Modernized, sustainable education funding model

by Lorne Weiss

Manitoba can become the most improved province in education. To get there, we need a modernized, sustainable education funding model that puts the needs of our students first and gives our teachers the necessary resources in the classroom.

As the deadline for school board budgets approaches, school boards and families are once again facing tax creep and funding gaps and wondering who will suffer the most as we approach our collective breaking point. All the while, we continue trying to deliver quality educational programs using organizational and funding models that are not sustainable.

All Manitobans who are concerned about education funding share many of these same basic fears.

On one hand, the education funding model cannot provide enough revenue to sustain necessary programs and provide what our children need to succeed. On the other hand, Manitoba families cannot afford continuous annual increases in taxation to fund an underperforming education system.

Every year, school boards iterate the risk posed by declining revenues and threaten cuts to the classrooms and programs if taxes are not raised — parents feel threatened, taxes increase and the cycle continues.

Continuing to apply bandage solutions that have not worked in the past does not benefit students, parents or homeowners.

There are better ways to address the problem and drive desired educational outcomes. Raising taxes year after year without a critical examination of organizational structure and delivery of services is not producing the results parents expect and students deserve.

There is also every reason to be deeply concerned about recent news of some school boards’ singular approach to threaten to drastically cut programs in order to reduce spending.

There is another way.

We can fundamentally change the structure of the education funding model, identify administrative operating efficiencies and reinvest efficiencies in the front lines of classrooms to meet the needs of our students.

A key component of this approach is establishing a single, uniform mill rate across the province, instead of the current 35 separate mill rates across Manitoba. Under this approach, the province is better positioned to allocate specific resources to the divisions and students that need them most.

It is also time to look at administrative operating efficiencies that would be better spent in the classroom.

Is an administrative model that has been largely unchanged for almost 70 years still valid today? Finding $10 million in savings from operating efficiencies could double the categorical support for academic achievement of indigenous students, realize a 75 per cent increase in categorical support in reading and math or triple the base of support for physical education.

We could also resource needed programs for refugee and newcomer integration in the Winnipeg School Division, the province’s largest division.

Meaningful reforms must focus on an open-minded process of reviewing and changing the education funding model and formula, reallocating existing resources and not continuously taxing and spending more without demonstrating the example of commensurate results. Changes of this nature will require courage and collaboration between all stakeholders in the provincial education sector.

For more than 20 years, the Manitoba Real Estate Association has been a stalwart leader and advocate in the call for a modernized, effective and more equitable education funding model.

We remain committed to deepening our efforts and continuing to be part of solutions that focus on students first.

Now, the time is right to identify where opportunities exist to reinvest in the classroom.

We all share the same responsibility: to find effective and sustainable ways to build stronger futures for children and our Manitoba communities, together.

(Lorne Weiss is the chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association’s political action committee.)