Chapter Five: Resources for Education


  1. Central to the funding of education are the concepts of public and private goods that result from education. What do these concepts mean? Give examples of public and private goods resulting from education. Which of these do you see as being more important? Why?
  2. Do you think Canadians currently pay too much tax? Why or why not? Is this true for all Canadians or only for some?
  3. Analyse your province’s current funding system. To what extent does it embody concepts of horizontal or vertical equity? Illustrate with specific examples. (Your class may want to consider inviting someone from the provincial ministry or department of education to respond to these questions).
  4. Is public education in your province adequately funded? Why or why not? Support your answer.
  5. Conduct a class poll of spending priorities. Given a number of areas (e.g., health, highways, environment, child welfare, agriculture, economic development, tax incentives for business, and others), where would those in the class rank education? Where would people outside the university rank education? Why?
  6. What outcomes of education might we want to use in attempting to determine the value of education spending as an investment? How might we measure these outcomes?
  7. Interview a school official or school trustee to determine the authority over budgets, both revenue and expenditure, that school districts have in your province. What important budget decisions do principals and school boards make?
  8. Attend a school board budget meeting. Report on the ways in which the board made budget decisions. What criteria were used? Which issues seemed to be of greatest importance? Was the process used an effective one?
  9. Suggest some ways in which we might reallocate education resources in order to be more effective. What sorts of organizational changes in schools would be required for such reallocation to be workable?
  10. In groups of about five to ten people, work through the following budget exercise. One person in each group is to act as a neutral observer who does not take part in the discussion but watches how it proceeds. One person is to play the role of superintendent. The others should play the role of school trustees.

School Board Budgeting Exercise

Task: You are to constitute yourselves as an elected school board. Your task as a board is to determine the budget for your district for the coming year and submit it to the provincial government. The problem you face is that your revenues are going to be significantly smaller than your expenses because costs are increasing more quickly than provincial funding.

Background: You are part of an elected school board of nine members, governing a school district that has a mix of suburban and rural schools. Your district has an extensive range of programs, including French immersion, special education, music, vocational programs in your high schools, and alternative multi-graded elementary programs. Your district includes eighteen schools with a total of 6000 students. Three schools are located in the rural part of the district and have fewer than 100 pupils. These schools have been kept open because of strong pressure from parents in those communities and geographic distance between communities. The schools vary quite a bit on provincial tests, with some schools well above provincial norms and others, including one of the small rural schools, falling below. Due to the province’s support for families to pick their school, some of the district’s schools, especially those with poorer records on provincial tests, have been losing enrolment steadily, while others have been growing and are now quite full.

Collective bargaining in your province is done by each district. Your teachers earn salaries that are a little above the provincial average, and your district is proud of the good working relationships with teachers. Your support staff on the other hand earn less than their peers in many other districts and are disgruntled. Your current collective agreements with both teachers and support staff will run out within the coming year. The next school board elections are the year after that.

Your board is elected by ward, and the current board contains strong advocates for a variety of different positions. Some board members are highly concerned to keep small schools open. Other board members advocate strongly for programs such as French Immersion, while two members are primarily concerned with ensuring a balanced budget.

Your superintendent, hired just 18 months ago, has proposed a number of initiatives that will require additional funds in addition to built-in costs for salary and other increases. You will need about 3.5 percent more in your salary budget (about $1.2 million) to cover the cost of the pay increase negotiated two years ago and the cost of increments for staff. Your board will also have to set aside some funds to pay for the estimated cost of the new collective agreements. Your superintendent is suggesting you set aside another 3 percent, of which only half (about $500,000) would be needed in this budget, as the increases will only take effect halfway through the year. In addition, the superintendent has suggested spending an extra $300,000 for more computers and teacher training on computers, and another $500,000 to improve achievement levels in the schools that are having the most difficulty by increasing staffing and strengthening staff development and parent communications. The draft budget also calls for $300,000 more in spending as a response to the increased number of children in foster care with special needs who have moved into your district.

Accordingly, the draft budget currently before your board is as follows:

  • Previous base—$60 million
  • Salary increases from previous agreements—$2 million
  • Reserve for new collective agreements—$1 million
  • Increases in fuel and other operating costs—4%—$500,000
  • Computers and training—$500,000
  • Low achievement schools—$500,000
  • Increases for special needs—$500,000
  • Total—$65 million, or 8%

However, the provincial government has increased your funding by only 3 percent, or $2 million, so you are short about $4 million. Provincial regulations require a balanced budget by your board, but at least two board members have suggested that the district should run a deficit in defiance of the province because of the shortage of funds.

Your board has already asked the superintendent for suggestions of areas where expenditures could be reduced. She has put forward the following options:

  • Close one of the small rural schools. The children could all be bused to other schools. This would save about $400,000, because most of the staff of the small school would be laid off.
  • Attempt to negotiate a new collective agreement with teachers that would have smaller increases in order to bring your district a little closer to the provincial average salary. This would require $500,000 less than your initial budget provides.
  • Reduce staffing in secondary schools by increasing class sizes slightly and eliminating some courses with low enrolments. Savings of 10 staff positions, or about $1 million, are estimated. A larger increase in class sizes would produce a reduction of 15 positions, or about $1.5 million.
  • Increase the distance from school at which busing is provided to students. More students would have to walk or be driven by parents. Savings estimated at $250,000.
  • Restrict access to schools of choice; do not allow choice where an extra class or teacher would be required. Savings by keeping students in existing classes instead of having to start new ones—about 10 teaching positions or $1 million.
  • Reduce some optional programs such as extracurricular music and art, and close two of the vocational programs in high schools. The superintendent argues that students wanting vocational programs can take them in community colleges after they graduate. Projected savings of 6 teaching positions and $500,000.
  • As an alternative to the last suggestion, charge fees to students to participate in some options or extracurricular programs. Estimated additional revenue of $500,000 based on a charge of $100 per program.

Instruction: One person in the group must be the superintendent, and the remaining are board members. Use one hour for a board debate leading to a motion and decision on what budget to set for the coming year. You may also want to discuss how you will explain your decisions to your schools, parents, and community.

Budget Information—Average School District

Current-year data

Total enrolment—6000 students

Pupil–teacher ratio—16.5:1 (staff: 365 professionals)

Expenditure per pupil—$10,000 (total budget: $60 million)

Salaries and benefits—80% of budget ($48 million)


Expenditure by category

Regular instruction—61% (included immersion 8%)

Exceptional (special education)—10%



Support services—7%


Operations and maintenance—11%