to the 2010–11 school year we do not see a decline overall, but a significant increase. Two documents from the Ministry of Education paint a somewhat confusing picture but trend in the same direction. The ministry media release, “School Districts receive $112 million in Operating Grants (March 15, 2010),” shows student enrolment increasing from 541,917 students to 544,223 students, for an increase of 2,306 students, with a note indicating this slight increase is due to the implementation of full-day Kindergarten.
The Budget and Fiscal Plan: 2010/11 to 2012/13 (p.164) shows student enrolment increasing from 555,345 FTE students in 2009–10 to 561,734 students in 2010–11 (estimated). This represents a total increase of 6,389 students. This increase is due to the 7,543 additional Kindergarten students when the full-day Kindergarten program is implemented in 2010–11, and an increase of 1,484 distributed learning (DL) students, for a total of 9,027 new students that will be partly offset by a projected decline of 2,638 Grade 1 to 12 students.
Why are the ministry media releases using a lower figure for enrolment changes, when the government’s own fiscal reports using data prepared by the ministry suggest the enrolment change is much higher?
Barry O’Neill, president of CUPE BC, writing recently in the Georgia Straight says the answer is political. “At a time when the province is casting about for ways of containing its deficit, fostering the idea that student enrolment is still in free-fall provides justification for giving education funding a lower priority.” He goes on to say “Overstating the enrolment decline also serves the important purpose of driving down expectations within the school community…the practice undermines confidence in public schools (at a time when private school enrolment is growing). It seriously detracts from a necessary focus on the state of quasi-permanent fiscal distress facing public education and the province-wide “structural funding shortfall” boards face that now totals over $300 million.”
What is clear is that student enrolment is increasing. What is not clear is whether the 2010–11 Operating Grants allocation is intended to fund the 561,734 students listed in the Budget and Fiscal Plan, or the 544,223 students listed at the bottom of the funding tables in the ministry’s media release, “School Districts receive $112 million increase in Operating Grants (March 15, 2010)”? Either way the funding just isn’t there. As Barry O’Neill says, “…it’s time to come clean on school enrolment and funding in BC.”
David Denyer is assistant director, BCTF Communications and Campaigns Division and editor of Teacher newsmagazine.