A recent funding announcement from government granting private schools $1 million for specialized programs for children with special needs only serves to promote a harmful two-tiered and exclusive vision for education in British Columbia. BC Teachers' Federation President Glen Hansman said families should not have to come up with tens of thousands of dollars to send their children with special needs to private schools when the needed support should be in local public schools.
“The BC government should be adequately supporting all students with special needs in the public school system, not forcing parents and families into expensive private programs,” said Hansman. “By creating a funding scheme for private programs, the government is actually going against the principles of inclusion and fair access for children with special needs. There are 58,000 kids in BC who have a designated special need and thousands more on waitlists for diagnostic testing. This announcement is telling those kids and their families that the only way to get the help they need is to spend thousands in private programs. There is no way Canadians would accept this kind of scheme in our healthcare system, and we shouldn't accept it in education.”
Hansman also expressed concern that the funding announcement was very limited in scope and only helpful to very few families in the Metro Vancouver and South Island regions.
“It's going to increase the urban/rural inequities across our province. There are children living in Williams Lake, Port Hardy, Trail, all over the province who need extra funding and support, but this announcement ignores them. It also leaves out single-parent families, those living in poverty or those just getting by who don't have thousands of dollars to pay for outside help. If the government is serious about providing an inclusive education for children with special needs, they need to expand funding throughout the province so we can reduce class sizes and hire more specialist teachers. That will ensure all students get the extra help, one-on-one time, and small group attention they need.”
Since the BC government stripped teachers' collective agreements in 2002, BC school districts have had to cut 24% of our special education teachers even though the number of children with a designated special need has gone up by 50%.
“If the government would actually restore the specialist-teacher ratios they stripped from our collective agreements and provided strong, stable, and predictable funding, our public schools would be able to support the needs of all students. Parents shouldn't have to turn to a private school and pay out of pocket for a service they used to be able to get at a public school in their own community. With a $1.9 billion surplus, it's time for the government to significantly reinvest in our public schools.”