Spending on B.C. public schools up despite dwindling enrolment

Spending on B.C. public schools up despite dwindling enrolment

Per-student spending is up, flying in the face of claims that education funding has been slashed or that B.C. schools are starved for resources

By Angela MacLeod & Joel Emes
The Fraser Institute

Back to school is an expensive time of year for B.C. families. Whether it’s new shoes, school supplies, a bus pass or a new computer, families often take a closer look at their budgets to account for the extra spending. It’s also a good time to take a closer look at how much is spent on public schools in British Columbia.

Until the new NDP government presents its budget update this week, British Columbians won’t know for sure what changes will be made to education funding. However, the New Democratic election platform claimed that the province’s education system was “starved” for resources. And there seems to be a general perception that education spending in B.C. has been cut and public schools are being forced to figure out how to do more with less.

But how true is this?

A recent Fraser Institute study looks at the levels of education spending by province and how it has changed over time. In fact, spending on public schools has increased in every province over the last decade – and B.C. is no exception.

B.C. saw spending on public schools increase by 12.6 per cent between 2005-06 and 2014-15 (the last year of available data).

However, looking at nominal spending increases only tells part of the story. To really understand what’s happening with education spending, changes in student enrolment must be considered. If total spending remained flat while enrolment shrunk, we’d actually see an increase in per-student spending.

The trend across Canada is of declining public school enrolment (only Alberta and Saskatchewan saw an increase of public school students). B.C.’s public school enrolment fell 9.1 per cent between 2005-06 and 2014-15.

Similarly, we must account for price levels (inflation) changing over time. To get the most accurate picture, per-student spending is adjusted for price changes and changes in enrolment. Using this measure, spending on B.C.’s public schools went from $10,392 per student in 2005-06 to $11,216 in 2014-15 (using 2015 dollars), an increase of 14.0 per cent.

So even after adjusting for inflation, B.C. is spending substantially more money per student than a decade ago. This flies in the face of claims that education funding has been slashed or that schools are starved for resources.

Just as back to school can consume a large portion of a family’s budget, spending on public schools consumes a large portion of provincial budgets.

When considering what’s spent on public schools, it’s important to measure what’s actually being spent and not simply accept overheated claims that schools are under-resourced.

Angela MacLeod and Joel Emes are analysts at the Fraser Institute.

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