With an eye on the next provincial election, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is attempting to secure labour peace in the education sector by extending existing teacher contracts.

But a recent Fraser Institute study shows that, among the provinces, Ontario spends the largest share of its public school dollars on teacher compensation. Extending these lucrative contracts can only mean one thing for Ontario – ever-increasing spending on teacher compensation.

In Ontario, a whopping 77 cents of every dollar spent on kindergarten to Grade 12 public education goes to compensate teachers and staff – up from less than 73 cents 10 years ago.

Within 10 years, the total spent on teacher and education worker compensation increased 47.6 percent (or $6.4 billion) in Ontario. Other than Alberta and Saskatchewan, no other province saw such a large growth rate.

But while Alberta experienced an increase in student enrolment (11.1 percent) that partially explains the increase in compensation, Ontario’s increase in compensation occurred while enrolment in public schools declined by 5.1 percent.

So while 109,000 fewer students were taught in Ontario public schools, the amount dedicated to teachers and other staff increased from $13.4 billion to $19.8 billion.

And although the increase in overall compensation was substantial, it’s dwarfed by the growth in pension costs. Employer contributions to teacher pensions in Ontario more than doubled over the most recent decade, increasing by 106.5 percent.

After increasing the pay, benefits and pension contributions for teachers and staff, and paying for buildings and other assets, the dollars remaining for resources such as teacher assistants, classroom computers and textbooks declined. In fact, among the provinces, Ontario in 2013-14 (the last year of available data) spent the largest share of every education dollar on compensation and capital combined – 86 cents of every dollar – with only 14 cents left for items that, among other things, materially impact the classroom experience.

So what could the extension of teacher contracts in Ontario for a few more years mean to taxpayers, parents and students?

Remember, Wynne has lifted the net-zero rule – new money will be available, not just moved from other spending areas.

This means that despite, on a proportional basis, compensating teachers and education workers more than any other province, Ontario taxpayers can expect continued increases. And even as enrolment falls, spending on teacher compensation will likely grow.

This may well mean labour peace. But it will also mean ever-increasing expenditure on teacher compensation in a province that already spends an unnecessarily high proportion of public school dollars on that compensation.

Deani Van Pelt is director of the Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education at the Fraser Institute.

Deani is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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