Why BC Schools Are Always Short of Money

It was a one – two punch that created the funding shortfall in school districts and public education. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below.

 

True shortfall pegged at $135 million

The report puts the current shortfall for schools’ operating budgets at $132 million, and says that’s a “conservative” estimate: “The $132 million figure does not include additional cost pressures such as inflation or earlier labour settlements not covered by the province. If we could add those costs in as well, the shortfall would be much greater.”

How did we get here?

As recently as 1980, school boards had their own taxing powers. If the province’s funding wasn’t enough, trustees could jack up the mill rate on local businesses and homeowners to get the money for needed local programs. If taxpayers didn’t like it, they could fire the trustees in the next election.

In 1981-82, the Bill Bennett Socreds changed that formula by removing the power of trustees to tax commercial-industrial property. From then on, trustees could raise extra money from their residential taxpayers only.

The result was a step closer to achieving education funding equality in British Columbia, even though wealthier districts still had plenty of taxable residential property and could therefore run excellent programs beyond the means of rural districts.

At the cost of local autonomy, B.C. school boards eventually presided over districts that offered generally equal programs and levels of service. The money came from Victoria, whether the Socreds or the New Democrats were in power. Poor districts with special-needs students could support those students as well as districts like Vancouver and West Vancouver.

BC Liberals changed funding formula

In 2001, the Campbell Liberals changed the terms of education funding at all levels. In the public schools, as “When More is Less” makes clear, the formula now provided money mostly by counting students and allocating a set number of dollars per student in each district, rather than based on varying needs.

A demographic shift put boards in a bind. Enrolments, as the report says, had been declining since the late 1990s. Under the new Liberal formula, this meant less money over all.

“While it might be logical to assume that districts are able to reduce costs in proportion to the number of students enrolled,” the report says, “the reality is that they can’t.”

Suppose you live in a mortgaged house with two children. One kid moves out, but your mortgage stays the same. Heat and light bills don’t change much. Property taxes depend on the local housing market, not on the number of people under your roof.

So it is with schools.

As Charley Beresford says in the conclusion of the report: “Although total operating funding has increased, once a closer look is taken at the individual districts, it is clear that these increases do not cover the costs of education. The implication that more funding has meant more services for students does not bear out. In this case, ‘more’ is less.”

“To maintain British Columbia’s global position as a leading education system, a review of the funding formula matched by a provincial commitment to adequate and stable funding is required.”

 

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