Those with institutional memory will remember the education funding formula was created by the Harris government in the mid-1990s and implemented when the district school boards as they exist today were created in 1997-98. It was a dramatic shift in how we funded our elementary and secondary schools as taxation powers were taken away from local school boards, with the property tax amounts shuffled off to the province. The province then started providing all school funding based on a per-pupil calculation.
As PFE points out (which, really, is very old news since Rozasnki pointed it out in 2002-03), some of the benchmarks set in 1997 have not been updated. The Liberal government promised wide-scale reform of the funding formula, but over the years have instead opted to tweak various elements of it.
Many things were moved to school-based formulas in the Liberals' first years in office under Gerard Kennedy and Sandra Pupatello. Funding for principals, for full-time school office staff members changed from being based on student population to being allocated per school-- at least for elementary schools. Boards also received varying amounts for remote schools, though these came with no legislated requirement to spend those amounts in those specific facilities.
Special-education grants have been constantly tinkered with and continue to be a point of frustration for many board budgets.
To claim that many of the benchmarks haven't been updated mischaracterizes the situation slightly. The big-dollar ones certainly have as school boards have seen funding increases to accommodate the increases in wages and benefits given to their employees. In many boards this is the lion's share of board expenses. Benchmarks for utilities, capital construction, maintenance and transportation have also been increased on a yearly basis for the last several years, though some of those areas might remain underfunded compared to true costs.
Despite all this text on the deficiencies that forms the bulk of the PFE newsletter item, don't lose the two most important points.
Two of the key questions will be:The skeptics might say this is a harbinger of things to come given that throughout the Liberal mandates the dollar amount invested in education continues to grow while student populations have consistently declined. Every successive year of increases would bring commentary from inside and outside the system asking when the tap was going to be turned off. I would say the government is looking for some opinion on how/where/when it might start trimming the education budget, or launching a massive pre-election test balloon so that it can use any outrage over possible cuts as ammo in the pending campaign.
▪ In light of the Province’s fiscal challenges, what measures could be taken to reduce spending and/or make the system more efficient and effective?
▪ What areas of the funding formula that support student achievement should we focus on for further reforms?
The other thing I can pull out of those key questions is that any suggestion, if it's to be taken with any seriousness, must be relatable to improving student achievement. So don't just tell us we shouldn't spend less but tell us how, in hopefully measurable terms, that cut might lead to dumber students (for lack of a more refined vernacular).
I did question timing, since this review, if it should extend into 2012, hasn't really begun in any serious way yet and the election is less than 10 months from today.