Mike Bernier, the minister of education, recently appeared to discuss “Education Matters” on Voice of BC with Vaughn Palmer. You can watch the interview here. It lasts an hour and covers a wide range of topics; below are some observations related to funding-specific issues they discussed.
About 2:15 mark:
Palmer & Bernier remark how expensive new schools are. (“Almost as much as a bridge!”) The funding announced for the New Westminster Secondary replacement this week is about $100 million (“the largest ever capital investment in BC education”) and the new Argyle Secondary also announced this week is receiving about $40 million in funding. For context, here is how much money has been or will be spent on some other capital projects, both past and future:
- BC Place roof replacement: $563 million
- Vancouver Convention Centre West: $883 million
- Massey Tunnel replacement bridge: $3.5 billion estimated
- Site C Dam: $9 billion estimated
About 4:30 mark:
Palmer asks Bernier if there will be any relief for Osoyoos losing its only high school. The short answer is “no.” Bernier relies on the government talking points of “local decisions” and “declining enrolment.” Those and other lines are examined here.
Bernier states that some Vancouver schools are operating at 25-30% capacity, leaving the impression that that number is representative of capacity in Vancouver. At pages 53-54 of the Vancouver Long Range Facilities Plan background document, it is clear that 1 school is at 28% capacity and 1 is at 32%; it is also clear that there are 31 schools that are between 100% and 140% full. The minister didn’t mention those overcrowded schools and the communities in Vancouver that have been waiting years for new schools.
Bernier mentions the EY report that found that closing schools could save the VSB $37 million. If that is true, it is still less than half of the $80 million the VSB needs in its annual operating budget to provide the same level of service that it did in 2002 (including adjustments for enrolment and inflation.)
Bernier says that he has talked to parents in Vancouver. Parents in Vancouver don’t agree: the Parent Advocacy Network, which represents parents in over 70 Vancouver schools, has written to Bernier to request a meeting to discuss the budget. His response came through the media: he’s too busy to meet with parents.
Bernier discusses how the province is returning the $25 million in “administrative savings” that it forced boards to make in 2016. What he doesn’t mention is that the two-year total of administrative cuts is $54 million. There has been no move to return the $29 million cut in 2015.
Bernier is asked whether he’ll review the funding formula to make sure fixed education costs are met. He doesn’t give a direct answer but implies that the government is happy with the current per-pupil funding model (which essentially punishes students in districts with declining enrolment). This is despite the fact that the bi-partisan Legislative Standing Committee on Finance unanimously recommended a review of the current funding model so that “economic and community goals have a better chance of being realized.”
There is a question about funding for the coding portion of the new curriculum. The minister hints that funding is coming, and on June 10, 2016, he and Christy Clark announced $6 million for training and technology required for the new curriculum, including coding. This small amount is for public and private schools, is supposed to cover implementation of the entire new curriculum as well as purchase technology, and amounts to around $10 per student. Clearly, PACs will have to continue fundraising for the technology their kids need.
Bernier says, “Libraries are amazingly important.” Unfortunately, that attitude has not been reflected in the funding of school libraries: from 2001 to 2015, 345 full-time teacher-librarian positions were cut across BC. Many schools have a librarian only part-time. Furthermore, many PACs fundraise to buy books for their school library.