Assertions there’s a gap in Yukon education funding is misleading, says Patrick Rouble.
“The government welcomes criticism, but when we’re criticized for not doing something that we’re already doing we need to set the record straight,” said Rouble, the Education minister.
The statement comes after Whitehorse Elementary School council chair Keith Halliday challenged the government to correct a $14.8-million gap in public school funding.
He also called on the government to increase education spending at a pace consistent with other departments.
Education spending as a percentage of the overall budget is less than it was in 2004, according to Halliday, who used government data to make his case.
The budget numbers show a shift in priorities away from education, said Halliday.
The council is misinforming the public, Rouble told a news conference on Friday, echoing public statements by Premier Dennis Fentie on Thursday.
The budget has increased $30 million from 2002 spending, said Rouble.
Full-day kindergarten was introduced, literacy programs started, the construction of Carmacks schools and other capital increases.
But Rouble refused to say whether he agreed with the council’s numbers that show education spending is smaller as part of the overall budget than it was in 2004.
Education funding has increased over the years, but he wouldn’t comment on current spending as it relates to the overall budget.
It’s “strong,” he said.
“The priority of this government is very much on education…our spending reflects that,” said Rouble.
Spending can always be increased, he added.
“That’s my role in cabinet, to bang on the table and thump loudly and get my colleagues to recognize the importance of education,” he said.
Government spending has increased 9.4 per cent per year since 2004, while spending on education increased 3.6 per cent.
Inflation in Whitehorse in 2007 was four per cent.
If the government had kept education spending at 2004 levels, there would be about $14.8 million more in funding, said Halliday.
The Yukon has high student absenteeism and a low graduation rate — not to mention success rates among First Nation students — and should be a top priority for the government, said the council.
The spending figures are drawn from Finance budget documents.
Nominal increases have been made to education since 2004, but just enough to keep up with inflation, and spending has fallen behind the rate of increase of other departments, said school council members.
The government has answered a question no one asked, said Whitehorse Elementary School councillor Erik Blake.
Funding has not been cut — it has increased — but spending is down as a percentage of overall government spending, he said.
“Public school funding has really suffered in terms of allocation of resources,” said Blake.
“It’s clear there’s a problem. Funding is barely keeping pace with inflation. Education has been deprioritized.”
Money for economic development and MLA pay raises is positive for the territory, but don’t fund those priorities at the expense of education, said Blake.
Without education, who will staff the all the mines the territory hopes to open? he added, noting how technology is increasing the need for education.
“Sure, school kids don’t vote, but 20 years down the road, the education you gave them is the legacy we have,” said Blake.
On average, there are nine educators per 100 students in Whitehorse schools.
Next year, the projection is 6.5 per 100 at Whitehorse Elementary.
Several schools are busting at the seams with students, but staffing remains a problem, said Blake.
“We’re understaffed and we go to the (Education) department and the answer when we ask for more staff is they don’t have the budget for it,” he said.
Seven other schools expressed support for the original letter sent to Rouble, including Hidden Valley, FH Collins, Grey Mountain Primary, Porter Creek High school, St. Elias Community School, Takhini Elementary, Teslin school council.
In Whitehorse, there are 14 schools and another 14 rural schools are found outside the city.
As of January, there were 5,056 students enrolled in Yukon schools.