Study cuts through confusion about education funding [Jan 2004]

Per-pupil funding continues downward trend
January 22, 2004

(Vancouver) Real per-student funding for public education in BC has been dropping over the past three years, and is now at its lowest level in more than 15 years. Despite contrary claims by the education minister, the province is not giving school boards enough money to meet cost increases -- resulting in school closures, larger class sizes, and lost funds for special needs.

This is the central finding of a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). "Who's Cutting Classes? Untangling the Spin about K-12 Education in BC" examines education financing in BC since the early 1990s. The study shows that -- after inflation -- per-student education funding actually declined through most of the 1990s, increased for a few years towards the end of the decade, and has been falling ever since.

"There's been a lot of talk lately about the state of education financing," says Marc Lee, author of the study and an economist with the CCPA. "Parents, students and teachers know that all is not well, and yet we're told by the education minister that any fault for cutbacks lies with the school boards, that the province is spending more than ever on K-12, and that per-student funding is rising. It simply doesn't add up."

Lee says that while Minister Clark is technically correct when she says total dollars spent on public education has risen under her government, this increase has not been enough to keep pace with the increased costs of providing education -- even with the recent decline in student enrollment. As a result, school boards have had to make cuts.

"Like anything else in the economy, education financing is affected by inflation. When you factor in the specific cost increases for providing public education, it becomes clear that education spending isn't keeping up."

Lee says the education minister should stop playing with the numbers and pointing the finger at school boards. "The bottom line is that we need a $300 million boost to the education budget in 2004 in order to return to 1990 real funding levels. We shouldn't be short-changing BC's students -- the province's young citizens and future workforce -- by starving our public education system."