Can you hear us now? Public education needs stable adequate funding

canyouhearus-bcedinred

Citizens from all over BC used our last “Can you hear us now” email tool to tell the minister of education and their MLAs that they wanted an end to underfunding, starting with the removal of the $25 million administrative cuts in Budget 2016. It’s clear that the government realizes British Columbians are unhappy with the education funding situation: in recent weeks, there have been announcements in which the $25 million was returned to districts, some capital projects have been announced, and special funding has been given to rural schools.

The response to these announcements has been “too little, too late.” Much more funding is needed to meet the costs of public education, and a long-term approach that provides stable, predictable, adequate funding is necessary, rather than the current erratic and unpredictable funding by photo-op, which leads only to more confusion and instability.

Please use the latest version of our quick and easy email tool to write to the government and leaders of the opposition parties, to tell them what you expect your government to do in the long-term interests of public education.

Here is the email text:

Joint Statement by PAN and FACE on the Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in the BCTF Case

banner

We know that many parents have questions about the meaning and impact of the Supreme Court’s recent decision. What follows is a brief explanation of the decision, its consequences, and the ongoing concerns of the Parent Advocacy Network (PAN) and Families Against Cuts to Education (FACE) with regard to the underfunding of public education in BC.

The Supreme Court’s decision

On November 10, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled in favour of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). The ruling ended the long-running dispute between the BCTF and the BC government that began in 2002 when the BC government used legislation to strip class size and composition matters out of the teachers’ collective agreement (contract). The SCC did not write reasons of its own; it adopted the reasons of Mr. Justice Donald’s dissent in the BC Court of Appeal.

The essence of Mr. Justice Donald’s decision is that the BC government did not bargain in good faith before it brought in a second round of legislation in 2012, after the 2002 legislation was found unconstitutional. Therefore, the BC government’s 2012 legislation, which was very similar to the 2002 legislation, was also unconstitutional. As a remedy, Mr. Justice Donald ordered that the stripped class size and composition sections must be returned to the collective agreement immediately.

As of 2014, the collective agreement between the BCTF and the BC government contains a clause that says “If the final judgment affects the content of the collective agreement by fully or partially restoring the 2002 language, the parties will reopen the collective agreement on this issue and the parties will bargain from the restored language.”

What the decision means and doesn’t mean

The combined effect of the court decision and the clause in the collective agreement means that the BCTF and the BC government must now engage in good faith negotiations on the topic of class size and composition, with the restored language as a starting point for those negotiations.

It is important to understand the legal meaning of “good faith” in collective bargaining. Here is how Mr. Justice Donald explained it in his reasons:

Parties are required to meet and engage in meaningful dialogue where positions are explained and each party reads, listens to, and considers representations made by the other party. Parties’ positions must not be inflexible and intransigent, and parties must honestly strive to find a middle ground.

The BCTF’s court victory does not mean that we are immediately transported back to the school conditions that existed in 2002, prior to the unconstitutional legislation. It means that the BCTF and the BC government must meet and do their good-faith best to reach an agreement on class size and composition. PAN and FACE hope that both parties will do what is right for our kids. Since the 2002 contract stripping, our kids have been in larger classes with fewer supports, and we have seen crucial non-enrolling positions like art teachers, librarians, counselors, ELL teachers, and Special Education teachers disappear from our children’s schools.

The court’s ruling also doesn’t mean that public education’s underfunding problem is solved. While the negotiations will hopefully lead to better supports for kids and more non-enrolling teachers in schools, there are costs that fall outside the collective agreement that have increased and not been funded, and those are not solved with this decision. For instance, the BC government has required school districts to upgrade their internet connectivity but has not funded that work (Next Generation Network). The BC government has also agreed that principals and other administrators should get a much-delayed raise, but has not increased funding to the districts to enable them to pay these raises without making cuts elsewhere. There are many other such costs; these are just two examples to demonstrate that underfunding is not solved by the resolution of the BCTF’s case.

