The B.C. government stiff-armed all levels of education Tuesday with a provincial budget that froze block funding to public schools and pushed ahead with cuts to colleges and universities.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the government has made significant investments in education over the years and that spending has never been higher. But critics said students young and old will pay the price for stagnant or decreased investments.
The budget said the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology will receive $46 million less over the next three years, even as the province faces a severe skills shortage.
Universities, which have been calling for more spaces to meet that demand, will have to find savings in administration and discretionary spending.
De Jong noted that the government will add buildings and equipment at colleges and universities to boost skills training.
But that’s one-time money that “won’t create a single new student space,” said Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C.
Clift said the ongoing cuts, combined with rising costs, will hurt students and the economy.
De Jong also offered little relief for public schools struggling with rising costs. The provincial budget freezes block funding to districts at $4.7 billion for the second straight year, even as school boards face higher utility bills, medical service plan hikes and pension-fund increases.
De Jong noted that the Education Ministry will get an increase of less than one per cent this year. Most of that money will come from a previously announced $30-million boost to the Learning Improvement Fund, which cannot be used for district operating costs.
“It’s definitely not an education budget,” said Teresa Rezansoff, vice-president of the B.C. School Trustees’ Association.
“I think public school trustees are very concerned about this being a year where the increasing cost pressures are not being funded through government.”
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation said school boards have no place left to trim costs after years of cutbacks.