Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

$27.2M more from province for education

Allan's 2.3% increase likely not enough to prevent tax hikes

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Education Minister Nancy Allan has increased education funding by $27.2 million -- 2.3 per cent higher funding than last year.

Both teachers and trustees expect school boards will raise education property taxes this year -- but they're also both breathing enormous sighs of relief over their unrealized fears that the province couldn't afford this much money.

It's the 14th consecutive year the NDP has raised school funding by at least the same rate as provincial economic growth.

"Our total investment is now over $1.2 billion annually," Allan told reporters Monday.

Allan said there is new money for early-years literacy and numeracy.

She will have a subsequent announcement on even more new money to continue implementing the capping of kindergarten to Grade 3 enrolment at 20 students provincewide by 2017. The province has committed to $20 million for new teachers over five years to reduce early-years class sizes.

"We have 79 more teachers in the classroom" than a year ago, she pointed out. "There is more funding throughout grades kindergarten to Grade 8" to improve math and literacy skills.

Funding for each division is spread over dozens of categories of education programming and determined by factors such as enrolment and assessment bases. Divisions should learn this week how much money they will each be getting for 2013-14.

The province has promised school divisions they will receive at least the same amount in operating grants as they did last year. Without that guarantee, said deputy education minister Gerald Farthing, 16 of the province's 37 divisions would be receiving less money.

"This is obviously a significant announcement. We have kept our zero per cent increase guarantee" of no less money than a year ago, said Allan.

Allan would not say how much of a school property-tax increase she would consider acceptable, if any. "I know school divisions will sharpen their pencils," she said.

The provincial money is roughly the same as last year's 2.2 per cent increase of $25.5 million. School trustees avoided cuts to jobs, programs and services by raising property taxes an average of 5.1 per cent.

"I expect some are going to have to raise taxes," said Manitoba School Boards Association chairman Robert Rivard, a Seine River trustee.

"We feared less. It's better news than we expected," said Rivard, who reported officials saying Monday it's neither the budget of their dreams nor of their nightmares.

"Given the national context, it's much better than most of us expected... in terms of cuts elsewhere, and the reluctance of other jurisdictions to support education and teachers," said Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson.

Olson said the system is based on both the province and the school divisions sharing costs. "In a general sense, yes, I do" expect some increase in school taxes, Olson said.

Tory education critic Kelvin Goertzen said his party is "less focused on the funding part of it, and more focused on outcomes. The ultimate is, how are our kids doing? Parents don't begrudge paying taxes if they see their kids getting a quality education. Farthing said Allan announced few specific programs this year, because the province concentrated on divisions with declining enrolment and low assessment bases by providing $33 million in equalization.

"There are decreases in some (funding categories) areas," leaving a net increase of $27.2 million in new money, Farthing explained.

Rivard applauded the equalization money, but cautioned, "Some of that money for equalization would have come from somewhere else."

Said Olson: "Any focus on equalization is a good thing."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Bad-news budget

for our schools?

 

WHY could $27.2 million in new money for public schools, a provincial funding increase of 2.3 per cent, ever possibly be considered as bad news?

Because the 2.3 per cent applies only to the province's share of financing a $2.026-billion system. On the overall system, Education Minister Nancy Allan has increased funding by about 1.25 per cent.

 

AND that is bad news because... ?

Because spending on that system has increased by as much as 4.1 per cent in recent years. Last year, overall spending increased by 3.29 per cent, or $64.7 million, and school boards made up the difference by raising school property taxes an average of 5.1 per cent. This year presents school trustees with the same predicament.

 

IS there any alternative to spending that much money?

Yes, by making significant cuts to jobs, programs and services -- virtually impossible when the province is so committed to hiring more teachers to cap class sizes and to increase literacy and numeracy skills. And all but one division already has a contract guaranteeing teachers a two per cent raise in September 2013, plus significant incremental increases for teachers with less than 10 years' experience. Teachers' wages and benefits make up more than half the cost of the entire system.

 

WHERE is the $27.2 million going?

Very few specific programs this year. Some new money goes to literacy and numeracy, but the funding includes $33 million for equalization payments to divisions with declining enrolment and low assessment bases. Netting out at $27.2 million indicates spending in some areas will be going down.

 

-- Martin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2013 A4

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 10:54 AM CST: replaces photo

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