Chapter Five: Resources for Education
This should be interesting, thought Linda Chartrand as she entered the conference room at the board office. She had hesitated only briefly before agreeing to the request from the assistant superintendent to serve on the district’s new strategic planning committee. She agreed partly because the meetings would be held during the daytime, and substitute coverage would be provided for her class. Between school committees, the district teachers’ association, professional-development activities, and marking and class preparation, Linda already had so many after-school commitments that she was rarely home before 6:00 p.m. But mostly she’d been fascinated by being part of the process of planning for where their organization would be going in the years ahead.
The first meeting had been noncommittal. Everyone was introduced, and all had a turn mentioning long-term issues they felt were particularly important to the district. Today they were to try to prioritize a small number of critical issues the district would have to face. There were a dozen people on the committee, including teachers, principals, the assistant superintendent, the superintendent, two school trustees, and two parents. As each person had said her or his piece, Linda had been struck by the diversity of views around the table, and also the assumptions made about groups of people with little to no actual understanding of their lived experience. Most people seemed to feel that the main problem was the inadequate resources provided by the provincial government. Some felt that administration in the district was too top-heavy. Others felt that teachers complained too much about their workloads given that they had “two months off” in summer, and another group felt that the schools would be fine if only parents did their job properly.
Within a few minutes, the conversation turned to the question of funding. “I’ve been teaching for twenty years,” said Alice Kubota, a teacher at one of the elementary schools, “and it’s getting harder each year. First of all, we have to try to keep in touch with new developments in teaching, such as co-operative education and student assessment portfolios. Then the province keeps adding things to our program, such as physical fitness and anti-bullying. Parents are more demanding about teachers being able to justify what we’re doing and why. On top of that, there are more children with multiple learning, physical, emotional, and behavioural concerns in our classes than ever before. Some of these kids need full-time attention all by themselves, and if they don’t get it, the entire class is unsettled. At the same time, we’re hearing that there is no more money, and we’ll have fewer staff, less professional development, and smaller budgets for supplies and materials. Teachers are committed and hardworking, but there is a limit, and we’ve reached it. If we’re going to cope with the pressures, there will have to be more money put into the teaching and learning environment.”
Grace Volcy, one of the trustees, then spoke: “I understand the pressures that teachers are feeling. You may sometimes think that the school board isn’t sympathetic to the problems, but we are. We have concerns too. We can spend only what the province gives us. We’re not allowed to run a deficit and we no longer have any ability to raise funds locally through property taxes as we used to be able to do. The province is increasing our funding, but not as quickly as our costs are rising. We have really tough choices to make, and we need help from teachers, too, in terms of what you’re demanding in salary increases and workload changes. Lots of people in the community still feel that teachers are lucky to have stable, well paid jobs with good benefits and holidays.”
“Why should teachers pay the cost of problems they didn’t create?” asked Azim Khan, the president of the local teachers’ association. “It’s typical of our society for business to make mistakes, throw people out of work, causing all kinds of social problems, and then to suggest that teachers should pay for it by accepting contracts with no wage increases. Our salaries have been falling steadily behind inflation the last few years. We’ve accepted it because teachers are committed people who care about kids. But it can’t go on any longer. The school board needs to explain clearly to the public that good education costs money, but poor education is a hell of a lot more expensive in the long run.”
“Maybe it’s not just a matter of how much money,” chimed in Lori Pambrun, one of the parents. “People in this community care about education, and we’re prepared to pay for good schools. But do people see the link between the amount of money we spend and the quality of education? Schooling costs much more than it did twenty years ago, yet we seem to have more problems than ever before. Now I know that these aren’t necessarily the schools’ fault. We’ve already said that as society changes, so do the problems facing schools. And we know there are plenty of problems outside the schools. But doesn’t that suggest that maybe we need to do things differently? For example, Tamara over there is a community liaison worker. She’s done a great job of getting things going in that school: things regular teachers don’t have time to do. One of them is bringing many more volunteers and Knowledge Keepers into the school, which frees teachers’ time to work with students and offers possibilities for culturally engaged learning. Isn’t there a way we could think again about how we use our resources, and whether we could do it better?”
As the discussion went on around her, Linda found herself thinking about Lori Pambrun’s comments. They made sense to her. She knew that resourcing would continue to be important, and a source of controversy, but already she could see ways in which her school might rearrange staffing duties to meet some needs.
This chapter addresses the following questions about money and education:
- What do we mean by resources for education?
- How is education presently funded, and how has this system of funding come about?
- How do governments at various levels raise resources for education and allocate them?
- How are resources used within schools and school systems?
- Does the education system get enough money to adequately perform its functions?
- How much impact do resources (or the lack of them) have on schools and on students?
These questions are especially pertinent today when issues of spending, taxation, and the role of government are very much in the public eye. There is much debate about the relative importance of reducing public spending, cutting taxes, paying off our debt, or maintaining or enhancing services such as education. It is especially important for teachers to understand the basic economics of the education system.
The chapter will show that while money does matter, there are many potential kinds of resources available for education, and that these resources are not necessarily used as effectively as they might be. Societies, through governments, make decisions about how important education is, and these decisions are political ones. There is no simple and right answer as to how much money to provide for education, how best to raise that money, how best to provide it, or how best to use it in schools. These are questions that require and deserve public attention and debate.