Tough economic times means Manitoba school divisions will have to do some belt tightening.

A program they relied on in exchange for keeping their taxes low has been cut.

Education Minister Nancy Allan said the tax incentive grant put $135 million into schools over the last four years. But it's gone now.

Instead, the province is increasing overall funding by 2.2 per cent, or $25.5 million in the coming year, matching the rate of economic growth.

Allan said the focus is stable funding, keeping kids in school and quality of education.

"These are tough times and these are the commitments that we felt were necessary for us right now," she said.

Tory education critic Cameron Friesen said the move puts school boards into a corner, forcing them to raise taxes to keep up with rising costs.

Brian O'Leary, president of the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents, echoed those remarks.

"The increase in provincial funding will at a minimum keep with costs, so there's going to be some room to be made up by property tax payers," he said, adding school divisions didn't get any notice the incentive program would be cut.

"It was a surprise. That [incentive program] did seem to be a direction that they were strongly committed to but they seem to have abandoned that."

He said the next few weeks will be challenging.

The gap left by the elimination of the program will now be made up by property taxpayers, many of whom haven't had an increase since 1999, O'Leary said.

Allan said the province hopes school divisions will be sensitive to taxpayers. But she has put no cap on any tax increases.