Fraser Forum

Education spending in Canada: truth by the numbers

Printer-friendly version

Often, media reports on education spending in Canada refer to spending cuts, gaps and caps, budget shortfalls, and expenditure decreases. Upon hearing all of that, the casual observer may conclude that spending on public elementary and secondary schools is dropping, and that it has been for quite some time.

But is this actually the case? Has spending in public schools across the provinces increased or decreased over the last decade?

Consider this.

The most common measure of education spending is nominal spending—the level of total spending in any particular year compared to total spending in previous years. From 2001/02 to 2011/12, total nominal spending in public schools in Canada grew by 53.1 per cent, from $38.9 billion to $59.6 billion. Every province showed a marked increase in nominal spending on public schools.

On a per pupil basis (accounting for changes in student enrolment), spending also rises. Enrolments in public schools in Canada have declined from 5.4 million in 2001/02 to 5 million in 2011/12, a national decline of 33,000 students per year on average. Only Alberta saw an increase in student enrolment over the 11-year period. When nominal spending is adjusted by enrolments, per-pupil spending increases from $7,250 to $11,835—or by 63.2 per cent.

And for even greater insight, you can compare actual spending to what education spending would have been had the level of per-pupil funding in 2001/02, adjusted for inflation, remained constant over the decade. For 2011/12, the real increase in spending compared to 2001/02 was more than $14.8 billion—38.1 per cent higher.

Thus, using the best measures available for gauging spending on education in public schools in Canada, large-scale increases in spending between 2001/02 and 2011/12 are observed. The analysis of variations in nominal spending and per pupil spending exposes, despite widespread narratives to the contrary, marked education spending increases over a decade.

To learn more about education spending in Canada, check out the study What’s Actually Happening?

Blog Category: 

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.