The true cost of “balanced budgets”

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When you hear the latest government talking point—“59 out of 60 boards have managed to balance their budgets; why won’t Vancouver?”—please remember what a “balanced budget” actually means:

School boards are required by law to balance their budgets, meaning that their expenses cannot exceed their revenues. However, they generate very little of their own revenue and rely largely on funding they receive from the provincial government.

For several years, the amount that the provincial government has allocated to public education has failed to keep up with the boards’ expenses (and many of those expenses are created and increased by the government: eg, MSP premiums, negotiated contracts, and Hydro rates). The failure to increase funding to meet costs means that boards have experienced annual shortfalls in funding. This year is no exception: at least 31 boards faced shortfalls totalling $85 million (and those were just the shortfalls that FACE could find through the media and online info).

Because they are required to balance their budgets, the boards have had to make up for these shortfalls with a combination of cuts, one-time funding, and school closures.* The BC School Trustees’ Association, which represents 59 of the 60 boards, listed the following as examples of cost-cutting measures boards have taken to balance their budgets:

  • Reduction or elimination of student bussing (once considered a core service)
  • Implementation of monthly student transportation fees
  • Increased class sizes and the loss of elective classes
  • Reduced support services for students including fewer Education Assistant hours
  • Reduced school supply budgets affecting the classroom directly
  • Reduced support for teacher and school-based innovation projects
  • Program, classroom and school closures
  • Expanded introduction of a two-week spring break and fewer school days
  • Reduced building and grounds maintenance, supplies and summer work
  • Deferment or cancellation of technology upgrades and implementation
  • Reduced library time and fewer library services for students
  • Loss of co-curricular music and arts programs
  • Reduced funding for students’ extracurricular programs such as sports
  • Reduced custodial services for schools
  • Reductions in school and district administration services
  • Delayed replacement of text books and library books
  • Higher costs for community groups wanting to use school facilities**

Forcing school boards to balance underfunded budgets is not fair to the boards, the students, and the future of our province. School board budgets have been balanced at the cost of our children’s education. Our kids and our future deserve stable, predictable, adequate public education funding.

Use the latest version of our quick and easy email tool to tell the government you want an end to the underfunding.

*The Vancouver School Board was dismissed in 1986 for refusing to balance its budget; it has submitted a balanced budget every year since (until this year). In more recent years, the Cowichan Valley and North Vancouver school boards have been fired for not balancing their budgets.

**See here for the full BCSTA document.