Review has potential to 'completely change the way education is funded in Manitoba': NDP

It may be years away, but the PC government is planning an extensive review of how education is delivered and funded in Manitoba.

Funding and school division amalgamation will be considered in Tory review, education minister says

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government is planning to issue a request for proposals for consultation on reforming education funding in Manitoba. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

It may take years to complete, but the Progressive Conservative government is planning an extensive review of how education is delivered and funded in Manitoba.

The review would be broad in scope, looking at taxation, provincial funding and potential amalgamations of school divisions, says Education Minister Ian Wishart.

The background on where the consultations may go was revealed by Wishart during a budget estimates committee session at the legislature on Monday.

Wishart, under questioning from NDP education critic Wab Kinew on Tuesday, acknowledged aspects of the current education funding model are controversial.

"I would dare say that the funding of education in Manitoba is, in many ways, at least as contentious an issue as the overall budget in the province," Wishart said.

Manitoba's schools are funded through a complicated property tax model, which includes one levy set by the provincial government and another levy set by local school boards.

Kinew, in an interview later, said the review could have huge implications for education in Manitoba.

"Potentially, this report, this process, could completely change the way education is funded in Manitoba and I think it is important for Manitobans to start thinking about these issues and to start asking questions" Kinew said.

Manitoba Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart said some aspects of education funding in the province are controversial. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Wishart said the review would be done publicly, and in consultation with stakeholders in the education system.

He also said there would be an online component where Manitobans can provide feedback. 

Wishart said it is possible a request for proposals to lead the consultation would be released this budget year, but "it is impossible, really, to speculate exactly how long this might take."

Wishart said the government would make no decisions on taxation powers until the review was completed and much work has to be done before the request for proposals is released.

He also didn't know how much the review might cost.

"As we've not determined the final size, scale and format of this, from our point of view, I don't think that we could really make an estimate. Certainly [we] don't have any quotes in regards to this. This is very speculative in terms of establishing a value," Wishart told the estimates committee. 

Wishart was not available to speak on Tuesday about the government's plan for the education review. 

Winnipeg School Division trustee Mark Wasyliw​ said he only learned taxation would be included in the review on Tuesday. 

"I think it's concerning because they are not talking about putting new money into the education system and the education system has been underfunded in Manitoba for 20 years," he said.

He said "alarm bells" went off when he heard changes to taxation and funding were on the table. If you take away the ability for school boards to set taxes, "you are undermining public education," Wasyliw said.

"We are there to defend the public education system. We are there to make a proper working school system and if the government doesn't fund us properly, which they haven't been, we have to make that money in property taxes, and we've done that."