NS School spending and enrollments — a reality check

Here are some surprising Statistics Canada numbers about the Nova Scotia school system.

  • From 2003 to 2016, enrollment fell by 21.4 percent (vs. 5.8 percent across Canada).
  • The number of full-time teachers also fell, but by only 5.8 percent. (Across Canada, teacher  numbers increased 11.8%.)
  • Over the same period, the student-teacher ratio in Nova Scotia schools improved from 15.7 students per teacher to 13.1 students per teacher.  (The ratio across Canada is 15.1 to 1—about where we were a decade ago.)

From 2003 to 2015:

  • Government spending on Nova Scotia schools increased 52.6 percent (vs. 60.1 percent across Canada).
  • Government spending per student in Nova Scotia increased 92.8 percent (vs. 71.8 percent across Canada).

The expenditure figures are not, as best I can tell, adjusted for inflation. (Strangely, the tables don’t say, and StatsCan’s media people have not responded to my query.) Inflation appears to account for less than half the apparent increase, however, so the last 13 years have seen marked real-dollar increases in spending per student.

None of this is particularly relevant to the Glaze-inspired changes to school governance. It will be more so when we see the Shea report on Inclusiveness next month. I offer it now in response to those NSTU supporters who insist Nova Scotia governments have carried out an austerity binge that is starving our schools of resources.

The numbers show this criticism is off the mark. Funding increases have not been stingy.

There are many reasons why classroom challenges might continue despite robust funding. Some “teachers” may not be in the classroom. The inclusion of special needs children, for all the blessings it has brought, complicates some classrooms. Some teachers may lack the personal experience, training, and temperament to work with special needs students. The atrocious hiring process union contracts have imposed on most boards may have saddled the system with sub-par teachers.

But the numbers show this is not primarily a money problem.

Source: Statistics Canada CANSIM tables 478-0011 and 478-0014 under “Education Finance,” and table 147-0037 under” Students.” There’s a ton of information in these tables. Use the “add/remove data” tab to select the data that interest you. I selected for years that allowed apples-to-apples comparisons.

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