Block funding: The building blocks for the future

The Edmonton Public School Board has been talking about the idea of block funding, or finding a different way to use provincial dollars to build and maintain schools, since before I was elected as a Trustee.

Full shout out to Trustee Nathan Ip and my colleagues who serve on the board’s Infrastructure committee for their diligence and hard work in gathering data and presenting a real solution to major challenges facing our board; how we receive infrastructure funding and how to deal with our ballooning *deferred maintenance costs. Trustee Ip has called the potential of block funding a “game changer,” an apt description for what it has the potential to do. 

EPSB Trustees

(*Deferred maintenance refers to all the work that needs to be done on Edmonton Public schools but there isn’t money to do the work. Right now EPSB’s deferred maintenance is about $756 million.)

 Click here to see a full list of schools and their deferred maintenance costs. 

During the board meeting on June 25, 2019 Trustees debated and unanimously passed the following motion put forward by Trustee Ip:

That the Edmonton Public Schools Board of Trustees endorse a two per cent multi-year block funding model and that the Board advocate for this model to the Premier of Alberta, Minister of Education and Minister of Infrastructure

What EPSB deferred maintenance could like under a 2 percent block funding model

I supported Trustee Ip’s motion for a couple of reasons:

  • Block funding will allow EPSB to be nimble and pro-active instead of reactive. Right now, because of a lack of adequate provincial dollars to plan what needs fixing inside schools, the district reacts to problems when they arise. Staff with our planning and infrastructure department have shared with Trustees numerous times that a planned, preventative maintenance program would save money in the long run.
  • Block funding will lead to greater partnerships. Under the current model, boards are not able to predict the timing of funding announcements for capital projects. To put it more bluntly: we are at the mercy of when the government decides to open a new school or modernize a current building. Not being able to dictate our own funding schedules has limited our ability to partner with organizations who would love to team up with EPSB and build something great together. If EPSB was in control of our funding schedule, there would be greater opportunities to partner as we would be able to dictate the funding schedule. Put even more bluntly: block funding will take the politics out of school construction.
  • School boards know what they need and when they need it. Block funding empowers boards to be more responsive and build what they know their communities need.
  • Block funding reduces “red tape,” a popular phrase in government circles since the election of the UCP in the Spring of 2019. Block funding will give school boards the ability to group projects together and work with industry to find cost-effective ways to build.

The facts

  • EPSB’s current annual budget for infrastructure maintenance renewal or IMR funding is between $15 million to $30 million. This is the money we receive each year to address deferred maintenance.
  • Under a 2 per cent block funding model the district would receive about $82 million a year. $82 million is 2 per cent of $4.1 billion, which is the total replacement cost for all district buildings (as of 2018.) A lot of money, but comparable to what the district has received annually in infrastructure spending. 

 * From 2005 to 2017, an average of $81,504,154 has been spent annually on infrastructure. About two thirds of this funding was for new construction, was unpredictable in yearly amount, and did not address deferred maintenance. Read this to mean block funding delivers more bang for the taxpayers buck.

  • School boards are the only locally elected authorities that do not receive some form of multi-year block funding for their infrastructure needs.

Want to read more? Trustees also discussed what a block funding model of 1 per cent or 3 per cent would mean for the district. To watch that discussion click here, to read a report on what those different models look like click here.

Block funding doesn’t necessarily mean more money for EPSB. Rather, it’s the idea of grouping together multiple funding sources to provide consistent, predictable funding for Edmonton Public. Above all else, the idea of block funding is a vision; a way to address our rising deferred maintenance costs and also manage decisions about when we build or modernize schools.

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