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Funding to private schools increasing faster than public schools

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2017 (352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Education dollars are scarcer than they've been since the 1990s, but provincial funding to private schools has been increasing at a much higher rate than operating grants to public schools.

Provincial government data show that from the 2012-13 school year to the 2015-16 year, the money paid in private school operating grants increased 11 per cent, compared with the total 6.2 per cent for the public system. Private school enrolment rose by only 1.6 per cent during that time, while public enrolment declined 0.1 per cent.

In the final year of that period, private funding went up 4.3 per cent, while the former NDP government gave the public system an increase of 1.9 per cent.

It's not a policy decision of current Premier Brian Pallister — though he has the power to change it. The formula dates back to the days of former Conservative premier Gary Filmon and was continued by the NDP during its 17 years in power.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2017 (352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Education dollars are scarcer than they've been since the 1990s, but provincial funding to private schools has been increasing at a much higher rate than operating grants to public schools.

Provincial government data show that from the 2012-13 school year to the 2015-16 year, the money paid in private school operating grants increased 11 per cent, compared with the total 6.2 per cent for the public system. Private school enrolment rose by only 1.6 per cent during that time, while public enrolment declined 0.1 per cent.

In the final year of that period, private funding went up 4.3 per cent, while the former NDP government gave the public system an increase of 1.9 per cent.

It's not a policy decision of current Premier Brian Pallister — though he has the power to change it. The formula dates back to the days of former Conservative premier Gary Filmon and was continued by the NDP during its 17 years in power.

Programming, salaries, budget vary from school to school

Parents sacrifice to give their children an independent school education, paying tuition that schools try to keep affordable while still often falling short of what's being spent on kids in nearby public schools, says a leading private school educator.

"Tuitions vary greatly from school to school and often reflect the makeup of the parent community. Parents make many sacrifices to send their children to Catholic and independent schools," said Robert Praznik, who is both the director of education for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, and the board chair of the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools.

Only a handful of private schools can afford to pay teachers the same as those in public schools, said Praznik, who was not aware of any that pay more.

"Independent school salary scales differ from school to school and (the federation) does not collect that data," Praznik said. "In Catholic schools, we have two schools that are on par with public, with the remainder averaging around 85 per cent. Independent schools struggle to offer competitive salaries while keeping tuitions affordable for families.

"The portion of the provincial grant as a percentage of a schools budget depends on their tuition and fundraising revenue. Programing, salaries, and class sizes are all factors in the development of a school budget and these vary from school to school," said Praznik.

Praznik was surprised to hear that Education Minister Ian Wishart may make changes to the private school funding formula for the 2018-19 school year.

"The province has not approached the (federation) about renegotiating. (The federation) is currently satisfied with the agreement and is not looking to reopen it," Praznik said.

There are 68 independent schools that get public funding, said Praznik, none of them in northern Manitoba. Few are found north of the Trans-Canada Highway, and none is further north than Community Bible Fellowship Christian School in Swan River.

While the simple explanation is that private schools receive funding per student based on half the per-student spending in the public school division in which the school is located, there's more to the story.

First, it's based on current enrolment in a private school, but the 50 per cent calculation is based on the per-student public school spending in the local division two years earlier. Those calculations exclude students who cross division boundaries by attending class elsewhere. it also excludes the cost of educating adult students.

"Each independent school student is recorded by the school division where they live," explained Praznik. "They then take the number of independent school students from that division and multiply to find the total cost for those students if they were educated in their home division.

"This happens for all divisions where there are independent students. The total cost is then calculated and divided by the number of independent students. They then have the average cost per independent student. We then get 50 per cent of that," he said.

"It varies from year to year. Pembina Trails or Winnipeg School Division often have the most independent school students," Praznik said.

Praznik pointed out that independent school teachers do not belong to the public-school teacher pension plan. "In Catholic schools, we have a separate pension plan that is supported by contributions from schools and employees," he said.

Independent school teachers do not belong to the Manitoba Teachers' Society.

The most recent detailed figures available show that in the 2015-16 school year, Manitoba taxpayers provided almost $71.4 million to the private kindergarten-to-Grade 12 system.

Manitoba's largest private school, Linden Christian School, gets more than $5 million a year from the province, which accounts for 57.2 per cent of its operating budget. Balmoral Hall School spends more than $31,000 a student, about 2.5 times the public school rate, yet so high are its tuition and other income that the $1.8 million the province provides annually covers only 13.8 per cent of Balmoral Hall's budget. Both schools deferred to the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools for comment. There are also small, faith-based private schools using public money for almost their entire budget.

