Don’t penalize schools with lower per pupil funding during pandemic, Manitoba NDP urges

The Manitoba NDP is urging the provincial government to “at least” hold the line on funding for schools this year, despite many classrooms seeing far fewer students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opposition leader Wab Kinew referred to Sept. 30 as the annual “count day,” noting the funding schools receive for the year is determined by that day’s attendance.

“This is a long-standing tradition but I think we can all recognize how the pandemic has seriously, seriously changed this practice,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.

One of his own children is in a high school class that has one-third of the usual number of students, Kinew said.

Earlier this month, CBC News obtained figures from the province that show an almost 25 per cent increase in home-schooling registrations compared to the previous school year.

“So we have a relatively simple ask, which is that the [provincial] government review the practice of awarding funding based on who’s in class today and just make sure that schools … don’t lose any funding because of the pandemic,” Kinew said.

“No school should lose money.”

NDP education critic Nello Altomare, a former educator and principal, said schools need that money this year due to added costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as cleaning and sanitizing classrooms.

There are higher costs for supplies as well, because students can’t share them, he noted.

“We want to keep our kids safe,” he said.

The NDP was asked what prompted their plea, and if they were aware of any plans the province had in regards to funding changes.

“I have no inkling,” said Altomare. “But with this government, no one really knows. They’ve had six months to prepare for this particular day [since classes were suspended due to the pandemic in the spring], and what have they done? They’ve said nothing.”

That’s left school administrators “looking for leadership and they’re getting nothing,” he said. “No comments — zero from this government.”

Altomare said at a minimum, he’d like to see the government use the enrolment numbers it had on Sept. 30, 2019, to determine funding this year, “and then see how this pandemic progresses.”

In an emailed statement from a spokesperson, the Progressive Conservative government said it is working with school divisions to ensure funding for the year is not impacted by unusual enrolment changes.

“Manitoba Education is aware there has been an increase in families deciding to home school this year, which may disproportionately affect some school divisions more than others,” the statement said.

“Those in remote learning would be known by the school division and would be counted as pupils of the division.”

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