PREDICTABLE and equitable funding are top priorities for school division leaders as Manitoba revamps how it pays for public education.

PREDICTABLE and equitable funding are top priorities for school division leaders as Manitoba revamps how it pays for public education.

Superintendents and stakeholders have submitted recommendations on how the Manitoba government should rejig its funding formula — a 20-year-old model that has long been criticized for not ensuring monies are equitably distributed to classrooms in all corners of the province.

"The (new) model should be known, predictable, sustainable," said Paul Ilchena, executive director of the Manitoba Association of School Business Officials, which represents secretary treasurers and other division operations managers.

While noting staff currently wait for an annual winter announcement to find out about exact monies and taxation guidelines to plan for an upcoming school year, Ilchena said MASBO has suggested Manitoba consider multi-year funding options that support longer-term planning.

Since 2002-03, operating funds have been allocated annually based on division population, transportation need and buildings, among numerous line items and various grants.

Divisions also rely on revenue from property education taxes within their borders, a figure that varies between regions because it reflects the assessed value of area housing and business.

The existing model has come under a microscope, as a result of the K-12 commission on education calling for an audit to improve funding equitability in its 2020 report. If all goes according to plan, there will be a new funding formula in 2023-24.

Seven Oaks School Division’s submission to the review team calls for a future of predictable funding increases that are tied to economic indicators in order to maintain Manitoba’s per pupil funding at one of the highest rates in Canada.

"Manitoba is a higher spending province, but it needs to be. We don’t have the large metropolitan regions, we have a high degree of child poverty, we’ve got a lot of small schools and we’ve got a lot of school buses driving long distances — and all of those are factors that drive costs higher," said superintendent Brian O’Leary.

The northwest Winnipeg district has called for the equalization of taxation rates to ensure no one is advantaged or disadvantaged based on where they live, as well as a shift in reporting practice so divisions report their success at improving outcomes among disadvantaged students rather than simply what they do with specific grants.

O’Leary also wants all boards to purchase classroom supplies in bulk and a universal elimination of fees for lunch supervision, field trips and musical instruments, among other add-ons, to reduce barriers to participation in education.

Recommendations put forward by the Louis Riel School Division similarly emphasize the important role schools play in levelling the playing field for students from low-income households.

Superintendent Christian Michalik wrote about the importance of creating a "whole community" anti-poverty strategy with an anti-racist lens, universal full-day kindergarten, and adequate funding for adult education programs — all of which, he argued, would improve learning outcomes, equity and economic prosperity in Manitoba.

The future formula is anticipated to do away with the local taxation, given the Tories have repeatedly pledged to eliminate it entirely.

An excerpt from the LRSD submission, however, states the current decentralized set-up of funding and decision-making in the education sector are powerful in allowing communities to attend to local needs while prudently managing costs.

"(The) review team should study the feasibility of general taxation revenue funding education at 80 per cent, reducing the potential for taxation inequity, while also updating and improving equalization formulas to bridge the gaps between school divisions," states the 16-page document.

Other metro divisions, including Winnipeg, Pembina Trails and River-East Transcona declined to release their submissions publicly. St. James-Assiniboia did not provide its recommendations before deadline.

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

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.