The school funding issue

An issue not much discussed at recent “save our school” meetings, at least in open forum,  is the school funding formula. Although little understood it seems, this flawed formula could be the crux of the present dilemma. The reality is our Valley schools are under funded and everyone and their dog has been ducking the responsibility of taking on the monetary burden.

The funding issue was discussed [briefly] at a Town Council meeting last year [sorry – we couldn’t find the reference in the minutes] but our recollection was that the Town of Wolfville pays an amount per student [said,  in one reference, to be $1,250 per student] but there had been a request for municipalities to negotiate a change the formula to base funding at least partly on assessments. If the Town agreed to this our education charges  would increase. This article gives some ideas of what the impact might be.

The current funding agreement is based on student numbers. However, all other areas in the province base municipal education contributions on uniform assessment. The county has expressed an interest to switch to an agreement based on uniform assessment, citing a concern that the current agreement is impacting negatively its ability to provide needed services to ratepayers.

Switching to the provincial formula would have saved the county over $1 million this fiscal year and Berwick would have saved $38,342. However, Hantsport would have paid an additional $120,893, Kentville would have paid an additional $324,947 and Wolfville an additional $608,234.

[The Advertiser, 03 April,'09]

There is another problem also – a skew in funding supplements which are not kind to Valley schools with falling enrollments. These policies have been questioned by a number of municipalities.

The town [of Bridgetown] also questioned the Department of Education’s funding formula which is perceived as unfair to AVRSB schools because they don’t qualify under two components of the formula – enrollment supplement and class size supplement. In effect, said the town, Valley schools are forced to use core funding to sustain schools with declining enrollment.

The Spectator, April 3, '09

This is explained more fully in this article which quotes Bridgetown mayor Art Marshall, a former school principal.

Provincial and municipal funding to school boards in Nova Scotia is distributed by formula. To a large extent, the formula generates revenues for school boards in various categories driven by student enrolments. The core funding components of the formula provide money for programs, special education, support services, property services, transportation, board governance and administration, school administration, and textbooks. These core components allocate most of the available dollars and appear to be consistently applied to all boards in relation to their respective enrolments. However, two of the eight school boards in Nova Scotia, the AVRSB and the Halifax Regional School Board, do not qualify for funding from two components of the formula, the Enrolment Supplement and a Class Size Supplement, valued together at more than 20 million dollars. [emph ours]

The Enrolment Supplement is provided to offset the effects of enrolment decline in a school board that exceeds an average of two per cent per year over a five-year running average. This provision does not recognize the extreme disparity in school enrolment within a school board such as AVRSB where the Annapolis County schools enrolment is declining at more than twice (4.2 per cent) the eligible rate for supplementary funding. In effect, the AVRSB is denied supplementary funding and is expected to use money from the core funding components to sustain schools with declining enrolments when other boards in Nova Scotia with declining enrolments are not.

The Class Size Supplement provides an additional $10.6 million to school boards who have average class sizes below the provincial average. AVRSB does not qualify for this funding. When the baseline was established for Class Size Supplementary funding, the Annapolis Valley and Halifax Regional School boards had the highest average class sizes in Nova Scotia. For AVRSB, efforts to maximize the benefit of education dollars in the past have created an uneven playing field in relation to current eligibility for additional funding from this pool money.

A third pool of money, a type of top up fund to help school boards bridge year-to-year budget shortfalls, amounts to more than $53 million annually. Although these dollars are not included in the formula funding, they are allocated proportionally according to the formula. This extra funding further increases or compounds money for boards who qualify for the two categories of supplementary funding. [emph ours]

A fair share of Enrolment and Class Size supplementary funding alone would provide several million additional dollars to the AVRSB annual budget. This amount of money would have a significant impact on the board’s ability to maintain schools with declining enrolments for years to come. If the Province of Nova Scotia is truly committed to achieving its sustainable prosperity goals for all Nova Scotians, it will re-examine the mechanisms by which resources are distributed and ensure that all parts of the province are able to participate fully. [ Spectator March 4, ’09]

Our school advisory committee members would be well briefed on both these funding problems, one would suppose, and could perhaps shed further light on the details of our situation in Wolfville.

Another question to be asked is – Should any School Board funding come from municipal coffers at all or should all Boards be fully funded from general provincial revenue?

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4 responses to “The school funding issue

  1. Oh the joys of having multiple levels of government to kick the can up and down the hill… making much noise, wasting much money, and achieving very little.

    I say: Education is a Provincial Responsibility. Health should be a Federal responsibility (small provinces don’t have the necessary scale to efficiently run all specialties of modern health care). The municipalities can stick to filling the potholes.

  2. Vanessa Browne

    [Rec’d this comment from an Australian group and approved it because I thought it gives some insight into similar problems elsewhere. Ww]

    Kingsdene Parent Group Media Release 23 November, 2009
    Convoy to Canberra – It’s all about the future -but what about today and the immediate tomorrow
    Kingsdene parents and students appeal to the Rudd government to save Kingsdene Special School from closure because, not only is it the good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.
    Bernadette Moloney chair of the Kingsdene Parent Group said: “ Kingsdene parents and their severely disabled children will today travel to Canberra appealing to the Rudd Government to save their small charity-operated school from closure. “
    “ As we make that journey it is expected the government will announce the commissioning of a feasibility study into the possibility of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. An excellent idea well supported by the Australian community. Such a scheme coming to fruition is a long way “into the future” continues Ms Moloney
    Vanessa Browne another parent representative says: “But, what about the today and immediate tomorrow of our severely disabled children and all those other severely disabled children who need Kingsdene Special School to remain open “into their future”?
    The convoluted and unfair funding of students with disabilities in small charity-operated schools is a throw-back to the time when government deemed all children with disabilities could not be educated. The survival of Kingsdene Special School, in Western Sydney is a potent David and Goliath symbol and the Rudd government has certainly done much that is symbolic.
    Kingsdene Special school is a weekly boarding school for severely and profoundly intellectually disabled students. Its extended learning program is what makes it unique and does not neatly fit the funding formula applied to other private schools.
    “ Government spokespeople say Kingsdene students are funded to the maximum but do not deny the fact that Kingsdene students are not funded at the same level as a similarly disabled student in a government school. “ said Vanessa Browne
    Kingsdene singularly brings diversity across education models and sectors for students with severe and profound disabilities. Kingsdene students gain skills and knowledge in a program unparalleled in the country with brilliant outcomes, transparency and accountability” continues Ms Browne
    “All our kids need is a chance to be the best they can be. Is it too much to ask our government to step in and do the right thing here?” said Bernadette Moloney.
    “ By saving Kingsdene the Rudd government can nail its colours to the mast both in education reform, inject some humanity into the education revolution funding model and move the focus of spending should be on the students who will grow with support rather than buildings that decay with time. All students irrespective of their ability should be given the best chance to maximise whatever potential they have. Saving Kingsdene would give the federal government legitimacy in claiming the moral ground unclaimed by every government for the past forty years.
    Contact: Bernadette Moloney 0409 200 660 and Vanessa Browne 0403 752 111

  3. Vanessa Browne

    Thanks so much for giving our story another audience! We are very interested in the charter school concept whereby government funds an independent school and then (somehow) resists the urge to interfere with the running of that school. I would welcome your readers views on this funding concept.

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