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Government, teachers dispute school funding

While the B.C. Liberals are bragging about “record high” school funding, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation is calling it a “shell game, smoke and mirrors, and bad political spin.”

In a March 15 news release, the B.C. government announced education funding will see an increase for the tenth straight year:

As announced in Budget 2010, B.C. school districts will receive $4.663 billion in operating grants next year, a $112-million increase over this year. Average per-pupil funding is also expected to increase by an estimated $105 from $8,196 this year to $8,301 in 2010-11 - a record high.

The increase to operating funding includes $54 million to fully fund the teachers' wage settlement and $58 million to fully fund the implementation of full day Kindergarten. The per-pupil funding amount has increased by an estimated $2,039 since 2000-01.

In addition to the increase in operating funding next year, $110 million in annual facilities grant funding will be made available to school districts between now and March 31, 2011. School districts will also share $51 million in CommunityLINK funding to support the province's most vulnerable students.

The government news release also supplied a link to data on province-wide enrolment and funding.

The BCTF, however, responded on March 16 with outgoing president Margaret Lanzinger’s criticism of Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid’s announcement as “a blatant attempt to mislead British Columbians”:

“Shell game, smoke and mirrors, and bad political spin are the words that come to mind when looking at the latest funding announcement for school boards. The new funding promised in the latest budget is only real on paper. The majority of school boards will see no real increase. In many cases, the promised funding for full-day Kindergarten and wage increases will actually make shortfalls worse.”

Lanzinger said 33 of 60 school boards will receive exactly the same funding as last year, and many of those school districts will have to find the money for all-day Kindergarten and salary increases in those unchanged budgets. Said Lanzinger:

“The minister’s math just doesn’t add up. There are unavoidable fixed costs for school boards that the government is not funding. And, by downloading new costs like full-day Kindergarten and salary increases, the government is actually forcing boards to make cuts. The minister of education is making it worse by misleading British Columbians about the real numbers.”

To explain the misleading math, Lanzinger suggests looking at Prince George where parents, teachers, and students are facing several school closures. Last year’s grant from the provincial government was $119.3 million. In 2010–11, the grant will be the same $119.3 million. However, the government says Prince George is getting “new funding” of $1.3 million for salary increases and $1.7 million for full-day Kindergarten.

The BCTF release included links to district-by-district grant allocations and to breakdowns of costs for full-day Kindergarten and salary increases.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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