School funding issues remain top of mind for Central Okanagan school teachers despite the distractions caused by COVID-19 and a provincial election.
Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association (COTA), asked the school trustees for an update on any changes to the current school funding formula imposed by the ministry of education at the board of education meeting Wednesday (Oct. 15).
Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools administrator/CEO, responded the school district has not been alerted to any funding formula changes at this time.
In an interview with Kelowna Capital News the next day, Bauhart said funding changes are “a huge and scary topic” hanging over the heads of school districts across the province.
She said teachers have concerns about funding formula changes possibly costing teaching jobs, citing two specific issues being closely watched.
One involves averaging out funding for special needs students. A ministry report released in 2018 called for funding for special needs students to be allocated using a prevalence-based model that relies on medical and socio-economic data to determine how many students with any particular need should be expected within a given population. Funding would then be automatic but not target based on any specific student.
Bauhart says the system would essentially develop an average cost model for a given school district, meaning a special needs demand that exceeded the average would not receive funding, a shortfall school districts would have to account for.
She said teachers are also zoned in on high school funding currently based on student enrollment changed to a course-based formula.
“None of the details have come out yet on this but if the funding is based on the eight basic courses high school students take in a given year, a lot of kids are taking more than eight courses. So a switch to a different could mean fewer dollars coming to school districts,” she said.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said in December 2018 interview with a Lower Mainland newspaper that plans to change how schools are funded would be delayed for a year, to allow for more consultation with parents and teachers. Bauhart said teachers are hearing that delay could be extended for another year because of the disruption caused by COVID-19.
Fleming said the existing funding formula was imposed in 2002 without consultation and was accompanied by extensive cuts to school staffing and many school closures. It was brought in when enrollment was on the decline, but since then enrolment has been on the increase, by 26,000 alone in the four years previous to 2018, placing added strain on the provincial education budget.