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PRIORITIES FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

A Brief to the Ministry of Education from the BC Teachers’ Federation, August 2017 

Education Funding for Successful Implementation and Strong Public Education in BC

The issue

BC’s public education system requires adequate, stable, and predictable funding. The addition of Classroom Enhancement Funds (CEFs) following the BCTF’s win at the Supreme Court of Canada are critical, yet not sufficient, to restoring 16 years of declining operational funding for public education. Successful implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement as well as broad strengthening of working and learning conditions in BC’s public schools requires significant additional operating funding and resources.

Background

Public education funding in BC has been declining over the past 16 years as both a proportion of total public spending (Figure 1) and gross domestic product (GDP) (Figure 2). The impacts on working and learning conditions in BC have been significant and include, inter alia, declining numbers of classroom and specialist teachers, growing class sizes and complex class compositions, cuts to programs and services, and declining capital and infrastructure. Following the BCTF’s Supreme Court of Canada win in November 2016, the Memorandum of Agreement set the path for restoration of funding vis-à-vis the CEFs for up to 3,300 classroom and specialist teachers. These funds are intended to ensure that public school districts come into compliance with restored collective agreement language on class size, composition, and non-enrolling specialist teaching ratios.

Figure 1
Figure1: Ministry of Education spending as a percentage of government spending

Figure 2
Figure 2: Ministry of Education spending as percentage of GDP

Sources: See further reading.

Key recommendations

Recommendation 1

Fully fund the costs of full implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement: Classroom Enhancement Funds (CEFs) were announced as notional allocations based on projected district needs. Government should conduct a review to ensure that districts have been able to sufficiently avail CEFs for both teaching positions and overhead costs to ensure full implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement.

Recommendation 2

Establish predictable, stable, and adequate funding for public education in BC that addresses unfunded cost pressures. There are multiple cost pressures that are not addressed by the addition of the Classroom Enhancement Funds.  The BCTF and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) analyses and projections for “relief of operating school district pressures” far exceed the previous government’s $94 million allocation over three years. For example, the BCTF Brief to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services listed the equivalent figure of $94 million in unfunded cost pressures—but this figure was an annual figure (not over three years). The CCPA analysis projected $192 million over three years in cost pressures. These cost pressures include MSP premiums, inflation, supplies, funding for the Next Generation Network, and provincially negotiated agreements. Government must review and fully fund these unfunded cost pressures. 

Recommendation 3

Government must provide additional funding for school, classroom, and related teaching supplies, materials, and resources. Successful implementation of restored language is also contingent on teachers having access to adequate teaching materials and resources. Sixteen years of chronic underfunding of public education has led to declining school and classroom resources. The Student Learning Grant proposed by the previous government allocated a one-time grant of $29.4 million that simply restores cuts of the exact equivalent size made in 2015. Schools and districts continue to report serious budgetary shortfalls in providing classroom and learning materials.

Recommendation 4

Government must address and fully fund school district budget shortfalls. As a result of constraints described above and the slow and delayed timeline for implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement with the government, many school districts are in positions of uncertainty as they proceed with their obligations to submit their budgets. School districts including Vancouver and Richmond, for example, have already announced needs for cuts to programming and staffing. Government must review existing shortfalls and commit to full funding and restoration.

British Columbia spends $1,000 less per student than the Canadian national average (Figure 3). BC’s relative position and our own provincial working and learning conditions can be significantly improved with fully funded implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement and specific commitments by government to address unfunded cost pressures outlined above.

Figure 3: Difference ($) in per-student funding in BC compared to Canadian national average
Figure 3: Difference in per-student funding in BC compared to Canadian national average

Further Reading

Appendix 1: BCTF Education Funding Brief to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services (2016)

Ministry of Finance. (2016). Budget and Fiscal Plan 2016/17 – 2018/19. Victoria: Government of British Columbia. Retrieved from bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2016/bfp/2016_budget_and_fiscal_plan.pdf.

Ministry of Education. (Various Years). Service Plan. Victoria: Government of British Columbia.

Ministry of Finance. (2001). Budget Estimates Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 2002. Victoria: Government of British Columbia. Retrieved from www.fin.gov.bc.ca/archive/budget01/Estimates2001.pdf .

Statistics Canada. (2015). Table 384-0038 Gross domestic product, expenditure-based, provincial and territorial. Ottawa: CANSIM. Retrieved from www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a26?lang=eng&id=3840038.

Statistics Canada. (2009). Summary Elementary and Secondary School Indicators for Canada, the Provinces and Territories, 2001/2002 to 2006/2007. Government of Canada.

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