FACE at Budget 2017 Consultations

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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

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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.

Public Education Matters

On the evening of Wednesday, August 31st, advocates, community members, and politicians gathered at Vancouver’s Douglas Elementary for the “Public Education Matters” forum organized by the Parent Advocacy Network (PAN) and hosted by the Douglas PAC.

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Erica Jaaf of Douglas PAC welcomes attendees.

Alex Hemingway of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office presented his report entitled “What’s the real story behind BC’s education funding crisis?” (The real story is that the BC government underfunds public education and uses misleading figures to obscure the underfunding.)

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Alex Hemingway, CCPA

Andrea Sinclair of PAN next presented on advocacy: what it means and what it looks like. Advocacy means standing up for what you believe in. Andrea discussed how groups like PAN and FACE advocate in various ways for public education. She also explained the division of responsibilities within the education system.

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Andrea Sinclair, PAN

Jen Stewart of FACE and PAN joined Alex and Andrea on the panel for a question and answer session, which included many thoughtful questions from the audience.

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Alex Hemingway, Andrea Sinclair, Jen Stewart

An informal networking and discussion session followed. FACE had an information table and a video booth set up (to collect videos for our next edition of “Can You Hear Us Now?”; more info on that soon!).

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Catherine Shaw (left) represents FACE at the information table.

It was an informative and energizing way to prepare for the upcoming school year and all the advocacy that lies ahead. Many thanks to PAN for organizing and Douglas PAC for hosting.

If you have a Facebook account, you can find PAN’s Facebook Live broadcast of the evening here.

Next advocacy opportunities:

  1. Richmond Schools Stand United is organizing a rally on Saturday September 17, at 4:30 pm, outside MLA John Yap’s office in Steveston. Find the details here.
  2. The BC Legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Government and Finance will be holding public consultations around the province in September and October in order to prepare its recommendations for Budget 2017. Please register (beginning Sept. 6) to speak up for public education as a budget priority; alternatively, you can make a written, audio, or visual presentation and/or complete an online survey. Find information on registering, making submissions, and dates and locations here.

Upcoming event: 

On October 5th, The Tyee is hosting an evening called “The Future of Public Education: Beyond the Headlines.” Jen Stewart of FACE and PAN is one of the speakers. Find more information and buy your tickets here.

 

What’s old is “new” again

With the kids heading back to school next week, we are likely to hear many reminders of the BC government’s summer announcement of “new” funding for school bus services. What it is important to remember is that transportation was funded by school districts until the constant demand for cuts forced boards to either cancel bus services or start charging parents for the service.

In fact, the BC government suggested that boards cut transportation services or impose fees in order to meet its demand for $54 million in “administrative savings” in 2015 and 2016.  Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.15.01 PM

To learn more about this and other underfunding issues, come out to the back-to-school Public Education Matters forum hosted by the Parent Advocacy Network on August 31st. If you are not in Vancouver or not able to attend, PAN will have some Facebook Live coverage on its page.

UPDATE: One district, SD 37 (Delta), is eligible for only $42,000 from the “new” funding, which is only a small fraction of the $728,000 that was cut from its budget.

 

This month: PAN forum & #ReThinkEducation

The kids might still be on summer vacation but public education advocacy is a year-round necessity. Here are two advocacy items to check out this month:

PAN’s “Public Education Matters” Forum

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Mark your calendar for August 31st, and don’t forget to register if you need childcare. This is not just for parents—if you care about public education in BC, this evening is for you. You can find out more about guest speaker Alex Hemingway here.

#ReThinkEducation

As part of its #RethinkPoverty campaign, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s August focus is #RethinkEducation. Check out the website to see how education underfunding contributes to poverty issues in BC, and how prioritizing education will benefit all British Columbians.

BC’s government knows public education is underfunded

The BC government has a lot of spin lines it brings out to counter any argument that public education is underfunded:

The truth is that public education is underfunded. Parents know it, trustees know it, teachers know it.

And it turns out the government knows it too. Back in 2002, when now-Premier Christy Clark was Minister of Education, her government decided to “protect” education funding by arbitrarily capping it (in other words, when they said “protect,” they meant “cut”). The funding system that existed at that time was “program-and-cost” or “block” funding; the government was responsible for funding all the costs of education or deciding which areas to not fund. But because arbitrarily capping the education budget would mean that the government would not be able to meet costs, which would inevitably rise, that meant there would have to be cuts. The provincial government/Christy Clark didn’t want to take the heat for those inevitable cuts. And thus, program-and-cost funding was ditched and per-pupil funding was born, whereby the arbitrarily limited amount of funding is divided between districts based on enrolment numbers, and the districts must decide what (not “if,” because the government knew these cuts would happen) to cut.

All of this was explained in a 2002 Province column by Mike Smyth.* Everything that he and the government predicted would result from capping funds and moving to per-pupil funding has come to pass. We have had 14 years of school closures and devastating cuts to programs and services. Children have spent their entire K-12 span receiving less each year than the year before. And the cuts continue.

The government denial of underfunding continues as well, but it’s clear they have known all along that the system is underfunded. If they try any of their spin lines, just show them this, and tell them to keep their spin:

…Despite their election promise to “protect” education spending, the Liberals are actually cutting funding to many B.C. school districts. Some may have to close schools as a result. And the Liberals want to shift the blame for underfunding schools away from themselves and on to locally elected school boards.

Those are the recurring themes in a fascinating nine-page document I obtained Friday, the day Education Minister Christy Clark announced the government’s new “funding formula” for B.C. schools. It’s entitled “Cabinet Decision Document,” stamped “CONFIDENTIAL” and signed by Clark. The document reveals the reasons behind Friday’s move to per-student funding and away from the old system, known as “program-and-cost” funding.

The document, signed by Clark on Jan. 25, explains that the old formula obligated the government to “meet or manage each increase in cost or each new service offered by school boards.” But with total education funding now frozen — or “protected” in the Liberals’ language — the document warns the cabinet: “Given government’s direction that education funding will be flat over the next three years, the current program-and-cost funding formula will not work.

“The Ministry will be called upon to make decisions about which programs to cut or reduce in order to offset unavoidable cost increases. Responsibility for reductions will thus rest with the Ministry, not with the local school boards.”

The document details the political peril of sticking with the old funding formula. Under the heading “Disadvantages” (of the status quo), it says: “The province will be seen as responsible for funding all costs. With overall flat funding and rising costs, this option would require the minister to decide annually which programs and services should be cut throughout the province.”

Uh-oh! Christy Clark taking responsibility for cutting education programs? Can’t have that! The solution? Scrap the old system and bring in a new one based on student population. The key? Funding is tightly capped and individual boards decide where to cut, making them the bad guys…

– Mike Smyth 2002

Use our quick and easy email tool to tell the government and opposition leaders that you want stable, predictable, adequate funding for public education. It only takes a minute!

*Katie Hyslop of The Tyee found this old column and linked to it in a sidebar to her own recent article regarding underfunding.