Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Highest funding ever? Then why the "net zero" mandate?

Highest funding ever?

Another misleading communique from the BC Liberals - "Education by the Numbers" - was released just in time for school start up. The "numbers" attempt to show how terrific the funding has been for BC schools under the Liberal government. Hopefully, this propaganda will go just as far as the HST ads. You only need to walk into any school Board and ask a Trustee if funding is indeed "the highest ever" to get a realist answer (have a look at Richmond School Board's "Advocacy" page for some examples of funding letters from Boards to the Ministry: http://www.sd38.bc.ca/district/board/advocacy%20letters)

The Liberals use raw numbers (no inflation adjustment) for per pupil funding to make their claim - a mistake in itself as it fails to address inflation and increased costs (like the HST!) and deals with only one piece of education funding (per pupil amounts). This would be like describing taxes based only on income tax and not including sales tax, wealth tax, corporate tax, and so on. Education funding has many components of which per pupil funding is only one. Moreover, the so called "highest ever" is even more misleading because in 2002, a significant increase in per pupil funding was accompanied by dramatically decreased and in many cases eliminated targeted funding for students with special needs. The total amount "added" to per pupil funding was offset by the elimination of targeted funding. When you look at the overall education budget, the claim of "highest funding ever" is simply not true.

That per pupil number is now going not just to the costs of educating that one student, but also for the educational assistants, the learning assistant teachers, the support for learning disabled children, and so on. In actuality, a smaller amount is now left over for the basic per pupil costs than we have seen in two decades.

Moreover, special education, which no longer receives targeted funding, has been devastated under this scheme. It is typical for an autistic child to have support from an educational assistant for only half of their school day. Yet their autism is there 24/7. A typical middle school child in Victoria who requires learning assistance gets an unbelievable 18 minutes per week. No wonder parents are using private services after school hours in droves. The public system is no longer providing what their children need.

In 2001, education funding as a percentage of our budget expenditures was over 19%. Today it is 15%. This is a fair measure of the value this government has placed on public education - a decrease in funding by one quarter. It compares apples to apples - total funding in real dollars (e.g. inflation accounted for). Another fair number is the percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product, or our total generated wealth) - from 3.7% of GDP to 3.2% of GDP.

Then why the "net zero"?

The funding claim was no surprise - we have heard it all before. But I was taken aback that they chose this moment in time to "re-release" the mis-leading data. After all, all we hear at the bargaining table and in the media is the "mandate" and the government's need to lower "costs".


Highest funding ever but 12,000 oversize classes and growing every year?
Highest funding ever but they cannot restore $275 million for class size/composition?
Highest funding ever but teacher salaries drop to 8th from 3rd in Canada?
Highest funding ever but a "net zero" mandate?


  1. Hi Tara,

    Another great post! I'm currently debating with some non-educators over these very issues. Could you supply me with specific references regarding your points re: raw numbers and % of GDP? I'd love to have these in "my back pocket".

    Thanks again!


  2. A really excellent overview of the change to the funding formula for BC schools was written by a former Victoria School Trustee, Charley Beresford, in a report called "When more is less".
    It is available here:


    The GDP numbers are from "The numbers tell the story"..an excellent pamphlet from the BCTF about education funding. It is here:


    The numbers in relation to budgetary spending are also from the BCTF research department, and available here:


  3. Hi Tara,

    Thank you for the background information on Education Funding in BC. Very useful as we head into the new school year.


  4. Tara, thanks for this blog. myBCTF would be very well served if Staffroom Confidential or some other daily commentary were available. Please raise this issue with the executive.