The NDP government’s budget update yesterday brought hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for public schools’ classroom supports, portables and classrooms, while promising to cut expenses like the Medical Services Plan that the previous government downloaded onto school districts without increasing their budgets.
But funding also increased for independent or private B.C. schools, beyond what the previous Liberal government had pledged to spend on the schools last February.
Independent schools that receive government funding will see their funding increase by $40.4 million in this 2017/18 school year to $398,500,000. The previous Liberal government had pledged a funding increase of just $25.1 million, for a total of $383,200,000.
Neither the NDP nor the Green Party campaigned on a platform of ending government funding for private schools, but they have received pressure from some voters to cease subsidizing the schools’ operational costs. So why the increase?
Because it’s legally required under the B.C. Independent School Act, says Jason Ellis, associate professor of educational studies at the University of British Columbia.
“The amount that the independent schools receive is based on two things: their enrolment, and a percentage of the grant to the school district that that independent school is located,” said Ellis, adding not all independent schools receive government subsidies.
B.C. public schools will see a $437.5 million increase over their 2016/17 budget, bringing funding up for public schools alone to $5.525 billion for the 2017/18 school year. Therefore, by law, independent school funding also had to increase.
Independent schools fall under four categories. Group 1 schools, whose per student costs are similar to public schools, receive 50 per cent of per student funding of the school district in which they reside. Group 2 schools spend more per student than public schools and therefore only receive 35 per cent of the district’s per student funds. Group 3 and 4 schools, which encompass just 31 of the 347 independent schools in the province, do not receive government funding.
The province confirmed Ellis’ explanation, adding the funding formula for independent schools has been in place for 25 years. Today’s funding levels for private schools are 6.5 per cent of the overall B.C. education budget, which serves 13 per cent of the Kindergarten to Grade 12 population in the province.
The Tyee reached out to the Federation of Independent School Associations of BC for comment, but did not hear back before publication.
BC Teachers’ Federation first vice-president Teri Mooring says public funding for any independent schools is an area where her union disagrees with the NDP and Green Party agenda.
However, the government seems to be particularly committed to the funding of religious schools, Mooring said, most of which fall into the Group 1 category of independent schools whose per student costs are similar to that of public schools.
“We certainly think that they could start with [de-funding] the elite private schools,” she said, referring to the Group 2 schools. “That seems like it would be logical. The religious schools, for the most part, those are not the elite schools where parents pay thousands of dollars in tuition.”
The NDP campaigned on a platform of reexamining the school funding formula, which Mooring believes will also address independent school funding. Consultations have not yet begun, but Mooring hopes the process will be completed in time for the beginning of the 2018/19 school year.
Ellis is not sure whether independent school funding would come under any evaluation of the public funding formula as the two school systems are governed under separate acts, the Independent School Act and the School Act.
The government isn’t sure, either, telling The Tyee via email that the scope and scale of the review won’t be decided until October.