Nova Scotia

New funding model coming for N.S. public schools in September

The province’s Education Department is poised to change the funding model for the public school system, something the teachers union president says is news to him.

Teachers union president alarmed he was not informed of changes

A hallway at Citadel High in Halifax. (Robert Short/CBC)

The province's Education Department is poised to change the funding model for the public school system, something the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says is news to him.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said Friday that the changes are set for the 2019-20 school year.

The funding model will no longer be based only on enrolment. It will also take into consideration a region's socioeconomic conditions, the number of students on individual program plans (IPP) and student achievement data, among other items.

"We're moving to a system that is more responsive to student needs and helps us better direct our resources to meet the needs of students," Churchill said.

He said about 90 per cent of his department's budget goes to fixed costs, such as salaries, capital costs and transportation.

It's how that other 10 per cent gets distributed and used that will change. In some cases it might mean additional staff, in other instances it could be targeted professional development.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said the new funding model would be in place for the coming school year. (CBC)

"It's not just about how much money is being spent; it's about how we're spending it and we are working diligently to do it in a way that better helps the system meet the needs of our kids," he said.

"If we know that there's a higher IPP level or lower achievement in a particular region, we can direct resources there and the region can then direct those resources to the school communities that need them the most."

NSTU president has questions

NSTU president Paul Wozney said it sounds wonderful in theory, but he found the way he learned of the news "highly problematic" and said he's left with many questions.

"Generally, a revamp of a funding formula for a pillar of the social fabric is cause for extensive consultation, extensive study and to our knowledge for this to be announced through a reporter on the Friday before a long weekend is — on one hand it's wonderful, on the other hand it's alarming."

Churchill announced a year ago his department's intention to reconstruct the way regional centres for education — the former school boards — receive funding.

That decision followed recommendations by the expert panel on inclusive education, as well as education consultant Avis Glaze, both of whom found shortcomings with a model that only considered enrolment.

But Wozney said he's not aware of attempts since then to get input from the union, teachers, parents or others involved in the school system.

He said he would reserve judgment until the method to calculate the new formula is made public.

Need to see it coming

"A lot more dialogue and transparency needs to come to bear on whatever these changes are because they have a tremendous and profound impact on the supports that students are, or are not, going to get," he said.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Paul Wozney expressed concern about learning of the changes through a call from CBC. (CBC)

"Everyone needs to see it coming a million miles out so that we don't run into an annual lobbying effort by different groups with different political agendas to realize changes in public education."

Churchill said regional funding needs would be reviewed each year based on the combination of enrolment and student need.

Changes have already started

Staffing allocations that were finalized this week and caused concern in some communities were made using the new formula.

However, Education Department officials noted further support needs would be reviewed before the budgets for regional centres are finalized next month, and again at the end of September when enrolment is complete.

"People will see resources move around the system and it's important that people understand that's because we're doing a better job identifying the needs of our kids and getting resources where they're most needed," said Churchill.

In the absence of more information, Wozney said he is left wondering if the news, and the way it was delivered, was damage control by the government one day after Premier Stephen McNeil berated union leadership for allegedly spreading misinformation, and called on them to focus instead on the shortfall in their pension fund.

"All of a sudden, we magically have a new funding formula that's going to make everybody happy."

MORE TOP STORIES

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca