Declining Enrollment -what’s up?

School age children appear to be disappearing from our provincial schools. Provincially the decline is very evident and has led to school closures and funding shortfalls. Even as a common sense understanding might lead one to believe that declining enrollments equal declining costs, that isn’t the case. According to a Vancouver School Board senior administrator, even taking into account the likely reduction of teaching staff for the 2007-2008 year will currently leave Vancouver School Board in the red by 6-8 million dollars. Ultimately Vancouver is likely to be forced to decide between paying to keep schools of 35, 45, 55 students open or closing these schools to reallocate the funds to where there are schools spilling over the edges with enrollments of 350, 450, 550 students in buildings that weren’t designed for these large numbers.

In addition to budgetary problems recent news coverage raises claims that students are being bled from one part of the city to feed other areas. And, that parents are doing so using problematic data sources such as the Fraser Institute school ranking publications. To further complicate the picture there is a wide spread belief that the private school system is also taking students out of the public system to the ultimate detriment of an accessible, quality education for all students.

This posting takes up the details of the de-enrollment problems and looks at three BC school districts, Vancouver, Prince George, and Prince Rupert in an attempt to see what is actually going on in terms of the public/private split.

I downloaded the data from the ministry web page in excel spreadsheets school by school for the private schools and for the entire Vancouver, Prince George, and Prince Rupert School Districts for comparative purposes. A summary table for comparison of the three districts can be downloaded here.

Non-resident students (ministry term for students who’s families do not normally reside in BC) and adult students were subtracted from the over all totals to reflect school age resident enrollments. In the Case of one Vancouver-based private school, Columbia, students enrolled in post-secondary placement courses were also excluded (this was about 30 students in each year).

Over the five years reported private school enrollment in Vancouver has increased by 847. The public school enrollment has decreased. However, if one assumes that each increase in the private school can be equated to a decrease in the public school this only accounts for 847 and 1,449 students are unaccounted for.

The Vancouver private school numbers do not reveal how many of their enrollments come from outside the VSB area. It is also important to note that in both of the other two districts compared private school enrollments have been decreasing at the same or similar rates as their neighbouring public school system. Vancouver dos stand out as having a large contingent of ‘elite’ private schools that use economic mechanisms of exclusion to structure their student populations and thus attract a segment of the student population that may not ever have really been part of the public school population. Outside of Vancouver religious private schools, particularly conservative Christian and Catholic, are the primary form of private education.

Based upon the BC Ministry of Education data we can infer that private schools in Vancouver have been able to pick up some students from the public system but the growth in the private sector can not be seen to have occurred totally at the expense of the public system.

It is also interesting to note that non-resident enrollment has dropped significantly in the private system (~25%)while it has only modestly dropped in the public system (1%).

Not noted in this data are enrollment data for the Francophone system in Vancouver that, according to some anecdotal evidence, has been increasing.

Additional background Information.

Education items from budget speech

Excerpts from BC Budget relating to education

Budget 2007 provides $633 million over three years in increased funding for K–12 education. This is in addition to the $132 million allocated in previous budgets, for a total funding increase of $765 million over three years. This increase includes funding for negotiated settlements of $94 million in 2007/08, $188 million in 2008/09 and $284 million in 2009/10.


Overall, the K–12 budget increases an average 2.3 per cent per year, and fully funds the negotiated settlements reached earlier this year with employees in the K–12 sector, as well as an increase to the Teacher’s Pension Plan contribution rate.

The negotiated settlements in the education sector balance the interests of taxpayers and employees and allow parents, educators, students and administrators to build the best possible education system. In addition, the teacher’s compensation agreement, the first to be successfully negotiated since 1994, contains a number of initiatives, including enabling rural and remote school districts to attract teachers to more difficult to fill positions.

The average per pupil funding for 2007/08 is estimated at $7,910, an increase of 4.1 per cent over 2006/07. Per pupil funding is projected to continue to rise to $8,430 by 2009/10. There were about 12,300 fewer students in 2006/07 than the previous year and enrollment is projected to continue to fall about 1 per cent per year over the fiscal plan.

Independent schools will receive additional grants of $43 million to increase the share of government funding of programs that provide physical, health, intellectual and psychological services to students with special needs, giving families more choices in their children’s education.

Full government info can be found here.

Counterpoint and analysis of the budget can be found on the BCTF Research Webpage. According to the BCTF research the budget increase is closer to 2.54% next year as opposed to the 4.1% the government claims.

Sports, Recreation, and Poverty

Recent concerns with the establishment of a hockey academy at Britannia Secondary in Vancouver have led me to inquire further into the issues around sports, recreation and poverty. The new program, that has been discussed by the Vancouver School Board going back for about one year, has been presented as a program designed to meet a variety of needs at Britannia Secondary. One of the key objectives, it seems, is to address the falling enrollment in that school.

For enrollment issues see: BCTF Report; BC Min. of Ed. Press Release.

Discussions about the $1,400 per per student per year program have revolved around issues of equity of access. Is the program elitist? Are there underlying structural constraints that effectively make the program self selecting and exclusive so that students from low income families are excluded before they even come to filling gout an application? Time will tell on how this program works out but some recent research by UBC researcher Wendy Frisby, Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Undergraduate Program and Associate Professor in Human Kinetics at UBC, can tell us a lot about the implications of poverty on access to community recreational facilities and, by extension on the impact of cost intensive sport programs.

A series of reports can be found on the web page of the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association that examine in some detail the implications of poverty for access to sports and recreation. Also of note is that the typical subsidy or lower cost approaches don’t work to include low income youth or women.

Dr. Frisby has also co-written a chapter for P. White & K. Young (Eds.) Sport and Gender in Canada. (pp. 121-136), Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press (2007), “Levelling the Playing Field: Promoting the Health of Poor Women Through a Community Development Approach to Recreation,” that builds upon a feminist analysis to argue for proactive ways to include low income women and their families that goes beyond the give a bursary approach. Download chapter.

16 Months later -the Vince Ready report

Change in attitude needed in B.C. teachers’ talks: mediator
CBC News

Veteran mediator Vince Ready is recommending some changes, but not a complete overhaul, in the way B.C. teachers negotiate their contracts with the government.

In his report, which was 16 months in the making, Ready says there is no need to scrap the current bargaining structure.

Vince Ready’s report. Download file

The government page on teacher labour negotiations can be found here.

The BCTF bargaining page can be found here.

Bye Bye Grade 12 Portfolio . . .

The grade 12 portfolio is gone. This week’s newsletter from the Deputy Minister outlines, in brief, the end of the portfolio. It also describes the ‘new’ emphasis on physical fitness, job training, and graduation transition planning. Ultimately it reflects the Ministry of Education’s emphasis on training workers for industry rather facilitating learning as a process of a democratic citizenry.

Students will need to do 80s hours of physical fitness, 30 hours of community service/work, and prepare a graduation ‘transition’ plan. While the Dm says the portfolio still exists, it would seem that it exists in memory and name only.

See the Minister’s new release: download file

The ministry’s portfolio page can be found here.

The BCTF statement on the end of the grade 12 portfolio can be found here.