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Teacher Newsmagazine   Volume 20, Number 2, October 2007  

BC fails to keep up with other provinces in education funding

It will not come as any surprise to teachers struggling to meet their students’ needs that BC lags behind every other province when it comes to real increases (after inflation is accounted for) in public education funding. The figures were recently released by Statistics Canada.

The inflation rate for Canada was 15% between 1998–99 and 2004–05. Yet, the increase in average total expenditures per student in all of Canada was 28% over that same period—that is 13% over and above the inflation rate. In British Columbia, the increase in public education expenditures per student was only 5% above the inflation rate, just over one-third of the national average. It means that over the six-year period, the real increase in education funding in BC was a meagre 5% or less than 1% a year.

As a result of BC having lower increases than any other province, the student/educator ratio (fewer students per teacher) declined everywhere in Canada except British Columbia.

In BC, the student/educator ratio increased (more students per teacher) from 17.2 in 1998–99 to 17.5 in 2004–05. It had dipped to a low of 16.8 in 2001–02 then rose again with the current government in power. BC now has the highest student/educator ratio in Canada. Newfoundland’s is lowest at 13.6.

Education expenditures as a percentage of BC’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP is the total of all economic activity in the province) has fallen nearly 16% from 3.8% of GDP to 3.2% between 1998–99 and 2004–05. If the percentage had stayed the same, $980 million more would have been in the provincial education budget in 2004–05.

The situation for K–12 education in BC would be dramatically different if the government had maintained that 1998–99 level of spending. For just $250 million—a quarter of the additional amount that the system would have if the same percentage of GDP were spent now as in 1998–99—we would be able to increase the number of teachers by 1,800 to what it was in 2001–02, the last year before the Liberals made the cuts.

This would restore teacher-librarians, counsellors, learning assistance teachers, and teacher specialist supports for special needs. These are areas that were legislated out of the collective agreement. The loss of these services created the crisis in special education that the system now faces. That extra money would also allow the system to actually meet the class-size and class-composition limits that were promised in Bill 33, but not delivered on.

In addition to the worst student/ educator ratios, BC teachers are the lowest paid in the country, except for New Brunswick, on a per-pupil-taught basis. All of this is happening at a time when the GDP (the real wealth of the country) is growing rapidly—8% in this same time period—and at a time when the BC government is posting budget surpluses every year.

– Larry Kuehn 

Source: Blouin, P., and Courchesne, M. (2007) Summary of Public School Indicators for the Provinces and Territories, 1998–99 to 2004–05, Ottawa: Statistics Canada. (2004–05 is the latest year for which StatsCan has figures for all provinces.)

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