By Andrea Mrozek, Today’s Family News, May 17, 2010: In late April the British Columbia School Trustees Association, a group that oversees public school boards in the province, agreed to recommend to the Ministry of Education that public funding for independent schools be dropped and diverted back into the public system, putting school choice at odds with tight budgets.
Funding for independent schools in British Columbia is based on a formula providing either 35 or 50 per cent of the per-student operational grant that the local public school receives, depending on the type of school. Capital funding is not provided.
This debate over funding independent schools often heats up when school boards face significant deficits, a point made in the Globe and Mail recently by Fred Herfst, executive director of the Federation of Independent Schools Associations of BC.
However, the trustees’ suggestion doesn’t mean the Ministry of Education will pay heed. As the Globe and Mail reported on May 3, the Ministry of Education’s website states its commitment to school choice, including the following text: “In a democratic society, however, parents have a right to choose from various educational alternatives for the education of their children, such as distributed learning, homeschooling and independent schools.”
Funding for education as a whole in British Columbia is on the rise. In the 2010 budget the Ministry of Education was one of only two areas to receive the green light for increased spending. (The other was health.) Despite a current provincial deficit of $1.7 billion, education spending will increase by 1.6 per cent over the three-year fiscal plan.
In fact, BC’s education budgets have never been higher, which is a cause for concern given lower public school enrolment rates. In mid-April the Ministry of Education appointed Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, BC’s comptroller-general, to assess what the Vancouver school board is doing with its budget of $443 million for the next school year. The Vancouver school board deficit is currently $17 million, even after attempts at cutbacks.
In Ontario, funding for the public school system is also increasing. The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada recently asked why this is the case, given that enrolment is declining in this province, too. Instead of reining in spending, the Ontario government is filling empty classrooms by opening school doors to younger and younger “students” through the push for all-day kindergarten. Meanwhile, private schools are relieving the burden on public schools as enrolment rises year by year – yet these private schools receive no funding from the Ontario government.
In BC, too, the cash-strapped Ministry of Education is pushing forward with the introduction of all-day kindergarten, expecting to achieve 50 per cent take up with a budget of $44 million in 2010, and full take up with funding of $107 million by 2011. Funding will rise to $129 million in 2012.
But these millions aren’t likely to be enough; early learning programs are very expensive – and expansive – and realistically could cost much more. An Institute of Marriage and Family Canada assessment of the new all-day kindergarten plans in Ontario put the annual cost at $1.8 billion annually, with the potential to pay out many more taxpayer dollars.
In the future, BC might dare to rob private school coffers to pay for a costly public school system. But what will Ontario do? It doesn’t even have a private school fund to dip into.