BC’s government knows public education is underfunded

The BC government has a lot of spin lines it brings out to counter any argument that public education is underfunded:

The truth is that public education is underfunded. Parents know it, trustees know it, teachers know it.

And it turns out the government knows it too. Back in 2002, when now-Premier Christy Clark was Minister of Education, her government decided to “protect” education funding by arbitrarily capping it (in other words, when they said “protect,” they meant “cut”). The funding system that existed at that time was “program-and-cost” or “block” funding; the government was responsible for funding all the costs of education or deciding which areas to not fund. But because arbitrarily capping the education budget would mean that the government would not be able to meet costs, which would inevitably rise, that meant there would have to be cuts. The provincial government/Christy Clark didn’t want to take the heat for those inevitable cuts. And thus, program-and-cost funding was ditched and per-pupil funding was born, whereby the arbitrarily limited amount of funding is divided between districts based on enrolment numbers, and the districts must decide what (not “if,” because the government knew these cuts would happen) to cut.

All of this was explained in a 2002 Province column by Mike Smyth.* Everything that he and the government predicted would result from capping funds and moving to per-pupil funding has come to pass. We have had 14 years of school closures and devastating cuts to programs and services. Children have spent their entire K-12 span receiving less each year than the year before. And the cuts continue.

The government denial of underfunding continues as well, but it’s clear they have known all along that the system is underfunded. If they try any of their spin lines, just show them this, and tell them to keep their spin:

…Despite their election promise to “protect” education spending, the Liberals are actually cutting funding to many B.C. school districts. Some may have to close schools as a result. And the Liberals want to shift the blame for underfunding schools away from themselves and on to locally elected school boards.

Those are the recurring themes in a fascinating nine-page document I obtained Friday, the day Education Minister Christy Clark announced the government’s new “funding formula” for B.C. schools. It’s entitled “Cabinet Decision Document,” stamped “CONFIDENTIAL” and signed by Clark. The document reveals the reasons behind Friday’s move to per-student funding and away from the old system, known as “program-and-cost” funding.

The document, signed by Clark on Jan. 25, explains that the old formula obligated the government to “meet or manage each increase in cost or each new service offered by school boards.” But with total education funding now frozen — or “protected” in the Liberals’ language — the document warns the cabinet: “Given government’s direction that education funding will be flat over the next three years, the current program-and-cost funding formula will not work.

“The Ministry will be called upon to make decisions about which programs to cut or reduce in order to offset unavoidable cost increases. Responsibility for reductions will thus rest with the Ministry, not with the local school boards.”

The document details the political peril of sticking with the old funding formula. Under the heading “Disadvantages” (of the status quo), it says: “The province will be seen as responsible for funding all costs. With overall flat funding and rising costs, this option would require the minister to decide annually which programs and services should be cut throughout the province.”

Uh-oh! Christy Clark taking responsibility for cutting education programs? Can’t have that! The solution? Scrap the old system and bring in a new one based on student population. The key? Funding is tightly capped and individual boards decide where to cut, making them the bad guys…

– Mike Smyth 2002

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*Katie Hyslop of The Tyee found this old column and linked to it in a sidebar to her own recent article regarding underfunding.



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