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THE COST OF EDUCATION

Finance minister Allan MacMaster unveiled the province’s 2024-25 budget yesterday. It estimates spending $16.5 billion over the next year—up $1.7 billion from last year—with a $467.4 million deficit. The budget is themed around heavy investments in healthcare and addressing the cost of living for Nova Scotians, but since The Coast employs one of Canada’s only education beat reporters, we naturally wonder what the budget means for education.

Funding for universities and colleges is increasing by 2.6 percent, a total of $725.5 million, which is less than Canada’s current inflation rate. The Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers was hoping the budget would reveal how universities are meant to honour new bilateral agreements with the province, which have made funding performance-based. It did not. A statement from ANSUT president Scott Stewart points out that such financial unknowns make it “increasingly difficult for our universities to uphold their academic missions—to provide education, conduct research and contribute to the betterment of society."

There’s a steeper increase in public education funding. Pre-Primary to Grade 12 is estimated to receive a 6.7% increase in spending, amounting to nearly $2 billion. Key areas are:

This $28 million will essentially be spent on hiring teachers to sustain the current ratio of teachers-per-students in classrooms, adjusted for population growth and inflation costs. There’s no mention of initiatives towards teacher recruitment and retention, or to improve the support that the current model estimates for, such as reducing class sizes or increasing substitute teaching wages.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Ryan Lutes tells The Coast, “in terms of getting students more support or teachers more support, there's nothing in the budget for that—and that's really something that we were looking for.” Given a recent NSTU survey that found 84% of teachers were considering leaving the job, Lutes thinks such supports are vital.

“How do we support the teachers that are already in the system? How do we make sure they stay? Not only that, how do we make sure they're doing the best work for kids? They can't do that work while they're contemplating leaving the profession.”

Lutes says this budget is about maintaining the status quo, with one long-awaited takeaway: the beginning of the school lunch program. However, with the program just starting up in the fall at an unknown number of schools, the $18.8 million allocated for it probably isn’t an accurate estimate of what it will cost for every school to have a lunch program for a full year. Surely this will come up in budget debates at the legislature for the rest of March. Stay tuned.

Lauren Phillips, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Coast