As published in The Vancouver Sun
Education is always a hot topic for parents and in the past 13 years, it’s been a hot topic for everyone in B.C. who values public education.
With funding cuts, growing class sizes, overdue seismic upgrades, labour disruptions, court appeals, and — most recently — threatened school closures, there’s been plenty to talk about. Many B.C. citizens have been trying to engage Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender in a meaningful dialogue.
Politics have pervaded the education discussion to such a degree it seems almost impossible to imagine the various stakeholders making collective decisions that will lead to a better day in public education. This zero-sum political approach is counter-productive to the goal of delivering quality public education for our children. Clark recently indicated the government intends to move forward in a spirit of co-operation, putting disputes in the past to ensure quality public education in British Columbia. Despite the cynicism that might be felt by British Columbians who have heard these words before, we can only hope for her sincerity, as the current approach is untenable.
Clark’s comments were made in the wake of the Court of Appeal’s ruling (in the government’s favour) on April 30 in the long-running dispute with the B.C. Teachers Federation. While the court examined the stripping of class size and composition from teachers’ contracts as a labour issue, class size and composition is also a moral issue that goes to the core of our commitment to provide accessible public education to all learners, regardless of the diversity of their needs. Smaller class size contributes to academic success as well as longer-term success in life outcomes.
Recent reports indicate that the government’s Learning Improvement Fund has done little, if anything, to reduce class sizes or improve services for special needs children.
Class size and composition was one of many issues that spurred parents and other citizens in communities around the province to come together on April 12, under the name of Families Against Cuts to Education, to make their voices heard.
As a group and individually, members of FACE want the government to know that parents are tired of raising funds for essentials. We are worried about children in seismically-unsafe schools. We are disturbed by rat-infested schools, and distressed by the increasingly decrepit nature of many school facilities. We have written to the premier and the ministers of education and finance and received no response; when we organized rallies across the province to convey our message, our concerns were dismissed by Fassbender as “a myth.” This response not only sidesteps the ample evidence of education under-funding that is available in documented sources (you can find our sources on the FACE website), but also shows a disregard for the citizens Fassbender represents and for the “spirit of co-operation” Clark is calling for.
Public education is one of the highest priorities for B.C. citizens. One way to clear the toxic atmosphere surrounding public education and truly engage in a dialogue about the system’s future would be to establish a Royal Commission on education, which would be given the task of receiving input from all stakeholders, evaluating the information and ideas received in a truly non-partisan manner, and proposing a way forward that will work better for all concerned. We encourage Clark to establish such a commission, and we look forward to working together in a true spirit of cooperation in the best interests of British Columbia’s children and society.
Jennifer Stewart and Marlene Rodgers are two of the founders of Families Against Cuts to Education