Prior to reforms in 1946 that centralized educational finance and administration, there were 650 different districts in the province. Boundaries were redrawn to make 89 districts, some of which have been amalgamated and restructured due to developments in demo graphics and transportation.
Available at http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/legislation/schoollaw/ revisedstatutescon tents.pdf.
School districts are governed by the school board, and the trustees on the board are elected to three year terms25. While directly elected by the general population, trustees do not have nearly as much power as in the past. Most of their authority is circumscribed by legislation and min isterial guidelines, as well as detailed and strict conflict of interest regu lations – employees of the public education system cannot run for school board office. Collectively as a board, the trustees manage the public schools and property within the district, manage enrollment is sues and class size, spend the budget and determine the calendar and daily schedules. Perhaps most importantly, trustees are representa tives of and advocates for the public to the entire public school system.
For this reason, elected office either as city councilor or school trustee is a common route to higher political office.
Fig. 2. British Columbia School Districts The number of trustees is set by the Ministry, according to population and geography.
Odd numbers between 3 and 9 are the standard.
Fig. 3. School Districts in Greater Vancouver, detail In the public school system, the bulk of administrative duties is en trusted to the locally hired superintendent. Superintendents typically have significant experience within the public school system, and over see the administration of teaching staff and student evaluations, as well as the implementation of decisions made by the ministry and the local school board. At the school level, a Parent Advisory Council (PAC) is formed to allow for parental involvement in the school. On paper, PACs may come across as an important vehicle for democratic involvement in public education. While exceptions to the rule exist, it is most common for these PACs to assist with some of the more mundane dimensions of education, helping out with activities, and providing community mem bers with the opportunity for a social function rather than involvement in school governance. It has been common in the past for PACs to engage in fund raising to supplement the local school budget with monies for uniforms for athletics and other extra curricular activities. PACs also exist at the district and provincial level.
Financing Schools. A share of property taxes collected by munici palities throughout the province is dedicated towards education and transferred by the municipalities to the provincial government. As men tioned, in earlier years, the local rates were set by school boards, and money raised locally was spent locally. More commonly in Canada, these amounts are now standardized throughout the province and then transferred back in order to ensure a common standard regardless of the local tax base. The BC Education Ministry, similar to other provincial education ministries, uses an established series of formulae called the Funding Allocation System (FAS), to calculate the operating grants pro vided to school districts. The current FAS was implemented in school year 2002/03, meeting the provincial Liberal government’s commitment to establish a student based, equitable, and transparent system. One big alteration from the previous formulae was to move away from fund ing allocation based partly on infrastructure (schools). Instead, only student enrolments and student needs rather than the additional quali fication of the number of schools operating within a district would im pact transfers. This school year in BC (2006/07), almost $4.3 bln was transferred in the form of operating grants to school districts. About 75% of that amount is determined by the basic allocation, a set amount for each student registered with the school board.
Additional funds are allocated as supplemental funding, and are de termined by the following factors:
1. to assist districts with large declines in enrolments from previous years;
2. for eligible students receiving special needs (disabilities, English as second language, aboriginal education);
3. to assist areas that have salary differentials for teachers;
4. to assist districts with rural and remote schools meet higher costs for operating schools;
5. to assist designated districts with transportation costs for students26.
These factors and a few others are defined in the School Act, which states that each fiscal year the minister must pay to the board of each school district an operating grant. The Ministry then conducts annual audits in selected school districts to ensure compliance with ministerial guidelines for enrolments and expenses.
As noted above, BC (and four other provinces) provides public money to independent schools. Not all independent schools are eligible for public funding – eligibility is determined by whether or not the inde This part of the paper has been prepared with the assistance of the BC Ministry of Edu cation.
pendent school employs BC certified teachers, adopts the ministry’s curriculum, and meets various administrative and other requirements.
Independent schools have the freedom to adopt their own curriculum, with the exception of restrictions concerning the teaching of, 1. racial or ethnic superiority;
2. religious intolerance or persecution;
3. social change through violent action;
Within these guidelines, independent schools include a wide variety of educational philosophies and cultural or religious perspectives, and compliance with provincial curriculum and certified teachers is enticed by public money rather than mandated. Some groups represented in independent schools include Montessori schools, Waldorf schools, uni versity preparation schools, international schools, faith based schools (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh), special education schools, and others devoted to particular talents or abilities.
Independent Schools. According to the Independent School Act, independent schools are classified in four groups. The educational pro grams of groups 1, 2, and 4 must meet the specified learning outcomes of the BC curriculum for English language, Math, Science, Social Stud ies, and French (or another second language) from Kindergarten to grade 9. In grades 10–11, all subjects that count for credit towards a high school graduation certificate (Dogwood), must meet ministerial guidelines and students will participate in provincial examinations and assessments. Group 3 schools have no commitment to meet the re quirements of the BC curriculum27.
