The Ministry of Education is taking its time to determine how to implement recommended changes to the province's education funding model — a move being welcomed by the chair of the Kamloops-Thompson school board and other education officials.
“It’s going to take a lot of time to figure what their funding formulas are going to be for these various [recommendations],” said SD73 board of education chair Kathleen Karpuk. “We’ve also got some things in there that are going to require negotiation with the BCTF (B.C. Teachers’ Federation).”
The independent panel that reviewed B.C.’s education funding made 22 recommendations on how to redistribute the province’s $6 billion education budget more fairly, but changes won’t be made until 2020 at the earliest.
Minister of Education Rob Fleming intends to consult with working groups made up of parents, teachers, administrative staff and other interest groups who will advise how to best move forward with the recommendations.
Those working groups will be established next month and report back to government by the fall of 2019.
“Given the scope of the recommendations, we now need to work with our partners to better understand the benefits for students, parents, educators and school districts,” Fleming. “It’s critical we get this right for our kids.”
A seven-member independent panel was established following the 2017 provincial election, with the aim of addressing frustrations with the current model, which is largely based on a per student ratio and which has been in place since 2002.
Among the report’s 22 recommendations, the panel proposed that:
• Education funding should be allocated to meet specific needs first, such as Indigenous education and special education, before distributing money on a per student basis;
• Funding for special-needs students should be based on “a single inclusive education supplement,” but allocate the funding in two components, one that addresses the requirements of students who need high-cost supports on an individual basis based on medical diagnosis, and another component that distributes funding based on the prevalence of certain needs within a school district’s population.=;
• The ministry should consolidate its existing supplemental funding for geography, salary differential and other special grants into one fund with two components for unique school district and unique school characteristics. These components would address issues such as enrolment compared to the provincial median, school distance to geographic centres with basic service, climate, student distribution around a district, salary differential, small schools and over-capacity schools;
• Eliminate the Classroom Enhancement Fund and allocate the funds as part of district’s operating grants, which will require changes to collective agreements;
• Replace all current supplements for enrolment decline and funding protection with a new transitional model where school districts will manage the impact if enrolment decline over a three year period, with funding decreases of one-third funding decreases each year following the first year;
• The ministry should expand its workforce planning project with school districts to establish a provincial K-12 human capital plan;
• Issue three-year operating funding to boards of education and school districts be required to create three-year plans for those dollars;
Karpuk believes the variety of recommendations in the report that call for new reporting from school districts detailing spending may take up a lot of staff time and resources.
“We’re looking at five or six new, large-scale reports that we’re going to have to produce per year and we’re going to have to hire some people to do that, I think,” she told KTW.
Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association president Amanda Jensen expressed concern with the possibility of seeing a reduction in individualized services for SD73 students with special needs under the single inclusive education supplement recommendation.
Under the current funding model, districts receive about $7,000 per student, along with various supplemental grants for students with special needs designations and for Indigenous learners, Karpuk said.
Funding for high school students, she said, is based per course, not per student, ratio.
“It is a complex formula and it does lead to some challenges,” Karpuk said, citing travel costs in SD73 and certain special needs such as attention deficit disorder that don’t receive additional dollars outside the base per student funding.
The independent panel that produced the recommendations heard from all 60 of B.C.’s school boards and reviewed more than 100 written submissions.
“The panel has given us a very good framework for what a better model would look like, but they haven’t given us all the specifics,” Fleming said. “And there is a lot of work that will go into that around modelling.”
The recommendations get at long-simmering frustrations over issues such as inadequate funding for special-needs education, inequities between rural school districts and fast-growing districts that built up over the 16-year term of the previous government.
Fleming said he wants working groups to flesh out the details for any changes.
The report notes the current system meets the needs of the vast majority of students, children in care, Indigenous learners and students with special needs need to be better served.
The funding formula and allocation methodology has become increasingly complex over the years with many stakeholders expressing it isn’t adequately funded, the report states.
Fleming told reporters Wednesday he doesn’t think there will be any overlap between hammering out the details of the funding model change and negotiations on a new collective agreement coming up next year.
“The only possible overlap is we’re going to utilize BCTF [representatives] on some of the working groups,” he said.
Glen Hansman, president of the BC Teachers' Federation, was also thankful for the extra time to hammer out the details of the changes.
“The entire education community needs to have an informed conversation about these recommendations, and I welcome the opportunity to do so over the coming year. I hope that the process will lead to changes that enhance both services to students and teachers' working conditions, regardless of where they live and work in our province."
Hansman said the focus now needs to be on negotiating a new collective agreement for BC teachers ahead of the existing agreement expiring on June 30, 2019.
The government has already increased education spending by $580 million, Fleming said, and bolstered funding for special-needs support and hired thousands of new teachers to meet class-size objectives mandated in the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the issue.
However, while the increased funding and recommended policy changes are a necessary step, BC Green education critic Sonia Furstenau said government still needed to look at expanding the education budget.
—with files from the Vancouver Sun