Public Education Advocacy Continues

Parent advocacy continues and grassroots parent groups are working together now more than ever. On December 1, 2017, six parent advocacy groups—BCEdAccessNanaimo Parents Supporting Public EducationParent Advocacy Network (incl FACE), Richmond Schools Stand UnitedSeismic Safety For BC SchoolsSurrey Students Now—met with BC Premier John Horgan and Minister of Education Rob Fleming. The representatives of these six groups spoke with Premier Horgan and Minister Fleming about some key issues facing the public education system. Together, the parent representatives made six recommendations to the government.

Find the full statement here.

 

 

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FACE update: Merging with PAN

Over the last couple of years, FACE has worked closely with the Parent Advocacy Network to advocate for public education in BC. We share the same goal: equitable quality public education in safe schools for all of BC’s children. So it is time to merge with PAN in order to avoid duplication of effort.

We will continue to maintain this website and our social media presence, as we want to emphasize that you don’t need to be a parent to care about public education.

Thank you for supporting FACE and PAN and public education in our province.

FACE participates in BC Budget 2018 consultation

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is conducting consultations until October 16, 2017, prior to making recommendations to government on Budget 2018. Go to their consultation portal to fill in a survey or make a submission.

Below is FACE’s submission. You can also find it here in PDF form.

Who we are

Families Against Cuts to Education (FACE) is a non-partisan, inclusive group representing parents and other citizens who are concerned about public education funding levels in BC and want to see public education treated as an important investment in the future rather than an expense to be minimized. We advocate for public education as a social good that benefits not only BC’s children, but also BC’s society more broadly.

Endorsement of submissions by other groups

In addition to our submission below, we endorse and applaud the submissions made by the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) and the Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN). In the interest of brevity, and to avoid repetition, we echo the points made in their submissions and urge you to implement their recommendations.

Public education in BC continues to be underfunded

FACE made submissions to this Committee in 2015 and in 2016; subsequently, in both of those years, the Committee made recommendations to increase public education funding. Unfortunately, the Committee’s recommendations with regard to public K-12 education were largely ignored in the 2016 and 2017 budgets, and it is necessary for us to repeat our call for increased funding.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) in its case against the government of BC. This resulted in an agreement with the BCTF with regard to increased hiring of teachers to meet class size and composition requirements, and more money has been allocated to pay for this agreement with the BCTF. This increased funding was included in the September 2017 Budget Update. But funding outside of the BCTF agreement has remained stagnant; therefore, many issues of underfunding continue to exist and grow in public education.

Year after year, districts throughout the province have been required to make cuts in order to balance their budgets and make up for the shortfall between the actual costs of running a district and the amount allocated to them by the government. For example, in budget season 2016, we compiled a list of 31 districts that had a combined shortfall of $85.28 million. Examples of the types of cuts made—and often compounded year after year—were listed by the BC School Trustees’ Association (BCSTA) in 2015:

  • Reduction or elimination of student bussing (once considered a core service)
  • Implementation of monthly student transportation fees
  • Increased class sizes and the loss of elective classes
  • Reduced support services for students including fewer Education Assistant hours
  • Reduced school supply budgets affecting the classroom directly
  • Reduced support for teacher and school-based innovation projects
  • Program, classroom and school closures
  • Expanded introduction of a two-week spring break and fewer school days
  • Reduced building and grounds maintenance, supplies and summer work
  • Deferment or cancellation of technology upgrades and implementation
  • Reduced library time and fewer library services for students
  • Loss of co-curricular music and arts programs
  • Reduced funding for students’ extracurricular programs such as sports
  • Reduced custodial services for schools
  • Reductions in school and district administration services
  • Delayed replacement of text books and library books
  • Higher costs for community groups wanting to use school facilities

Most of these cuts to programs and services relate to items outside the scope of the court case and therefore have not been alleviated by the increased funding related to the agreement with the BCTF. In other words, these cuts remain in force and will continue or worsen unless operational funding is increased to address these costs.

We will expand below on a couple of the items listed by the BCSTA, but want to emphasize that reversing all of these cuts is necessary in order to provide quality equitable public education to all of BC’s learners.

With regard to cuts to custodial services, a 2017 Canadian Union of Public Employees survey of custodial staff “found that 55.4% of staff don’t believe they’re able to maintain a clean and safe school.”

With regard to reduced building and grounds maintenance, the cost of accumulated deferred maintenance across the province has been estimated at $5 billion. Health issues such as lead and asbestos in schools have not been properly addressed, and many buildings have been allowed to decay into decrepitude. Our children spend their days in these buildings; they deserve better.

