Manitoba

Funding boost of 0.5% shows 'a government that doesn't want to invest in education': WSD trustee

The Manitoba government is increasing funding to public elementary and high schools in the coming school year by half a percentage point, or $6.6 million, to its total budget of $1.329 billion.

Some Manitoba school divisions will receive less funding due to enrolment declines, other factors

Even though the province is increasing funding to its overall education budget, more than half of all school boards will actually receive less funding for 2019-20 due to changes in enrolment and other factors. (Shutterstock)

The Manitoba government is increasing funding to public elementary and high schools in the coming school year by half a percentage point, or $6.6 million, bringing its total budget to $1.329 billion.

But due to changes in enrolment and other factors, more than half of all school boards — including the Winnipeg School Division — will receive less funding in 2019-20 than they did for the current year.

"This is the highest level of funding in Manitoba history that shows our commitment to Manitoba students despite our current economic realities," Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in a news release Thursday.

"Since 2016, our government has increased funding to school divisions by more than $26 million."

The province's wage freeze on public-sector workers should help schools control their costs, because salaries account for roughly 80 per cent of all education expenses, Goertzen added.

Education minister Kelvin Goertzen says he also expects school divisions to continue trimming administration costs. (CBC)

School divisions receive funding from the province as well as through locally collected school board property taxes. The province is once again directing divisions to cap increases to their education property tax at two per cent for the 2019-20 school year and will ask divisions to continue to reduce administrative costs.

The government has announced a review of education in the province and is not ruling out reducing or eliminating elected school boards.

The vice-chair of trustees for Winnipeg School Division says it has made deep cuts to its expenses after successive years of declining funding from the province.

In this environment of running more than a half-billion-dollar deficit still, which is a significant challenge for the province, that is a reasonable place to be.- Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen

WSD will see a funding decrease of 0.4 per cent for 2019-20, attributed in part to a drop in students.

"I know how hard we struggled last year to meet the needs and not cut positions, not to cut really important programming," said Lisa Naylor.

"What we are seeing this year, for a third year in a row, I feel, is a government that doesn't want to invest in education."

Naylor says the funding drop could mean the Winnipeg School Division might refuse the Progressive Conservative government's request to keep education tax increases to two per cent.

"I can't speak for the entire board but it is something we talk about. We talked openly with our ratepayers and our communities to ask how they feel about that."

Naylor says her division must make critical investments in technology and has expenses for children who live in poverty and with mental health needs that are not being covered by the province.

Premier Brian Pallister's government has been trying to keep a lid on spending as part of a campaign promise to balance the provincial budget by 2024.

0.5% a 'reasonable place to be,' says minister

Goertzen says the modest increase in overall funding is offset by a wage freeze for teachers and staff, allowing divisions to get a better handle on their costs.

Salaries for those staff account for approximately 80 per cent of school division budgets.

The PC government passed Bill 28 more than a year ago, which holds public-sector wages to zero increases, although the legislation has yet to receive royal assent, making it a law.

Goertzen says despite a similar modest increase in funding from the province last year, school divisions across the province were able to add 232 new staff — the vast majority of them teachers — and keep teacher-to-student ratios virtually the same.

"I think in this environment of running more than a half-billion-dollar deficit still, which is a significant challenge for the province, that is a reasonable place to be," Goertzen told reporters. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew decried Thursday's announcement, saying the government is cutting funds for over half of Manitoba's school divisions.

"This will have serious impacts on students. The Pallister government must fund education properly — by keeping pace with enrolment and the rate of economic growth," Kinew wrote in a statement. 

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