Facts and clarity hard to find in education discussion

Education continues to be a burning issue in Nova Scotia.

The issue is vast, engaging people from the parents wait for the snow delayed “cut summit” between NDP Minister of Education Ramona Jennex no scheduled for Tuesday, to the 2,000 plus post secondary students demanding a tuition freeze during Wednesday’s blizzard.

The snow is not the only blizzard affecting all sides of the education debate. A veritable white-out of confusion, misinformation and conflicting facts has obscured the debate.

My favorite example is the graphic and text on the Education website. “We are losing about 3,000 students a year — 30,000 over the past 10 years — while spending to boards has increased by 42 per cent” it screams.

Fact check: P-12 cost 757 million in 2001.  It cost 930 million in 2010.  That is a 23% increase.  When you acknowledge that Statscan shows there was 15.5% inflation during that time, that puts the increase to a far more modest 6.5% over ten years.

This is just one example of the hyperbole both sides have been shooting at each other the last couple months.

When you think about the issues we are facing with literacy, with retention, with poor exam scores and the fact that the school boards have to maintain increasingly elderly buildings out of that 6.5% increase, it just doesn’t seem that much to me.

But what about the decline in enrolment?  Well let’s take that number.  I am just back of the napkin calculating here, but the graph seems to indicate there are around 127,000 students in Nova Scotia.  The website also says that there are 30,000 less students than 10 years ago.

So what the government is telling us is that in 2001 the per student funding in Nova Scotia was about $4850, and now is about $7300.   This is without contributions from the municipal level and the other small amounts of funding for programs like French Immersion that come from the Feds.

That is a heck of a jump, it sure is, but lets look at some outside benchmarks, shall we?  Ontario spends just north of $20 billion (with a B) a year on K-12 education, and that is delivered to around 1.9 million students.

That math on that is that the province of Ontario budgets to spend about $10,600 per student.

The math on THAT is that Ontario spends 31% more on education, give or take a percentage given the bootstrap nature of some of my statistics, than Nova Scotia.

So, I guess you can cut education if all you are worried about is the numbers.  And maybe the Province is so broke all we can do is worry about the numbers.

The short term goal of balancing the budget is laudable, but not if we have to cut P-12 funding.  If we do this by the numbers we are killing the goose that lays the gold(ish) eggs.