A high-profile, provincial government-established fund meant to help children pay for their post-secondary education lost more than $18 million of its market value over the 12 months ending March 31, 2009, Public Eye has exclusively learned. Premier Gordon Campbell announced that fund at the Liberals' 2006 biennial convention in Penticton, making it the highlight of his keynote speech. "I can tell you today, that beginning in 2007, $1,000 will be invested in the name of each new child born here in British Columbia to help them meet their post-secondary skills development needs and learning in the future," he declared, according to the text for that speech.
"It will say to them, your learning is important to us," the premier continued. "It will help us build the kind of future we want for British Columbia."
And the future of the B.C. Children's Education Fund looked bright at the end of its first quarter, with its value increasing by $1.72 million between December 31, 2007 and March 31, 2008.
But, by the end of its second quarter, the Crown corporation managing that fund was warning of "greater market risks than usual," describing conditions as "tumultuous."
And, according to performance reports obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, the fund's value was $18.82 million lower on March 31, 2009 than it was the year before - going from $88.03 million to $69.21 million.
That 21.3 percent drop was 1.9 percentage points greater than the decline experienced by the fund's benchmark - a composite of seven different market indexes.
But the ministry of education, which is responsible for that fund, shrugged off those losses.
"This is a long-term investment. And, although market funds have dropped during the economic downturn, the value is expected to increase again as economic conditions improve," said a spokesperson, who was unable to disclose the fund's most recent performance reports.
According to the government's Achieve BC Website, it's anticipated every child born in and after 2007 will be able to draw at least $2,200 from that fund when they turn 17 to pay for their post-secondary education.
The spokesperson said the fund's recent losses aren't going to interfere with that commitment.