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Public and private spending on elementary and secondary schools, 2019/2020

Released: 2022-03-22

For the first time in 17 years, total expenditures for elementary and secondary education declined (-1.4%) in 2019/2020 to $78.9 billion. The majority of this spending (94.7%, or $74.7 billion) was directed to public education. Although spending declined across all major categories in public schools, the decrease was mainly attributable to lower spending on instruction and educational services in Ontario and Alberta.

In 2019/2020, direct expenditures and grants or contributions by provincial and territorial governments accounted for just over two-thirds (69.0%), or $54.3 billion of the funding for elementary and secondary education. Local taxation and other taxes levied by the school boards and local governments accounted for 19.6% of funding, while the remaining funding included student fees and tuition (3.4%), amounts from federal departments (3.4%), and all other private sources, such as revenues from ancillary operations (4.6%).

Ontario and Alberta experienced the largest annual decline in expenditures by public elementary and secondary schools

At the regional level, Ontario represented 40.3% of total national expenditures for public education, and was the largest contributor to the overall decline in spending in 2019/2020. Spending for public education in Ontario experienced a 5.8% decrease to $26.7 billion from the previous year, the largest decrease compared with all other provinces and territories. Also in 2019/2020, the number of educators in Ontario decreased by 1.5%, with spending for educator salaries decreasing by 2.3% to $16.8 billion. During this period, the provincial government made amendments to Ontario's class size regulations to slightly increase the funded average class sizes for elementary and secondary students. Also during the 2019/2020 fiscal year, Bill 124, "Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act", was passed in Ontario which generally limits annual salary increases to one percent for many parts of the public sector in the province, including teachers' salaries.

Public elementary and secondary schools in Alberta experienced the second largest annual decline in expenditures in 2019/2020. Alberta spending for public education decreased by 5.3% to $7.9 billion from the previous year, while provincial government sources of funds for public schools also declined (-6.2%) to $4.6 billion. Alberta has had the largest growth of public school enrolments over the past five years (+6.6%). During 2019/2020, Alberta Education undertook a funding and assurance framework review. Through this process, several special grants to school boards were terminated in order to retarget funds to support growing enrolment. The provincial government also introduced a new one-time transitional grant to help bridge to the new funding model.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Annual change in total spending by public schools from 2018/2019 to 2019/2020
Annual change in total spending by public schools from 2018/2019 to 2019/2020

Newfoundland and Labrador introduces changes to compensation and benefits for public sector employees

Spending in Newfoundland and Labrador elementary and secondary public schools increased by 18.9% from the previous year to $954.8 million in 2019/2020. This increase follows efforts by the province to find future savings through adjustments to compensation and benefits for public sector employees. Specifically, the government eliminated a large portion of their severance liability through negotiated payouts to public sector employees. Following this action, expenditures for educator salaries and benefits in public schools grew by 21.6% from the previous year to $707.6 million in 2019/2020. This increase was supported by additional funding from the provincial government, as provincial government sources of funds for public schools grew at a similar rate (+24.4%). Other changes to public sector compensation and benefits included a temporary wage freeze, as well as other changes to post-employment benefits.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Annual percent change, Newfoundland and Labrador public schools
Annual percent change, Newfoundland and Labrador public schools

Local taxation revenues for public schools in Quebec decreases by 14%

In regards to the funding of public education, for the second consecutive year, revenues from local taxation for public schools in Quebec decreased significantly. Following a decision in 2018/2019 to reduce the amount paid by homeowners for school tax, revenues from local taxation decreased by 14.1% to $1.5 billion in 2019/2020. The new legislation was designed to standardize the tax rate, where homeowners pay the lowest existing rate, regardless of what region they live in. During this same period, funding from the Quebec provincial government increased by 5.5% to $11.4 billion, partly to offset the decline in local funding.

Chart 3  Chart 3: Public school revenues by source, Quebec
Public school revenues by source, Quebec

British Columbia adds $467 million in provincial funding for public schools

Provincial funding for public schools in British Columbia increased by 10.6% from the previous year to $4.9 billion in 2019/2020. Aside from Newfoundland and Labrador, this was the largest increase among the provinces and territories. This was also the second largest increase on a per student basis (+3.5%), as the annual growth in expenditures (+4.8%) outpaced the annual growth of public school enrolments (+1.2%).

A large part of this additional funding was directed towards capital spending, as capital expenditures grew by 38.3% compared with the previous year, to $896.1 million in 2019/2020. Since 2017, the province has announced several large capital projects aimed at retrofitting and upgrading schools in some of Canada's most seismically active regions, in order to protect school buildings against potential earthquakes. Other capital projects included the construction of several new schools, upgrades to school infrastructure, as well as energy-efficiency projects to lower carbon emissions.

Yukon invests in the availability of French-language education in 2019/2020

Capital expenditures by public elementary and secondary schools in Yukon were almost triple (+195.8%) that of the previous year, up to $27.2 million in 2019/2020. A large portion of this amount was directed towards the completion of the new Centre Scolaire Secondaire Communautaire Paul-Emile Mercier, the first French first language secondary school in Yukon. Other capital projects taken on in Yukon include facility maintenance at upgrades to modular classrooms.

  Note to readers

Although it is too early to fully understand how spending associated with Canadian elementary and secondary education will be impacted by the pandemic, future Postsecondary Student Information System cycles of the Financial Information for Public Elementary and Secondary Schools Survey will allow more in-depth exploration of the effect of the COVID-19 lockdowns and health restrictions on enrolments and financing.

Public school board finance data are derived from the Financial Information for Public Elementary and Secondary Schools Survey. The objective of this annual survey is to collect financial information on school boards and districts across Canada.

These financial statistics are collected from every province and territory—with the exception of Nunavut, where data are estimated—and are converted into a standard classification.

Data for this survey are not available at the school board and district level.

Student enrolment figures and educator counts are from the Elementary–Secondary Education Survey.

Due to the elimination of the Survey of Financial Statistics of Private Elementary and Secondary Schools, data on funding for private elementary and secondary education have been estimated for the reference period 2006/2007 and onward, based on changes to private institutions' enrollment.

All of the financial figures are in constant 2019/2020 dollars adjusted for inflation, unless otherwise noted.

Caution should be taken when comparing provinces and territories directly, since provinces and territories have different funding formulas and structures.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (

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