Manitoba schools will see a two per cent — or $24.4-million — funding increase, Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum announced Thursday.
Total funding for public education will increase to $1.2403 billion from $1.2159 billion. Overall funding has increased $469.3 million, or 60.9 per cent, since 1999.
Allum said the funding increase will target quality education, career development and skills to help students transition into the workforce.
These initiatives will "provide students more opportunities to succeed, advance to higher learning and find good jobs here in Manitoba," the minister said.
Allum is also challenging school boards by putting a new regulation into law that mandates administrative costs be kept at a minimum as they work to complete their 2014-15 budgets.
"School divisions will now be mandated by law to keep their administrative costs low," he said. "This is just the first step for us."
Allum said this is the province’s way of ensuring all resources are being put into the classroom.
"School divisions will have to make some hard choices, but we expect officials and trustees will ensure education in the classroom is the first priority."
Allum said the province will be "looking very closely" at the divisions that aren’t able to keep their administrative costs low.
"They do have the tools and internal resources available to them to be able to ensure that they keep their expenses as low as possible," he said.
The province has capped administration costs for close to a decade at four per cent urban, 4.5 per cent rural and five per cent in the north. Those guidelines will now be made law, Allum said.
The minister said some divisions are spending beyond the max on administration, but could not immediately provide a list or say how much money they’re overspending.
Brandon School Division board chair Mark Sefton said their administrative costs are currently at 3.5 per cent, so he’s not too concerned about the new law.
"I certainly understand where they’re coming from and we are well below the threshold," Sefton said. "We’re in a good spot relative to what he’s suggesting, recommending, requiring."
Sefton said northern schools have the highest cap due to "unique situations," including smaller enrollments, bigger distances and higher heating bills. Some of these examples also pertain to rural schools, he said.
Sefton said officials will have a better idea of how the province’s funding increase will effect Brandon School Division’s 2014-15 budget by sometime next week.
"Still no specifics for Brandon," Sefton said. "We’re still crunching the numbers to see what that’s going to look like."
BSD’s public budget forum will take place Feb.12 at 7 p.m. at École Harrison and trustees will meet on Feb. 18 for the all-day budget meeting.
Thursday’s increase maintains the NDP’s record of increasing its share of public funding by at least the rate of provincial growth.
Allum said divisions can form partnerships to share resources.
"In every partnership, you’re achieving economies of scale," he said.
Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson cautioned that he wouldn’t want to see partnerships involve businesses looking to make a profit out of public education.
He was happy the province found even two per cent.
"Given the economic context, something standard is commendable," Olson said.
Allum said part of the NDP government’s funding increase was made possible through merging regional health authorities and uniting Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
"We want to try and make education for our young people seamless, but at the same time that will only produce efficiencies moving forward."
» email@example.com, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press