One way to address the outstanding deferred maintenance is to build new replacement schools as part of the Seismic Mitigation Program. New schools are designed to be usable immediately after a quake (unlike retrofitted buildings, which are only designed to allow exit during the quake), and building new addresses issues such as asbestos, lead, leaky roofs, ancient boilers, and inefficient windows, that would not be covered by seismic retrofitting.

The new provincial government has promised to speed up the Seismic Mitigation Program and to build new schools in areas where demand has increased (such as Surrey, Chilliwack, and parts of Vancouver, to name a few). Unfortunately, this promise was not matched with increased capital funding for the 2017/18 year in the September 2017 Budget Update. Capital funding for safe replacement schools and necessary new schools is crucial to ensure the safety of the thousands of children and adults who spend their days in BC’s public schools, and to ensure that community hubs exist and children do not spend their school years in portables.

The current funding model is not working

Persistent underfunding of the public education system is the root cause of the issues discussed above. Furthermore, the per-pupil model of funding implemented in 2002 is innately unpredictable and makes it very difficult for districts to make long-term plans. In addition, the provincial government has a history of dictating what funding will be given to the districts, without consulting the districts as to what their costs are, and leaving them to scramble to address shortfalls. We reiterate our call for a commission to review the funding model with the aim of moving to a model that includes cooperation and consultation with districts in order to provide funding that is predictable, stable, and sufficient to provide quality equitable public education to BC’s children.

Summary

 We urge the Committee to recommend that the government

  • increase operational funding to reflect the actual costs of providing quality equitable public education;
  • increase capital funding to address deferred maintenance, speed up the Seismic Mitigation Program, and build needed new schools; and
  • appoint a commission to find a cooperative funding model that ensures stable, predictable, and adequate funding.

2017/18 Shortfall List

UPDATE JUNE 26, 2017: The Ministry of Education has revised the amount of funding it will be sending to districts to fund the changes needed to comply with the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on class size and composition contract language. The resulting amounts indicate that some districts will have trouble complying with the court order; for example, one district, Vancouver, is receiving $22 million LESS than the Ministry originally promised; Saanich is short $1.5 million; and Richmond is now $7 million in the hole. 

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In light of these new numbers and the current state of flux of the provincial government, it is currently very difficult to tell exactly which districts are facing shortfalls and how much they are short. We’ll keep an eye on the situation, but until there is some certainty it is not possible to compile an accurate shortfall list.

 

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Last year we compiled a list of 33 school districts with a combined shortfall of $85.28 million for the 2016/17 school year before the province stepped in with various funding announcements that partly alleviated the shortfalls.

 

Unfortunately, school districts are once again beginning to announce anticipated shortfalls and the need for cuts, despite the government’s claim of “new” funding for public education in the 2017 budget. The “new” funding is going mainly to cover salaries for the teachers that must be hired to address class-size and composition pursuant to the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on the government’s breach of teachers’ Charter rights in 2002; some of it is also going toward funding new students entering the system. But districts face many costs that won’t be covered—costs that have been downloaded to them by government or that have grown over the years without a corresponding increase in funding. The BC School Trustees’ Association estimates that there are $96 million in unfunded costs outstanding for the 2017/18 year, and that is not including costs that will arise out of the class-size and composition changes.

 

So it is time for us to begin the list of shortfalls for 2017/18.

Running total (as of May 3, 2017): districts, combined $5.05 million (or more)* shortfall.

SD 37, Delta: estimated $2 million shortfall.

SD 38, Richmond: estimated $10.5 million $0 shortfall (updated May 3/17).

SD 39, Vancouver: estimated $12 million $2.1 million* shortfall (updated April 6/17).

SD 63, Saanich: estimated $950,000 shortfall.

*Note: The Ministry of Education seems to disagree with the Vancouver board’s use of class size and composition funding to reduce its shortfall, so this number is subject to change.

If you have shortfall information, please email us at facebc.vancouver@gmail.com or contact us on Twitter (@FACE_BC). We only post shortfall information that is documented, ie not word of mouth.

Statement on Budget 2017

In response to last week’s announcement of BC Budget 2017,  FACE and PAN today issued the following media release in cooperation with six other parent and advocacy groups:

“Status Quo” Budget Not Acceptable—Government Does Bare Minimum for Public Education

The BC government has characterized its 2017 Fiscal Plan as “providing an additional $740 million over three years to the education budget.” However, this budget does not put sufficient money behind the Finance Minister’s statement that education is the “most important” service the government provides. Budget 2017 does not redress the current deficiencies in our public education system nor does it provide the adequate, predictable, and sustainable funding necessary to ensure a quality equitable education for all children.

The Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN) in cooperation with parent and advocacy groups–Chilliwack DPAC, Comox Valley Families for Public Education, Families Against Cuts to Education, Public Education Network Society, Richmond Schools Stand United, Seismic Safety for BC Schools Committee, Surrey Students Now—are deeply disappointed by the government’s allocation of funds for public education within Budget 2017.

While it is a relief to have a budget without overt cuts to public education, parents across BC know that this is the bare minimum that government is obligated to provide without being in contempt of court or in contravention of its own per-pupil funding formula. “This budget does not address the systemic, structural inadequacy of the per-pupil funding model that continues to undermine and erode our public education system. The government again cut education funding in last year’s budget and this one barely maintains the scarce status quo. This is unacceptable after 15 years of cumulative cuts,” said parent and PAN co-founder Andrea Sinclair.

We acknowledge and welcome the $320 million in provisional funding allocated to comply with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling and restore class size and composition language that was unlawfully removed from contracts in 2002, and we expect that the full amount will be reflected in the revised budget once a final settlement has been reached. This money will enable school districts to begin to address untenable classroom conditions and improve supports for students with special learning needs.

In response to the budget, the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) stated: “Beyond funding additional teachers, school trustees will be looking for government to meet their commitment to funding such key needs as additional classrooms, corresponding support staff increases and school district operational budgets.” These needs are not currently addressed in Budget 2017, and will not be covered by the settlement with the teachers. Like the BCSTA, we expect government to provide the requisite funding to meet these increased costs.

The government states that it is “adding” $228 million over three years to address increased enrolment levels. To call this “additional” funding is disingenuous: increasing funding to reflect enrolment growth according its own per-pupil formula is the government’s legal obligation and not a funding increase. The government has failed to address the fact that the current per-pupil funding amount, which doesn’t even reflect inflation, is insufficient for school districts to meet the educational needs of BC’s children.

Similarly, reinstating previously funded services such as busing in rural areas is not “extra” funding, nor is the partial return of forced “administrative savings.” In November 2016, BCSTA advised government that school districts would require an additional $96 million for 2017/18 above and beyond these “relief” funds restored in the spring of 2016, merely to maintain services at current levels. As a result of this $96 million structural deficit, school districts with stable or declining enrolment will once again need to cut programming and vital student supports.

Parents cannot be placated with a one-time $27.4 million Student Learning Grant for supplies to “help defray” fundraising pressures. A one-off partial restoration of the $29 million that was stripped from operational funding in 2015, which amounts to little more than $50 per student, is insulting to parents and demonstrates a complete failure to comprehend the degree to which underfunding has decimated public education. The government must do more than “help defray costs”; it is the government’s duty to provide a quality and fully funded public education that encompasses the full curriculum and is accessible to all children regardless of ability or economic means.

Budget 2017 does not provide supports for the thousands of children designated with special needs that do not qualify for funding under the current model. It does not provide relief for children living in poverty, who require additional supports to succeed in school. It does not restore the staff or resources necessary to support arts education in elementary schools. It does not allow high schools to offer the full range of core and elective courses reflected in the new curriculum. It does not address the cumulative deficit of digital technologies, books, equipment, and educational supplies, including furniture, which schools rely on parents and charitable organizations to provide. It does not provide the funding necessary for districts to begin to address the hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance that is evident in the decrepit state of many school buildings.

The government’s continued failure to provide adequate, predictable, and sustainable funding for K-12 public education to meet the learning needs of all students and the resulting disparity between educational equality based on economic advantage that is occurring as a direct result is in contravention of the democratic purpose of education as set out in the BC School Act.

We reiterate our call on the provincial government to increase K-12 public education annual operational funding by 20% to redress all of the current deficiencies and reprioritize our education system to ensure an equitable quality education for all children.

See Provincial Letter and Declaration in Defence of Public Education.
(download pdf version)

Declaration in Defence of Public Education

Today, FACE was among nine education advocacy groups, led by the Parent Advocacy Network, that issued a Declaration in Defence of Public Education and wrote to the BC government demanding that it provide sufficient funding to meet its mandate to equitably provide quality public education to all of BC’s children.

Read the letter and the declaration on PAN’s website.

Feb 6 Public Education forum

This Monday, February 6, join us for a discussion of the purpose of public education, the current state of public education in British Columbia, and what concerned citizens can do now.

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