Column: School spending complicated

School days again in Cariboo Chilcotin. The new term brings changes in the curriculum and boasts.

School days again in Cariboo Chilcotin. The new term brings changes in the curriculum and boasts from Education Minister Mike Bernier that B.C. provides record funding to ensure we have an excellent education system.

Many, including front line people in the education system (parents teachers, trustees), dispute the latter claim. They say the “record level” of funding falls short of providing adequate services for students. They note education spending has dropped 25 per cent as a proportion of the provincial Gross Domestic Product since 2001, and B.C. has the second lowest per-student and per district funding in the country. Only Prince Edward Island spends less (Stats Canada. )

Victoria sets the basic education requirements which must be met under the School Act, and then gives each district funding based on the number of students enrolled. Sounds fair, but districts don’t know what money they’ll get until the student noses are counted and that makes it hard to plan. Some operating costs (salaries, utilities etc.) have to be paid, and each district — each school actually — has its own and often very different needs which can’t always be met with the money available.

Supplementary grants are, at best, band aid solutions. Trustees can’t raise nor invent cash, neither can they run deficits, so what are they supposed to do besides take the blame for the problems? Why aren’t more of them speaking out?

The last Royal Commission into education was held in 1988. The world has changed considerably since then, and regardless of who is right on the funding method, surely the entire system is due for a major overhaul. Local trustees had an additional issue this year with the seemingly abrupt departure of their District Superintendent.

Speaking of up-to-date, the BC Teacher’s Federation will be 100 years old in January and, to celebrate, the group is building a digital museum. The site not only records the history of education in B.C., but also events as they happen. (Google “BC Teachers Federation online museum”).

It’s a work in progress but, it’s worthwhile checking out, so you’ll know how we got where we are.

Diana French is a freelance columnist,  former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.