||Volume 25, Number 2, October 2012
BC students short-changed compared to other Canadian students
By Larry Kuehn
Legislators listened intently as Susan Lambert presented the BCTF Education Funding Brief to the Standing Committee of the Legislature on Finance and Public Services on October 1, 2012. Lambert characterized the situation as “BC students are short-changed compared to elsewhere in Canada.”
Perhaps the MLAs were expecting to hear a request for immediate funding to return to the funding level that existed before the cutting began a decade ago. Perhaps they were waiting to jump with the question—where will the money come from to pay for more services?
If so, the BCTF president disappointed them. Rather than a call for immediate restoration, she called for a plan—a plan that would not restore all services immediately, but one that would make improvements over time. Lambert said, “while we would like to be above average, it is a realistic goal to begin to move up at least to the Canadian national average in the various indicators of educational effort.”
And she told them where to find the money before they asked. The plan should be financed by an increase in taxes, restoring some of the taxes that were chopped when the BC Liberals came to office. Specifically, Lambert told the MLAs, the taxes on corporations and the wealthy should finance important public services—education as well as other services.
“21st Century Learning” has meant cuts, cuts, cuts
The pitch made by Lambert drew attention to a startling reality—BC is far behind the Canadian average in improving spending on education, the staffing of schools and having specialists in place to support learning. Funding in BC has failed every year in the new century to keep pace with other provinces in educational service—it turns out that “21st Century Learning” in this province has meant cuts, cuts, and more cuts.
In contrast, other provinces that have also faced declining enrolment, have used it as an opportunity to improve services to students. Improvements for students in other provinces; cuts for students in BC; this reality has eroded learning conditions in BC classrooms, with the level of support for students far below the Canadian average.
BC should catch up to the Canadian average student-educator ratio
The BCTF brief focused on a couple of expenditure areas to show how far BC has fallen behind the Canadian average. It looked at the student-educator ratio (SER) and the gross domestic product (GDP).
The majority of school district employees are educators (including administrators, as defined by Statistics Canada). The student-educator ratio (SER) is the broadest indicator of the people resources available for teaching and supporting students. The extent of what is possible in class size, class composition, and specialist teachers is determined by the SER.
Over the last decade, the gap between BC and the Canadian average has grown relentlessly. The Canadian average for the most recent year, for which statistics are available, shows the Canadian average at 14 students per educator and the BC number at 16.6 students per educator.
Chart 1. Click to enlarge.
It is easy to see why our class sizes have increased, more classes have larger numbers of students with special needs, and the numbers of specialist teachers has declined. To correct this situation, just to get to the Canadian average, would require 5,800 more teachers at a cost of about $500 million.
Having more students per educator than the Canadian average has significant impacts on students and their learning, Lambert told the committee.
We can’t offer students with special needs the service they require. The number of students with identified special needs has increased over the decade, but we have lost 752 special education teachers.
We can’t identify all the students who have special educational needs. Many can’t get assessed and “grey” area students are denied service because the reduced specialist support is all used up by more students with the greatest difficulties.
The number of English Language Learners (ELL) has increased, but we have seen a decline of 340 ELL teachers over the decade.
Students who need counsellors to help them cope with stresses of home, school, and social life find empty offices or lineups of other needy students—117 counselling positions gone.
Many more students self-identify as Aboriginal (from 46,885 to 61,399 over the decade) and are entitled to Aboriginal programs—but the number of teachers providing Aboriginal programs has declined.
The demands of new technology, and an intense focus on literacy, call for an expanding role for teacher-librarians, but teacher-librarian positions have declined by about 30%—that is some 250 teacher-librarians.
A lower BC student–educator ratio is required if we are to make improvements in all these areas—class size and composition and adequate numbers of specialist teachers.
BC is behind the Canadian average in funding effort
One measure of a government’s priority is the percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) spent on a particular service.
Chart 2. Click to enlarge.
As Chart 2 shows, BC is well behind the average spending for Canada on this indicator as well.
For 2009–10, the last year of data available from Statistics Canada, BC spent 3.3% of GDP on K–12 education while the average for Canada was 3.6%.
The gap between BC and the Canadian average has increased in K–12 education funding as a percentage of GDP.
If we increased BC’s K–12 expenditures to the same percentage of the GDP as the average in Canada, that would produce about $609 million and return us to the level of expenditures at the beginning of the century.
The case is strong—political will is required
The Standing Committee on Finance and Public Services holds hearings around the province every fall. It consists of Members of the Legislature of both parties. It is supposed to make recommendations to government on the provincial budget for the next year, which will be a pre-election budget scheduled for February.
Lambert concluded by again urging the committee to recommend that government pursue a plan to increase funding for education to at least the average in Canada and to adopt the taxation necessary to accomplish this. She said, “Our children deserve better than we can currently provide them.”
A full copy of the brief, including a number of explanatory charts, is available on the BCTF web site at http://bit.ly/SAlcte
Larry Kuehn, director, BCTF Research and Technology