Possible Changes Ahead, BC’s Public Education Funding Model
As you may be aware, the Ministry of Education is currently reviewing the way it funds public education in BC. A panel was established in February 2018 to review the current system and produce recommendations for improvements, largely based on surveys from public school districts in the province. Both capital funding and funding for independent schools were outside the panel’s terms of reference, but it is important to be aware of what is being discussed. Be advised that the government has not made any decisions on if, how or when any of these recommendations might be implemented. Now that the panel’s report has been published (see link below), FISA has established a committee to provide feedback from the independent school sector, including whether independent schools might need an entirely different funding model separated from the public system.
What were some of the panel’s key findings?
- The funding model has not kept pace with educational changes and the operational pressures that school districts face today.
The focus of the current model is on who qualifies for funding (either a student or a course) rather than on educational outcomes.
The current model is not designed for the new curriculum and graduation requirements, which involve more blended and flexible learning environments.
Significant resources are used to assess and report on students with special needs.
There is no recognition of the extra social service costs needed to support children who struggle in school.
The funding supplements for unique school or district situations need to reflect the challenges of the current day, whether for a remote school or an urban school.
The current compliance audits put the accountability focus on how funds are generated and not how they are utilized.
While many of the panel’s 22 recommendations relate to issues specific to public schools, there are a few which could impact independent school grants.
Overall funding allocation: The panel recommended allocating all “special needs” funding first, and then allocating the remainder of available funds on a per student amount. In this context, “special needs” includes all special education funding (see below), funding for Indigenous learners, and all supplements for unique schools and unique school districts. This approach may move some per-student funding into the category of “special needs” in the public system.
Special education funding: The panel recommended moving all the current supplements for special education, language learners, and other vulnerable students into a single “Inclusive Education Supplement”. This supplement would be comprised of two components: continued per-student funding for students with high-cost supports (physically dependent or significant learning needs), plus an allocation of the remaining funds on a prevalence-based model. The allocation formula would be based on third party medical and socio-economic data weighted by health factors, children in care, income and earnings, and proportion of English/French language learners. The hope is that such a model would improve the alignment of resources needed before diagnosis, reduce reporting requirements, mitigate concerns about labelling students, and improve the funding for smaller school districts which have limited staff administrative capacity. Both FISA and the Ministry of Education recognize that this type of model would not work for many independent schools, some of which are 100% special needs.
Per student funding: The current funding model uses a student count for kindergarten to grade 9 and a course-based formula for grades 10 to 12. The panel recommended phasing out course-based funding by 2020/21 when the new graduation program is fully implemented, so all funding would be based on the number of students, although there is not consensus among stakeholders on this idea. This approach would also require a new delivery model for distributed learning.
It is important to note that the panel’s focus was on the distribution of funds, and not on the adequacy of the total funding. A number of the recommendations also depend on the government’s ability to renegotiate changes to the collective agreement with teachers, particularly those related to class size and composition. The Ministry of Education appears committed to ensuring there is no undue impact on independent school funding resulting from changes to the public system. SCSBC will keep schools informed as more information becomes available.
Tracey Yan (email@example.com)
SCSBC Director of Finance