When you run a school board, there are a lot of bills to pay. An art class needs a kiln and paint. A gym class needs hoops and pucks. A computer class needs software and monitors. The building itself needs heat and water. Constructing a school needs materials and labour. It all adds up.
And since the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced in 1991, it’s added up to even more.
School boards across the country pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year on GST costs, 68% of which are eligible for rebate. That is problematic for two reasons. First of all, the administrative time and resources it takes to complete all those rebates forms is a huge burden. Second of all, a 68% rebate still leaves nearly $100,000,000 a year being paid in GST. That’s $100,000,000 that can not be spent on textbooks or equipment or anything else schools desperately need.
We are calling on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to do the math on this issue, and eliminate this added expense.
Municipalities get a 100% on their GST costs, and it is only fair and reasonable that the same rebate be extended to school boards. At the CUPE national convention in 2005, a resolution was adopted calling on our union to lobby the federal government for a 100% GST rebate for all public schools. We have since been doing just that, and will continue to do so until the Harper Conservatives pass an amendment to the Excise Tax Act which will exclude school boards from paying the GST.
GST paid by school boards is essentially a tax on funds raised through property and provincial sales taxes. Rebating the entire GST will make a significant difference to schools boards and the students they serve. It will also improve tax fairness and transparency.
As a former provincial Finance Minister, Flaherty must be aware of the financial challenges facing most school boards in the country. We are in the midst of a steady decline nationally in the number of school-aged children, and this demographic trend is placing tremendous financial pressures on school boards. Hundreds of schools have been closed across the country, programs for disadvantaged students have been chopped and thousands of staff have been laid off.
It is not an exaggeration to state that Canada’s public elementary and secondary schools are facing a funding crisis unprecedented in their long and proud history.
Public schools play a crucial role in Canadian society; they are the great equalizer, where students get a quality education regardless of economic and ethnic background. But financial crises mean that public schools are in danger of being unable to fulfill the role Canadians expect of them, as well as the role for which the national economy depends on them.
We are calling on Minister Flaherty to make sure the GST is applies fairly and transparently. We will be looking in anticipation towards the upcoming budget for tax relief for school boards.