Fraser Institute report deemed faulty says SD73 superintendent

Says authors neglect to account for basic economic realities that can’t be changed

By Dale Bass

Kamloops This Week

The superintendent of the Kamloops-Thompson school district agrees with a Fraser Institute report on education — but only on one point.

Karl deBruijn said the think-tank’s report, Education Spending in Canada: What’s Actually Happening?, is correct when its authors say it costs more now per pupil to teach a student than it did in 2002.

“With every one of these reports the Fraser Institute puts out, there is some truth to it, but they bend it to suit a purpose,” deBruijn said.

In the case of the 47-page report that compares an increasing educational cost with a decreasing enrolment across the country, deBruijn said, the authors neglect to account for basic economic realities that can’t be changed.

“Just because we’ve had a decreasing enrolment doesn’t always mean costs can decrease,” he said. “If the school bus is now just half-full, we still have to run it. If a classroom is now half-full, we still have to heat it.”

Inflation has also had a major impact, deBruijn said.

“I can remember, 20 years ago, up at McQueen Lake [the district’s environmental education centre], a case of toilet paper cost about 46 cents. Now, it’s $30.”

David Komljenovic, president of the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association, agreed with deBruijn, arguing the report doesn’t take into consideration the rising costs to the school board.

Eighty-five per cent of School District 73’s budget is wages and salaries, another financial statement line item that has continued to increase. The cost of a school-district employees’ medical services plan premium has also risen each year.

Other basic costs have continued to increase.

In 2013, for example, the provincial government announced BC Hydro rates would increase 28 per cent between 2014 and 2019.

The average cost of one textbook at the secondary level is more than $100, deBruijn said.

Komljenovic added education is more student-centred now, “more personalized,” a result of the greater needs of students.

Technological changes in the way education is delivered have also brought their own costs.

DeBruijn said one of the few technological devices that has seen a cost decrease is the basic desktop computer that, when they were first entering classrooms, was shared by students.

Now, he said, “you need a computer device of some kind for every child.”

Deani Van Pelt, one of the study’s authors, said the analysis was not done to provide data “meant to be used to compare across provinces,” but to “accurately reflect growth in education spending within each province.”

The data was derived from Statistics Canada reports.

Researchers found nominal spending in public schools in the country grew by 53.1 per cent in the decade beginning with the 2001-2002 school year.

During that time, only Alberta saw an increase in enrolment.

B.C. remained at the bottom when the percentage increase of per-pupil spending during the decade was determined — spending $5,041 on average for each student in 2001/2002, an amount increasing to $6,289 in 2011/2012, a 24.7 per cent increase.

Alberta was ranked at the top of that analysis, increasing its per-pupil spending during the decade 92.4 per cent, rising to $7,798 from $4,054.