With the education budget frozen for another three years, BC schools will get no relief from chronic underfunding. Once again this year, block funding for public education is flat at $4.7 billion even as costs rise significantly across the system.
The only new proposal is $1 million for the School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program, which will now include provision of “local milk” to schools. “That’s cold comfort for students who are hungry for change,” said Glen Hansman, second vice-president of the BC Teachers’ Federation. At present 119,000 BC children are growing up in poverty.
“We need a plan to start moving BC back up to the national average in terms of education funding,” Hansman said. BC is last on seven key measures, according to Statistics Canada:
- BC has the lowest per-student funding in Canada—almost $1,000 per student below the national average.
- BC has the worst student-educator ratio in Canada. This means there are more students per teacher than anywhere else in the country.
- While public school enrolment declined across Canada, only BC cut teaching positions. All other provinces hired more teachers and invested more in public education.
Since last spring the Clark government has been touting its Learning Improvement Fund (LIF), which is supposed to provide additional services to students with special needs. The budget document, which is essentially a re-announcement of the LIF, states that the fund has been used to hire 500 more teachers, but the BCTF has seen no corresponding increase in the teaching force.
“The fund is no substitute for the guaranteed support levels that were taken away by unconstitutional legislation in 2002, when Christy Clark was Minister of Education,” Hansman said. “Children who began Kindergarten that year now have gone through their entire school careers in larger classes, with less support for special needs, and with fewer counsellors, librarians, and other specialist teachers to help them along the way. Despite all the government hype about education reform, there is no money in the budget for any new initiatives, such as much-needed enhancements to Aboriginal education, or trades and technology in schools.”
The flat-lined budget also fails to acknowledge that teachers are currently in negotiations for a new collective agreement. “We’re looking for a fair deal for teachers and better support for kids,” Hansman said.
“Teachers have won their rights once again to bargain class size and class composition, and government needs to be prepared to deal with these issues at the table, and bring the resources necessary to do so.”