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.
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 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.
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.
Fill in the online survey. It only takes a couple of minutes to tell the government how you want it to spend our tax dollars.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Foregoing taxes reduces the government’s revenues and provides an excuse to plead poverty and cut education funding even more.
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.
$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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.