Budget 2016: Will BC’s government respect citizens’ priorities?

Budget Day, February 16, is fast approaching. In case you missed it, here is an opinion piece by FACE member Jennifer Stewart that appeared in the Vancouver Sun online, November 24, 2015.

Opinion: Basic school maintenance is nothing to crow about

During the past decade, many B.C. schools have fallen into disrepair as a result of funding cuts. This state of affairs was evident in two very revealing news pieces that came out in recent days.

The first concerned a special grant of funding to school boards for certain “routine capital upgrade projects.” The news focused on the Vancouver School Board’s indignation at being completely left out of this funding. The exclusion of Vancouver is troubling, but just as disturbing is what was mentioned at the end of The Vancouver Sun article on Nov. 12: B.C. Liberal MLAs had, for the previous week, been sending out media releases trumpeting the funds that school boards in their ridings were to receive.

What is wrong with this picture? Education funding in B.C. has been cut so far, and school boards have had to do without routine capital funding for so long, that basic necessities like new boilers and roof replacements are viewed as extraordinary and treated as patronage plums for MLAs to crow about. Doing the bare minimum to keep a school in working order is seen as remarkable.

This pathetic state of affairs is reflected in the second piece of news. On Nov. 13, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services released its report and recommendations for next year’s budget. The committee stated that, through a survey, it had found that public education is one of the highest priorities for B.C.’s citizens (along with health). However, it also stated “current funding levels and assistance are inadequate, which is causing significant operational and program delivery problems in schools throughout B.C.” It recommended “additional funding … to ensure the provision of quality public education and to properly meet the increased costs that schools are currently facing.”

As a representative of Families Against Cuts to Education, I was one of many people who made presentations to the committee about the urgent and long-standing need for adequate education funding. I am glad to know that the committee, which includes both government and opposition MLAs, heard us and made the unanimous recommendation for increased funding. Sadly, they made similar recommendations last year. Those recommendations were ignored in this year’s budget in favour of further cuts to public education ($54 million in “administrative savings”).

The government likes to argue that the cupboard is bare, so it must cut education funding rather than increase it.

There are two responses to this argument: First, British Columbians clearly indicated in the finance committee’s survey that B.C.’s vaunted budget surplus would be best spent on investments in infrastructure like schools.

Second, this is a matter of priorities. The B.C. Liberals have deprioritized and cut education funding at the same time that they green-lighted other infrastructure spending without a second thought. Practising selective austerity by repeatedly cutting the education budget while allowing massive projects like the $3-billion Massey Bridge to proceed without even a business plan is short-sighted and cruel — it penalizes children, and it shortchanges the future of the province.

Clearly, the citizens of B.C. want the government to fund public education properly — so that we not only have functional buildings, but the level of service that will allow the educational needs of all students to be met.

The B.C. Liberal MLAs on the finance committee obviously recognize that education is not being funded adequately and that the situation needs to be addressed. Will the government listen to its own MLAs? Will it finally hear the repeated pleas of its citizens for adequate education funding?

Decisions about next year’s budget are being made now. I urge British Columbians to write to their MLAs, the premier, and the minister of finance, telling them that enough is enough. It is time to do the right thing.

Jennifer Stewart is a founding member of Families Against Cuts to Education.


(There is still time to sign the petition in support of the Finance Committee’s recommendations for increased education funding.)