Education minister announces ‘astronomical’ public school funding hike
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Manitoba is topping up education funding by six per cent — its largest increase in at least 25 years — in response to the rising cost of teaching and transporting students, but public-sector leaders say the welcome change cannot undo years of underfunding damage.
Education Minister Wayne Ewasko announced Thursday the province is allocating $100 million more to kindergarten-to-Grade 12 instruction next year, and making funding more predictable for public school boards.
Metro board funding increases, between 2022-23 and 2023-24
• Pembina Trails: 18.71 per cent
• River East Transcona: 16.97 per cent
• St. James-Assiniboia: 13.15 per cent
• Louis Riel: 12.87 per cent
• Winnipeg: 11.93 per cent
• Seven Oaks: 6.69 per cent
— Manitoba Education K-12 funding allocations
The minister called the annual commitment “astronomical, as far as an announcement goes.”
“Each and every school division is receiving an increase for the school year of 2023-24,” Ewasko told reporters. “This will help divisions engage students and invest in the programs and services that will best meet the needs of their own local communities.”
The new dollars include: $62.9 million for division operations; $20 million to address inflation and other cost pressures; $8 million for capital support payments; $5 million for special-needs programming; and $5 million for independent schools.
Given the province is continuing to freeze property education taxes at 2020 levels, $24 million in provincial money is being set aside for grants to compensate divisions the equivalent of a two per cent hike in local fees.
The annual funding guarantee, previously at 98 per cent, has also been updated to 100 per cent so boards can be assured the dollars they received one year prior are guaranteed going forward, the province said.
Contrary to recent years, when many boards have been budgeting with stable or decreased funding, all 37 boards will receive a bump — at least 2.5 per cent more than 2022-23 levels — in base dollars.
Seven Oaks, River East Transcona, Louis Riel, Pembina Trails, St. James-Assiniboia and Winnipeg can expect increases in operating money ranging between roughly seven and 19 per cent.
Ewasko noted high fuel prices are one of the main cost pressures divisions are facing at present, and higher bills have affected rural and northern communities in particular.
Provincial dollars are typically distributed based on student population, transportation needs and maintenance costs, among countless other line items built into the current K-12 funding formula.
A new funding model that prioritizes equity was supposed to be intact ahead of the latest funding announcement, but the province recently delayed its introduction by a year.
“We understand the importance of providing equitable funding across the province and this year, we’ve considered socio-economic factors and other factors to improve equity and ensure funding is directed to where it is needed most,” Ewasko said.
The minister also revealed the province has committed to making one-time grants provided to school divisions for various initiatives last year — a combined $106 million — a part of its permanent annual funding.
According to the province, the latest announcement brings the overall increase in operational funding for schools to $328 million since 2016-17, or about 23 per cent — roughly the amount the consumer price index rose between 2016 and 2022.
Inflation aside, growing student mental health and support needs, COVID-19-related challenges, and retroactive salary payments — owing to the province’s now-defunct public-sector wage freeze legislation — have all resulted in trustees being forced to make difficult budget decisions in recent years.
“We understand the importance of providing equitable funding across the province and this year, we’ve considered socio-economic factors and other factors to improve equity and ensure funding is directed to where it is needed most.”–Wayne Ewasko
“This is a positive step in the right direction to closing some of those shortcomings, but I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture here,” said Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.
“There are school divisions that have seen stable enrolment and increased costs associated with stable enrolment for six or seven years in a row, while at the same time consistently receiving a decrease in funding.”
Campbell said he hopes this announcement “sets the bar” for subsequent ones in non-election years. (Manitobans will go the polls on or before Oct. 3.)
For the last half-dozen years, union leader James Bedford said the Manitoba Teachers’ Society has been warning the province annual funding that does not keep up with the rate of inflation, let alone student growth, is causing deterioration within the education system.
“It’s going to allow the system to tread water. It’s not going to be able to backfill services that have been lost over the past years and it’s not going to allow us to continually improve programs and services (for) students,” the MTS president said about the 2023-24 funding increases
Bedford, who represents about 16,600 public school educators, noted he has been hearing more about schools limiting paper supplies and photocopying resources this year, as a result of budget crunches.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew was quick to point out the Tories have broken a pattern of rolling out limited annual funding increases at the start of an election year.
“Schools have had to go through a year where inflation was at 7.7 per cent. They’ve had to deal with the impacts of PC mistakes when it comes to wage freezes and education cuts… all those things are piling up,” Kinew said.
The province indicated it calculated funding for the upcoming school year based on inflation forecasts of 3.8 per cent for 2023 and 2.2 per cent for 2024.
Asked about the timing of the major funding increase, the education minister indicated this announcement is but one example of the province’s responsiveness to Manitobans’ concerns under Premier Heather Stefanson.
— with files from Carol Sanders and Danielle Da Silva
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Thursday, February 2, 2023 6:28 PM CST: Adds more details.
Updated on Friday, February 3, 2023 9:08 AM CST: Clarifies breakdown of funds