All teachers in groups 1, 2, and 4 in independent schools must be BC certified, either by the BC College of Teachers or the Inspector of independent schools (Ministerial appointment) and employment prac tices must conform to government regulations. The Inspector of inde pendent schools arranges for full external evaluation of group 1 and schools at least every six years, with monitoring inspections on alternat ing years. The Ministry thus uses legislation to exert influence over in Indeed, many independent schools reject the temptation to pursue public funding, wary of the strings attached to the dollars. See Harro Van Brummeln, “The Effects of Govern ment Funding on Private Schools”, Canadian Journal of Education 18:1 (Winter, 1993) pp.
dependent schools. But because public money can be involved, the ministry also buys influence as well. Group 1 and 2 independent schools receive respectively 50% and 35% of the school district’s per pupil op erating grant. The remaining costs need to be paid for by tuition and/or donation, decisions made by the independent school. Infrastructure and capital works in independent schools are not financed with public money. The percentage of operational grant depends on whether or not the operational costs for the independent school exceed the local pub lic district’s operational grant. In other words, the higher rate of funding is given to those schools whose budget is at, or less than, the local dis trict norm for public schools. Those schools with a budget that exceeds the norm receive the lesser amount of 35%. In most cases, the differ ence in public money transferred to group 2 schools is made up by higher tuition costs: thus, the more elite independent schools are not considered to be shortchanged. Special needs students in independent schools receive the same levels of supplementary funding as public schools28.
Table Classification of Independent Schools in British Columbia Group Public Funding Examples Catholic (BC has no separate school system);
50% of per student transfer, 1 religious or cultural schools that meet re 100% for special needs quirements 35% of per student transfer, Preparation schools, academies, with higher 100% for special needs tuition costs that meet requirements Do not satisfy ministerial requirements for 3 0% curriculum or teacher certification. 100% through tuition, donations, etc.
Meet requirements for learning outcomes, but 4 0% no public money transferred because schools are run for profit Again, provincial jurisdiction means that such arrangement differ across provinces.
Separate schools (Catholic) in Alberta receive full funding. Independent schools in Alberta are classified in two groups, those that follow provincially mandated curriculum and em ploy certified teachers and work as non profit institutions, which receive 60% of per stu dent funding, and registered schools, which do not receive direct public funding. Similar distinctions among independent schools are common in other provinces where public money is transferred. Compliance with ministry directives in curriculum and teacher certi fication are the primary requirements for partial funding.
3.4. Debating Education as Public Good With this attention to the administration and public financing of edu cation, we are now able to focus attention on many of the debates sur rounding education as a public good. Central to these debates is this relationship between public and independent schools. While this rela tionship varies from province to province, the foundation of the debates are similar. The most central questions are whether or not public mon ies ought to be spent for private delivery, and whether or not the exist ing model of delivery of public education is suitable for the needs of the future. Those voices with an interest in limiting or prohibiting public funds to private or independent schools and preserving the status quo question the degree to which such private education serves the public interest. They fear that schools outside the public system fail to pro mote common social values, perpetuate and accentuate class, reli gious, and ethnic distinctions, and may undermine notions of citizen ship29. They also highlight the comparative success of Canadian schools and our collective capacity to prepare people for the modern economy, and point out that schools of today are asked not only to teach the cur riculum, but supervise students with social and emotional needs much more frequently than in earlier generations. The role of the teacher has changed, and yet the pay scale has stayed the same.
An extreme yet legitimate example of this concern is the existence of independent schools amongst polygamous religious communities in southeastern British Columbia.
While polygamy remains nominally illegal, the Attorney General will not press charges because the law would likely not stand against a court challenge made with reference to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The schools in the BC communities are funded as group one schools that receive public funding. Allegations of sexual abuse among minors, and limitations on education for females are such that there are public pressures to use the Education Ministry against the communities in lieu of legal recourse and terminate public funding. See Daphne Bramham, “Polygamy in British Columbia”, Inroads (Sum mer, 2005) http://www.inroadsjournal.ca.
K. Yanovskiy’s comment: in this case the mentioned concern reflects biased, weak and inadequate reaction, I guess. More appropriate reaction would be provision of tough pub lic control, aimed to prevent any (not just by taxpayers’) funding of violence, terrorism propaganda and advocacy and, therefore to prevent (above mentioned) “teaching of … (3) social change through violent action; (4) sedition” which is incomparably more dan gerous than polygamist tradition and more probable than direct violence against the chil dren even in the so specific confessional schools.
On the other side of the argument are a series of concerns that pub lic education has become an unwieldy, sclerotic bureaucracy, domi nated by unelected officials, self serving teachers unions, and other employee groups. Given near monopoly status, there is little that is pub lic about public education, and limited opportunity for effective input, choice, or participation. Status quo solutions to issues such as crowded schools and quality pedagogy seem limited to demands for more public money to be put into the system. Concerns that the curriculum in public education is influenced by narrow interests (reflecting such disparate matters as religion, sexual education and orientation, and politics) add to doubts about the viability of public education as a public good. As costs continue to rise, so do expectations for choice and accountability.
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