QUÉBEC CITY, March 20, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) estimates that its network of English public schools across the province will be short at least $15 million in operating funds for the next school year as a result of the provincial budget deposited in the National Assembly this afternoon. While that budget calls for an over-all education-sector increase of some 2.6 per cent, the funds will not be enough to cover salary increases prescribed in collective agreements, let alone fixed increases in cost-of-living, energy and transportation.
"Heading into this budget, QESBA reminded this government that education is an investment, not an expense," noted President David D'Aoust. "We are deeply concerned that the government has abandoned that vision in this budget. Our preliminary analysis leads us to the unavoidable conclusion that our students in the classroom will ultimately bear the burden of the cuts, and that is unacceptable. Yes, Quebecers have a collective responsibility to participate in Quebec's economic recovery. Our school boards are doing their part, by delivering high levels of student success while minimizing administrative expenditures. We were looking for concrete and continued support for those efforts in today's budget. I'm not at all sure that we received it."
QESBA is pleased with the government initiative, calculated at $4.5 million in this budget, to help French-sector students at Grade 6 learn English. That said, it is disappointed that no such equivalent investment has been made to help our English school network produce bilingual graduates. Despite that continued lack of support, English school boards are posting graduation rates averaging 80 per cent, the provincial target for the Year 2020.
QESBA also supports enhanced efforts to combat violence and intimidation in schools ($6 million). D'Aoust did welcome the confirmation of $38.4 million for Smartboards, laptops and teacher training, the second leg of a five-year plan. "Our teachers are making very important progress in adapting new technologies to meet changing student needs and learning styles. This government investment will certainly help our teachers to use these tools to their full capacity." Some regional support for students in outlying areas to attend vocational training programs in other school boards was also welcomed by QESBA.
Some other substantive expenditures in today's budget presentation are of very limited benefit to English public schools, however: $45 million to support class-size reduction at Grade 5 and 6, a further $21.4 million for Secondary I and II class-size reduction and some $18.8 million on an action plan to improve French first-language instruction.
As always, the full story will only be known when the follow-up budget parameters and spending estimates are released in the coming weeks. "QESBA asked for flexible financing rules that would allow school boards to best protect local student needs and programs with the dwindling public resources available," D'Aoust continued. "The strategic plan of the Education Ministry itself for 2009-2013 aims to '…provide support for a supply of educational services adapted to the needs of regions and communities'. We had better see some indication of that when those parameters are released."
D'Aoust did react positively to a budget measure that responds to a specific demand that the Association had called for: a greater flexibility for school boards in using accumulated surpluses to cover operational deficits. While noting that these surpluses are often committed to long-term capital investments, professional development funds and other commitments, QESBA said it should help some boards to balance their budgets heading into 2012-13.
"The work of our elected school boards is vital to the success and well-being of our 105,000 students, and thus, to our partnership in Quebec's future. While QESBA will continue to work closely with the Minister of Education and her staff towards reducing operating costs that don't have an impact on the classroom, we are frustrated today by a budget that appears to compromise rather than strengthen that partnership."
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Kim Hamilton, Director of Communications
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