We are pleased that Mr. de Jong, BC’s Minister of Finance, has declared his desire to immediately begin negotiations in good faith with the BCTF. We remind the Minister that increasing funding to ameliorate class size and composition is only the first step in restoring a level of funding for public education sufficient for all of BC’s children to have access to the staff, resources, and facilities they need for a quality education that meets their learning needs. Parents are still fundraising for essential resources such as library books, classroom furniture, technology, and arts programming, and there are still tens of thousands of children in schools across BC that remain at high risk of structural failure in the event of an earthquake.

A net increase in funding is required

PAN and FACE will continue to advocate for adequate funding that covers all the costs of equitably providing quality public education. We also must be vigilant to ensure that, if the BC government is required to put more money into public education in order to fund increased staffing levels required by any agreement it may reach with the BCTF, it does not “make up” for that increased funding by clawing back money from other areas of public education. There is history to support this caution: In 2014, the BC government promised to “fully fund” the costs of the settlement it reached with the BCTF that year; yet in Budget 2015, the BC government forced districts to make $54 million in “administrative” cuts. Due to the years of previous cuts leaving no “low hanging fruit” to cut, those “administrative” cuts resulted in direct effects on kids and their ability to equitably access quality public education.

We will be watching to make sure that the BC government does not attempt to minimize the costs of a negotiated agreement on class size and composition by making cuts in other areas such as seismic upgrades, maintenance, and support services. There is no area of public education in which further cuts can be justified. What public education needs is improved, stable, predictable funding that allows districts to provide quality education to all learners in seismically safe buildings.

***

Useful links

(Download PDF version of this statement.)

SD5 asks why BC’s government fails to prioritize public education

The board of School District 5, Southeast Kootenay, has written to BC’s Minister of Finance and Minister of Education regarding its $6.5 million shortfall and the ongoing need for stable, predictable, and adequate funding for public education in British Columbia. The letter is below; you can also find it in pdf form here.

You can write to BC’s political leaders too, using our quick and easy email tool.

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-12-04-46-pm

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-12-04-59-pm

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-12-05-17-pm

FACE calls for federal funding for seismic upgrades

On the day that children across BC practised the ShakeOut earthquake drill, FACE BC has joined the Parent Advocacy Network, First Call BC, the Vancouver DPAC, Comox Valley Families for Public Education, Richmond Schools Stand United, and Surrey Students Now in advocating for federal funding for urgently needed public school seismic upgrades.

Read our letter to Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister & Minister for Youth; Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure; and Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety.

UPDATE: Media coverage of the call for urgent seismic upgrade funding:

The Province op-ed by Jen Stewart/PAN, October 19.

The Globe & Mail article, October 25.

CBC On the Coast interview and article, October 26.

FACE response to dismissal of the VSB*

The Vancouver School Board’s problems are, for the most part, the problems shared by all districts in the province and caused by the provincial government. All boards have been starved of funds via the per pupil funding model and have been forced to make cuts that reduce the quality of education and equity of access to education. The province has a duty to provide quality public education to all learners; but, rather than fulfill that duty, it has required boards to cut staff, services, maintenance, and programs in order to balance underfunded budgets.

Closing schools in an attempt to address operational budget shortfalls does not work: for example, Prince George has closed 21 schools yet still must make cuts to its operational needs every year in order to balance an underfunded budget. That public education is underfunded is a fact acknowledged even by the government MLAs on the Select Standing Committee for Government and Finance.

Boards have also had to deal with strings tied to what should be the fundamental first priority of all governments: children’s safety. Forcing a board to pack too many kids into too few schools with not enough services in order to potentially provide seismic safety to other kids in other schools is unconscionable. 

In addition to the issues that face all districts, Vancouver’s board was divided along partisan lines. It had essentially become a board of one: since the last election, the lone Green trustee’s vote was the only one that counted on contentious issues, as she broke the stalemate between the four NPA trustees and the four Vision trustees. Now Vancouver has another one-person board, this time appointed by the provincial government.

