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The Manitoba government said Thursday it would increase funding to public schools by 0.5 per cent next year, prompting critics to argue the amount doesn’t even cover the rate of inflation.
Education and Training Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced the province will spend $6.6 million more on elementary and high school funding in 2019-20 than it is this year, for a total budget of $1.3 billion.
"I think in this environment of running more than a half-billion-dollar deficit still, which is a significant challenge for the province, I think that is a reasonable place for (school divisions) to be," Goertzen told reporters.
In 2018-19, "they essentially had the same thing. There was an increase of 232 positions across the school divisions," he said, noting the vast majority of hiring was for teachers and clinicians.
That's despite the province directing school divisions to cut back on administration costs by 15 per cent last year.
Goertzen is asking divisions to temper administration costs again, but he wasn’t prepared to say by how much.
The minister also directed school divisions to cap their education property tax increases at two per cent for the second consecutive year.
In Manitoba, the provincial government pays for nearly 60 per cent of school divisions’ operating costs, while property taxes cover the rest.
Norm Gould, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, said he doesn’t believe the province should be "meddling in the affairs of local school divisions" by making decrees about property taxes and administration costs.
"It’s disappointing to see that and to have the government again say to school divisions, ‘You need to look at administrative costs and keep squeezing admin costs.’ There’s only so many efficiencies that can be found," he said.
"It’s just kinda of déjà vu based on last year. It was disappointing," Gould said of the $6.6-million funding boost. "It doesn’t even keep pace with the rate of inflation, so it essentially translates again, for the second year, to a cut for educational funding by about 1.5 per cent."
While all school divisions in Manitoba are assured of 98 per cent of their provincial funding year over year, 15 divisions will receive more money in 2019-20 and 22 divisions will get less. One school division – Seven Oaks – will see its funding percentage frozen.
Goertzen said the divisions' funding is calculated through an "unduly complicated" formula that includes enrolment, capital costs and equalization payments.
He said the funding model will be revisited after the province's newly announced review of kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education next year.
The largest division, Winnipeg School Division (WSD) represents 33,000 Manitoba students and faces a 0.4 per cent funding decrease next year.
"I feel disappointed and I feel that after seeing (decreases) for the last couple of years, I feel that the Manitoba government is telling us that they’re not interested in investing in education," said Lisa Naylor, chairwoman of division’s financial and personnel committee.
She called last year's budgeting process "very tough" and expects more of the same this year.
While she wouldn’t speculate about what WSD may need to cut to make its 2019-20 budget work, Naylor noted it likely won't be administration costs.
"We have nowhere to cut for administration because we already had our administration costs lower than what the government asked us to cap at last year. We’ve been cutting a little bit of administration every year for the last four years, and so that’s not an area that we’d be looking at to reduce further," she said.
NDP leader Wab Kinew noted the lack of school funding will hurt students.
"The Pallister government must fund education properly, by keeping pace with enrolment and the rate of economic growth. Class sizes are getting bigger and that means Pallister’s plan gets a failing grade," he said in a prepared statement.
Goertzen believes Bill 28 (The Public Services Sustainability Act) will help school divisions with their budgeting, since the legislation has frozen public-sector wages for two years and salaries make up about 80 per cent of divisions’ budgets.
The bill, which has been passed but not proclaimed by the Tory government, is being challenged in court by 29 unions. The case is set for November.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, January 24, 2019 at 2:10 PM CST: Adds PDF
2:20 PM: Corrects year on PDF title