Public Education Demands in BC

Photo Credit: Unsplash user Jessica Ruscello

In anticipation of the upcoming provincial election in May 2017, the following parent and advocacy groups have sent an open letter to the BC Provincial government in respect of ongoing challenges to the public education system in the province:

Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education

The letter, addressed to the Premier and Ministers of the Government of British Columbia, states “The purpose of the provincial education system is set out in the BC School Act: to enable all learners—regardless of race, gender, ability, or economic means—‘to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.’ Furthermore, the BC Statement of Education Policy Order (Mandate for the School System) confirms that ‘government is responsible for ensuring that all of our youth have the opportunity to obtain high-quality schooling that will assist in the development of an educated society.’ In practice, provincial funding for K-12 public education has proven inadequate to satisfy this mandate.”

The signatories note, “The government of British Columbia has claimed that our province “has the strongest and fastest growing economy in Canada”. As we live in a province of prosperity with a $2-billion-plus budget surplus, there is no impediment for government to discharge its financial and legal responsibility to establish a level of funding that ensures the "needs of students are met first and foremost”.

The premise of the letter is that the “current service plan of $4.6 billion in operational grants for public education for 2016/17 is insufficient to provide all children in BC, without discrimination, equal access to educational opportunities across the entire curriculum and in accordance with their learning needs to allow them to reach their full potential as individuals and as citizens of our society”.

The signatories call on the provincial government for the following:

  • An increase to K-12 public education annual operational funding of 20% “to redress all of the current deficiencies and fully prioritize and revitalize our education system to ensure an equitable quality education for all children”.
  • A commitment to provide the estimated $300 million in additional, predictable, ongoing operational funds that would be needed to comply with the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling (November 2016), which confirmed that the stripping of class size and composition language from the teachers’ collective agreement was unlawful.  So far, only a $50 million interim commitment has been made in the run-up to the provincial election in May.  The letter stresses that full funding of the Supreme Court decision is required to redress structural underfunding which “has forced school districts across BC to ‘balance budgets’ with increasingly deficient funds—specialist teachers, teacher librarians, core programs, basic resources, and vital student and special needs supports have been systematically and cumulatively eliminated from schools, disproportionate to enrolment decline.”
  • That the provincial government meet its commitments to seismic upgrading of schools and its stated value that “the safety of BC students is vital”, including:  
    • The immediate approval of all projects currently prioritized by school districts for seismic mitigation and support for comprehensive plans developed by local school districts for their completion by 2025/2030.
    • The funding of portables, where necessary, for temporary accommodation during seismic upgrades, not forced school closures to create swing space.
    • The replacement of old schools where existing schools are close to or exceeding their life expectancy, to address soaring deferred maintenance costs.

Proactive funding for new school construction in areas of current and anticipated population growth.

  • That all children in BC receive fully-funded, high-quality education across the entire curriculum, including:
    • Sufficient additional ongoing operational funding to enable all public schools to offer a high quality education across the entire K-12 curriculum.
    • The restoration of fine arts programming in all BC elementary schools, by funding specialists, equipment, and supplies.
    • The immediate restoration of pre-2004 graduation requirements to support a comprehensive and full-time schooling for students through Grade 12.
    • Sufficient funding to allow upper-level courses to run at lower capacity thresholds to ensure that all secondary students have access within their local high school to a full range of core curricular and electives courses offered within the BC curriculum.
  • That all children in BC have access to the staff and resources they need to learn, including:
    • The immediate and unequivocal allocation of the estimated $300 million of additional annual funding needed to comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada to begin to address class size and composition.
    • The immediate addition of funding, trained staff and resources to support the early identification, designation, and meaningful inclusion of students with special needs, in order to meet their learning needs.
    • An immediate increase to CommunityLINK and Vulnerable Student Supplement funding given to school districts to address the nutritional and social-emotional needs of children living in poverty.
    • Sufficient operational funds to supply schools with the necessary furniture, educational resources and equipment needed to provide a quality education in all areas of the BC curriculum, including fully funded and staffed school libraries.

The signatories conclude with significant concerns that:

  • Current annual funding for K-12 public education is insufficient for government to satisfy its mandate to provide a high quality education to all learners as outlined in the BC School Act and the BC Statement of Education Policy Order. Government’s assertion of “record funding” serves to obscure the everyday reality in schools.
  • Structural underfunding, the persistent erosion of the breadth and quality of educational programs, and the continual reduction of resources within the public system have cumulatively created unacceptable levels of inequality and discrimination that violate the democratic purpose of the education system. This has dire implications for the future health, stability, and economic prosperity of our province as they are dependent on the strength of our public education system, as the foundation of our common “wealth”.

The signatories end by reiterating “that the provincial government must increase K-12 public education annual operational funding by 20% to redress all of the current deficiencies and fully prioritize and revitalize our education system to ensure an equitable quality education for all children.”