The question parents and voters have is: Will the minister’s appointee act in the long-term interests of the community and stand up for the quality of education that BC’s kids deserve, or will she make the cuts demanded by a provincial government that sees education as only a cost to be minimized rather than an investment in the future? Parents and others who care about public education will be watching.

*On Monday, October 17, the Minister of Education dismissed the elected Vancouver School Board trustees and replaced them with an appointed trustee.

FACE at Budget 2017 Consultations

sd38 sidewalk chalk 2014

On September 19, 2016, Jen Stewart and Carrie Bercic of FACE appeared before the BC Legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, which is consulting citizens about priorities for Budget 2017. The Committee will issue a report in November, making recommendations to the Finance Minister for the upcoming budget.

We asked the Committee to once again recommend increasing operational and capital funding for public education to a level adequate for districts to provide quality public education to all learners in safe buildings.

We also urged the Committee to once again recommend a review of the way that public education is funded, because the per-pupil funding model is not working.

You can find our submission in pdf form here. To listen to our presentation, go to the Committee’s page, find the date Monday September 19th, and click the Audio link. Our presentation begins at about 5:20:00.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

The deadline for completing the survey or making a submission is October 14, 2016.

Update: Here are some of the points we made during our presentation that are not included in our written submission:

  • Closing schools, increasing class sizes, and closing or reducing funding for special programs will lead to more children falling through the cracks and failing to graduate, without the special classes and smaller class sizes they need to succeed, whether due to disability or gifted status. Reducing graduation requirements in order to boost graduation rates is no answer to this problem; it does not give our children the tools they need to succeed and will ultimately result in many of the same costs associated with lower graduation rates.
  • Closing schools to save money does not resolve operational budget issues. For example, Prince George has closed 21 schools in recent years yet still had a budget shortfall this spring, due to insufficient operational funding.
  • Fundraising inequitably subsidizes the education system to a huge degree: In 2013/14, six districts raised over $6 million, and these are just the funds the districts had figures for (ie likely not including smaller PAC fundraising efforts like bakesales, plant sales, coffee sales, etc., that don’t usually result in a receipt for tax deduction purposes). http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2016/01/05/donations-increasingly-funding-bc-schools.
  • The recently announced tax credit for school supplies amounts to $12.50 per year per child for families who are above the income threshold for paying income taxes. This amount ($1 per month) will not make an appreciable difference in family finances, but it would go much further if it was put into the educational system and its benefits were thus pooled. Teachers have pointed out that $1 per student per month would make a large difference in the resources they are able to purchase for their classrooms, such as 3-D printers and other equipment.

 

Richmond Rally for Public Education

160917_rssu_rally_0001_web

Led by Richmond Schools Stand United, kids, parents, grandparents, and concerned community members rallied in Richmond on September 17, 2016, to protest school closures and the continued underfunding of public education. Jen Stewart of FACE spoke about provincial underfunding and Andrea Sinclair of the Parent Advocacy Network talked about the importance of advocacy.

(Photo and videos by Amanda Hillis)

Token tax break won’t fix underfunding

The government’s latest attempt to appease parents is a school-supplies tax credit that amounts to $12.50 per child per year. We have several issues with this:

  1. The $12.50 will only go to those who pay income tax, which doesn’t include the lowest-earning families, who will still have to pay for school supplies.
  2. Foregoing taxes reduces the government’s revenues and provides an excuse to plead poverty and cut education funding even more.
  3. A dollar per month per child will have little or no impact on a family’s finances, but it could go much further if it was put into the education system where it belongs. Several teachers have tweeted that they could really use $1 per month per student to properly equip their classrooms.
  4. $12.50 per year is nowhere near the amount that has been downloaded to parents, who are required to pay for items like music lessons, tutoring, and assessments to make up for cuts to the system. And that’s in addition to all the subsidies provided by PAC fundraising.

Use our email tool to write to your MLA, the premier, and the minister of education, and tell them that our kids, our families, and our society deserve adequately funded public education, not token tax breaks.