MLA Report

By Carole James

In the last 15 years under the current government, BC has gone from the second-best funded K-to-12 education system in all of Canada to the second worst. BC is now $1,000-per-pupil behind the Canadian average in terms of funding.

As a new school year gets underway, students, educators and parents are faced with challenges brought by larger classes, a reduction in valuable courses and programs, and fiscal instability for school districts. All across the province, school districts are doing their best to meet needs and do more with less.

British Columbia needs secure, stable and adequate funding for public schools. But the provincial government is failing to deliver.

For years the BC Liberal government has been downloading costs onto school districts for bills that need to be paid – like BC Hydro and Medical Service Plan premium increases. Over the last two years, the BC government has forced school districts to cut $54 million in administrative spending even though administrative spending is already lower than in any other school system in North America. School districts are also facing a $26 million hit to pay for broadband internet service that the government is forcing them to cover – another unfunded downloaded cost.

While handing a $230 million tax break to millionaires, the province has presided over the closure of 240 schools province-wide, and announced ten-year delays in the program to seismically upgrade the buildings where our children are at serious risk if there was a large earthquake. No wonder citizens think government has its priorities all backwards!

In May, after pressure from parents and school boards across the province, the Premier announced that the government would reverse their planned $25 million funding cut that was originally demanded from schools across BC. This funding flip-flop shows as false the province’s claim that it has no control over local decisions about school closures and education cutbacks.

If government provides secure, stable and adequate funding for school districts, the school districts can provide the exceptional programs and services students need. When government cuts funding, school districts are left with no choice but to cancel programs and close schools.

When the Premier forced 550,000 students, parents, and teachers into the longest school shutdown in BC history, she said that she cared about the issue of class size and composition. Two years later, we are seeing fewer supports for students in our classrooms while class sizes are growing at an alarming rate, according to the Ministry of Education’s latest data on class size and composition.

Ministry data shows that the number of classes with 30 or more students increased by 25 per cent in the last school year. The number of classes in BC with four or more children with special needs has gone up to 16,516 – which is the highest it has ever been. Despite this huge increase in students with special needs, the number of classes in BC with an assigned educational assistant went down by 432.

For three years in a row, the government has ignored the unanimous bi-partisan Legislative Finance Committee’s recommendations for stable and adequate funding for our school system. Enrollment numbers in BC schools are actually increasing, and this trend is expected to continue.

This government has neglected and underfunded public education in BC for far too long, and teachers, parents and kids deserve better. Investing in our education system is investing in our shared future, and the future of our kids and those yet to come. What could be more important?

I am so proud of our public education system, and the extraordinary role it plays in helping to build thoughtful, caring, well-educated citizens, healthy communities and a strong economy. Government must make education a top priority, and I will continue to speak out on this issue. I appreciate hearing your concerns and perspectives on this and any other issues of interest to you.

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