Manitoba government says it already rejected school funding proposal that hinted at cuts

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government says it has already shelved a proposal that the New Democrats say would leave 40 per cent of school divisions with less money than under the existing funding formula.

Deputy Premier Cliff Cullen said the undated leaked document, which the Opposition NDP obtained and made public Thursday, is obsolete. 

“What was tabled today was a [funding] model that was completely rejected by our government,” Cullen said

“The reality is when it comes to funding for education in Manitoba, you have to look at our budget. Our budget put in an additional $100 million for K-12 education this year. That is a 6.1 per cent increase in education funding this year.”

The five-page document tabled by the NDP lists the amount every school division would have received under the proposed new funding model for the current school year. Under that formula, 14 out of 37 divisions — including Winnipeg School Division and three of the four other largest divisions in the province — would have received less money.

For divisions that would lose money under the model, however, the document also shows an additional amount that would have been paid to make up for any shortfall.

The government is moving to overhaul the education funding model, a complex formula that allocates dollars based on student populations, transportation costs and property taxes, among other categories.

A new, more equitable model was supposed to be in place by the 2023-24 school year, but the Tories announced late last year it needed more time for consultation. The new model is expected to be ready by the 2024-25 school year. 

On Thursday, Cullen said the government has extended its contract with consulting firm Deloitte and will soon be meeting with more school boards to gather their input on a funding overhaul. 

No plans to cut school funding: PCs

He said the province has no intention of adopting a model that reduces the funding of any school division.

Proof of that, the former education minister said, is the record funding for kindergarten to Grade 12 in the coming school year.

Each division will receive an increase of at least 2.5 per cent in its provincial grant, although a number of divisions have argued, after years of underfunding, the hike in operating funding isn’t the “astronomical” increase the government has advertised. 

Despite Cullen’s comments, NDP Leader Wab Kinew stuck with his argument that the leaked document shows what will happen to school funding if the PCs are re-elected in the fall. 

“I think we all understand what the PCs are doing this year. They’ll say anything to try and get re-elected this year,” Kinew said.

“Until we see something else in black and white, we can only conclude that this is the PC plan for education in Manitoba.

A man in a black jacket, suit and orange tie looks on.
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew sees the leaked document as an indication of the PC government’s future plans for education funding. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The NDP used its entire allotted time in question period Thursday to allege the PCs would cut education funding. The party listed off the school divisions slated to get less money under the formula, before the transitional funding is divvied up. It includes five of the six English-language public divisions in Winnipeg.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the document the NDP is citing is outdated. It presents options for the 2022-23 academic year already underway. 

“It’s one of these things where the NDP are making a big deal about a document that doesn’t actually say what they say it does, and I don’t understand why they feel the need to make stuff up when we already know that schools and school divisions don’t have enough money,” Lamont said.