Canadian School Expenditure Visual Insights

Data can be found almost anywhere, but unfortunately, it is often in an unstructured and unpolished way, which can diminish its values to stakeholders. Data Analytics & Visualization can be used in such cases, to support policy makers and organizations to make informed decisions. In this article series, we will use data visualization to better understand and derive insights from the Canadian School Expenditures throughout the period of 1973 to 2016.

Our goal is to understand the historical Canadian School Expenditure, provide data visualization insights and help support decision making. Although we appreciate our mobile readers, the visualizations in this article is better to see and easier to navigate on a desktop.

Why use Data Visualization?

Data visualization simplifies the understanding of data, making it easier to identify patterns, trends, and outliers in a dataset. The human brain is more efficient in identifying data pattern based on visual representation than on numerical data as seen in a spreadsheet format (see example below).

Without Data Viz

With Data Viz

However, to transform a series of lines in to a meaningful report, it is necessary to apply the correct data analytics and visualization principles that augment the potential insights that can be extracted from the data source. For instance, let us briefly discuss “School Board Expenditures” available at by the government of Canada (Government of Canada).

Canadian School Board Expenditures - Key Data Identifiers

While analysing the “School Board Expenditures” by the government of Canada, our team identified that the following Key Data Identifiers (KDI) were relevant to enhance the analysis of the data source. Therefore, a visualization report was created surrounding the following data points.

  • Time period referenced: 1973 to 2016
  • Geography: Canada and some of its provinces/ territories (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon).
  • Functions of Expenditure: Adult education expenditures, business administration expenditures, capital outlay expenditures (non-allocable), debt charges on capital expenditures (non-allocable), food services expenditures, instruction and educational services expenditures, school facilities service expenditures, total expenditures by function (double count- removed from viz), and transportation expenditures.
  • Economic Classifications: Capital expenditures (non-allocable, outlay and debt charges), fees and contractual services expenditures, fringe benefits expenditures, other operating expenditures, salary and wages expenditures, supply and services expenditures, total expenditures by economic classification (double count- removed from viz).
  • Values are in thousands.

What does the Data Viz shows?

Upon further analysis, the following configurations were installed in order to optimize data insight:

  1. Total value for analysed period.
  2. Year Slicer: visualize data for a period or on a yearly basis.
  3. GEO Slicer: A drop-down checkmark list of all the provinces and territories in Canada.
  4. Economic Classification Slicer: A drop-down checkmark list of all the available Economic classification. Total expenditure by economic classification has been removed so as to not double count
  5. Functions Slicer: A drop-down checkmark list of all the available functions classification. Total expenditure by function has been removed to not double count.
  6. Value in thousands by Year and Functions Graph: historical stacked column chart of determined total function expenditure.
  7. Value in thousands by Year and Economic classification Chart: economic classification expenditure as a percentage of total budget in that year.
  8. Value in thousands by Year and Geography Chart: historical line graph of determined total expenditure by geography.
  9. Value in thousands by Economic classification: pie chart that showcases percentual and total economic classification expenditure.


It is important to understand that all charts are impacted directly or indirectly by changes to the four slices: 1) Year; 2) Geo; 3) Economic Classification; and 4) Functions.

Key Data Insights

Once initial analysis is conducted and the proper configurations are inserted, it is possible to quickly reach the following insights:

  • Canada has spent $1.353T in School Expenditure throughout 43 years (1973-2016).
  • Salaries and wages expenditure are the main cost drivers in Economic classification (item 7).
  • Instruction and educational services are the main cost drivers in Functions classification (item 6; for more information on functions, see “Key Data Identification”).
  • As a percentage of the Economic Classification (item 7), fringe benefits (e.g. pension, benefits) and capital outlay (E.g. maintenance of fixed assets such as school building) has seen the highest increase, while salary and wages expenditure has seen a drop.
  • Ontario has been the highest spender in education throughout Canada, with its expenses growing exponentially in relation to other provinces. Quebec has remained 2nd, while Alberta has surpassed British Columbia since 2007, taking the 3rd position (item 8).

A look at 2016

Further, through the right configurations, it is possible to zoom in (increase the data granularity) and analyse data on a yearly basis. For instance, by changing the “Year Slice” (item 2) to “2016 to 2016”, the visualization is now updated with only data that is associated with the year of 2016. As such, the initial constructed report would look like the following:

As such, the following insights can be reached when each part of the report is analysed independently:

  • School Expenditure – Economic Classification: In 2016, throughout Canada, School Expenditure hit the $62billion mark, with major economic classifications being salary and wages expenditures, fringe benefits, and capital expenditures (with exceptions).
  • School Expenditure – Functions: In the function category, instructions and educational services, capital outlay, and school facilities services were the major expenditure categories:

In cases like the one above, pie charts are often easier to visualize (see below). Since our aim is to use a single dashboard to walkthrough Canadian school expenditures, do not expect ‘the best for the occasion’ to always show up. Therefore, some charts might have to be changed when analysed independently to better showcase the data.

  • School Expenditure – Geography: Geographically, Ontario accounts for the majority of the expenditure, with Quebec following behind at half the rate and then Alberta and British Columbia.

As an example of how different types of visualization can improve the overall understanding of the data, below is a pie chart that reflect the above stack chart for easier visualization.


Data can come in different shapes and sizes, which can lead to less efficient, manual work done to understand the meaning of the data. However, through data analytics and visualization, decision makers are better equipped to make decisions that instill progress and efficiency. Gathering data is as equally important as knowing how to read and make sense of it. And with the right tools and skills, data does not have to be scary. In the future, this series will analyze the output from the dashboard to gain insights on provincial and territorial school expenditure.

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