There has been no change in the provincial funding for private schools since Filmon established it in the 1990s after a court challenge. The NDP didn't touch it in 17 years, and so far, Tory Education Minister Ian Wishart has left it alone.

Each private school receives a per-student operating grant of 50 per cent of the per-student spending in the public school division in which it is located.

That means that if school trustees tap property taxpayers for extra operating money to overcome low support from the province, then that money automatically boosts the funding for the local private school — though the cash comes from the province.

On the other hand, private schools depend on how deeply public school trustees are willing to dip into taxpayers' pockets —- the range can be extraordinary, from $10,941 per student in Steinbach-based Hanover School Division to $15,944 in Altona-based Border Land S.D.

There is nothing equitable in the formula funding for private schools —- the formula produces considerable, sometimes huge, dollar differences through geography and the decisions of public school trustees.

"It is well known there are weaknesses in the existing funding formula. We’ll have a closer look at this in advance of determining 2018/19 funding," Wishart said. "However, it’s important to note that over the 2012/13 to 2015/16 period, funded public school enrolment declined (0.1 per cent) while independent schools increased by 1.6 per cent."

The complex public school funding formula uses about three dozen categories in its calculations, and enrolment is only one of them. Private schools also receive $9,220 for each Level 2 special-needs student, and $20,515 for each Level 3 special-needs student, while public school divisions receive block funding, a lump sum, based on the level of their special needs requests in recent years.

"I'm shocked at the percentages," Manitoba Teachers' Society president Norm Gould said.

The public system must accept every child, regardless of the family income or any other circumstances, he pointed out.

"The minister of education has said he's looking at revamping public school funding — private schools should also be on the table. Find something that's fair and reasonable," Gould said.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont demanded that Wishart change the system immediately: "The minister of education needs to explain why it appears that private schools are getting preferential treatment from this Conservative government," Lamont said.

How funding is calculated

Click to Expand

How could a formula unchanged since the 1990s give private schools a higher percentage increase in operating grants than public schools?

It's because they're two separate systems of calculations and criteria.

Public schools are funded by a complex formula of about three dozen categories, only one of which is enrolment. Private schools are funded by their enrolment, which is fairly stagnant after years of steady growth, and by spending choices made by the school board of the public school division in which the school is located.

Private schools get 50 per cent for each student, of the per-student spending in the public school division in which they are located. That money to the private school comes from the province.

As an example, St. Boniface Diocesan's last reported operating budget was $1,993,685. The provincial operating grants increased this year by one per cent, which is $19,937 if the school had the public schools' funding formula.

But St. Boniface Diocesan gets funding based on the per-student spending in Louis Riel School Division, which this year increased $330 per student. The private school has 214 students, so its increase would be $70,620.

Such windfalls can vary immensely.

Two years ago, public schools increased spending by $329 a student, but this past year the average was $171. St. James-Assiniboia reduced spending by $151 a student, Portage la Prairie by $41, and Rolling River by $9; Park West increased by only $20, and Garden Valley by only $22.

The Manitoba School Boards Association declined to comment, while the NDP and the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents did not respond.

The vast majority of private schools draws well more than half of its operating budgets from public money. Alhijra Islamic School is at 99.7 per cent, Poplar Point Colony 98.9 per cent, Pine Creek School 98.5 per cent, Lakeside Christian School 93.2 per cent. The Montessori Learning Centre, at 4.3 per cent public support, has the lowest amount of public funding.

Some of Manitoba's largest private schools have high tuition and other income hefty enough that millions of dollars in public support are a relatively small part of their budget. In some cases, they pay teachers the same as public school teachers, while having smaller classes and choosing which students they'll accept. Some smaller schools charge little or no tuition, and pay their teachers much lower salaries.

St. John's Ravenscourt is at $25,089 per student, second only to Balmoral Hall, but down at the bottom of the list are Pine Creek at $5,532 and Alhijra at $5,507.

This year, Manitoba public schools have 13.1 students for every certified educator in the school — Balmoral Hall has 7.9. But at the Montessori Learning Centre, it's 1.3 students for every educator, and 6.2 at The Laureate. At the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, it's 20.

There are also small unfunded independent schools in Manitoba, usually faith-based, which choose to accept no public funding.

Meanwhile, schools seeking funding must operate for three years and meet provincial criteria before first reciving grants. Private schools going through their three years of waiting include Gonzaga Middle School, Iqra Islamic School, Inspired Explorations Learning Community, and Nova Montessori Preschool.

 

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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