Teacher compensation and union contract extensions in Ontario

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Appeared in the Ottawa Sun, October 8, 2016

With an eye on the next election, Premier Kathleen Wynne is attempting to secure labour peace in the K-12 education sector in Ontario by proposing an extension of 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—more and ever-increasing spending on teacher compensation.

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

In fact, within 10 years the total dollar amount spent on teacher and education worker compensation increased 47.6 per cent (or $6.4 billion) in Ontario. Other than Alberta and Saskatchewan, no other province saw such a large growth rate increase. But while Alberta experienced an increase in student enrollment (11.1 per cent) that partially explains the increase in compensation, Ontario’s increase in compensation occurred while student enrolments in public schools declined by 5.1 per cent. So, to be clear, 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.

Although the increase in spending 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 per cent.

After increasing the salaries, wages, benefits and pension contributions for teachers and staff, and paying for buildings and other assets, the share of dollars remaining for resources such as teacher assistants, classroom computers, 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 of each public school dollar left to spend on items that, among other things, materially impact the classroom experience.

So what then could the extension of teacher contracts in Ontario for a few more years mean to taxpayers, parents and students? Remember, in this round Premier 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 student enrollment falls, spending on teacher compensation will likely continue to grow.

This may all well mean peace on the labour front. But it will also mean ever-increasing expenditure on teacher compensation in a province that already spends a high proportion of public school dollars on teacher and education worker compensation.

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