Can you hear us now? Public education needs stable adequate funding

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Use the latest version of our quick and easy email tool to write to the government and leaders of the opposition parties, to tell them what you expect your government to do in the long-term interests of public education. Continue reading Can you hear us now? Public education needs stable adequate funding

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Chilliwack DPAC advocacy letter

The District Parents Advisory Council (DPAC) in Chilliwack, SD 33, has written to local MLAs, stating that parents are “exceedingly dissatisfied” and want their MLAs to advocate for increased public education funding.

The Chilliwack DPAC has asked us to post the letter here as an example of DPAC advocacy, and they hope that other DPACs around the province will join them in advocating for better public education funding. The text of the letter follows; you can also find it in PDF form here.

Chilliwack District Parents Advisory Council

May 19, 2016

John Martin, MLA                                Laurie Throness, MLA

Re: Parent advocacy for increased funding to public education in BC

Dear Mr. Martin and Mr. Throness,

At our April 21st meeting, the Chilliwack District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) voted unanimously in favour of initiating a district wide parent advocacy project. Our membership has grown significantly, and we have committed to spreading awareness regarding the negative impacts underfunding has had on the public school system in Chilliwack and throughout the province. Please accept this open letter as official notice that the Chilliwack DPAC is looking to you for support, as you represent the views of your constituents. Parents of public school students in Chilliwack make up a great portion of your constituents, and we are exceedingly dissatisfied.

Many DPAC discussions throughout the year focus on the amount of time and effort PACs spend fundraising. Cuts to public education funding in BC have been on-going for more than a decade and PACs are expected by school administration and school board staff to simply fill the gaps. It is our belief that this is causing parents to disassociate from their school’s PAC, and ultimately be less involved in their children’s education. This is detrimental to students, parents, and the operation of the PAC, and will have long-term negative effects on society.

The Chilliwack DPAC is the legislated voice of parents at the district level consisting of representatives from the individual school PACs in School District (SD) 33. One of several purposes of the DPAC is to promote the interests of public education and, in particular, the interests of SD 33. Currently, the DPAC believes that it is in the best interest of SD 33 and public education province wide, to speak out against the chronic underfunding of our public education system, and highlight the negative impacts this has had on our students and their families. This includes, but is certainly not limited to the following:

  • Since districts were required by the provincial government to make “administrative cuts” in 2014/15 and again in 2015/16, Chilliwack operates with $1.3M less per year, increasing the pressure on parents to subsidize public education.
  • Technology upgrade costs, specifically the Next Generation Network which was formally funded by the provincial government, have been downloaded onto the district. This cost the district $563,000 in the 2015/16 school year, $115,000 for the 2016/17 school year, and will become a regular line item, coming out of the already stripped operating budget.
  • Bussing fees ranging from $215 – $350/student have been downloaded onto parents.
  • Per pupil funding for students enrolled full-time is a paltry $7,158. It will increase by $8 for the 2016/17 school year; however, a $64 increase would be necessary to simply cover collective agreement increases. Thus, students will actually receive less.
  • Custodial services have been drastically reduced; square footage of schools has increased by 78% since 1992, yet maintenance and custodial manpower has decreased. The only area of any school in the district that still gets cleaned as thoroughly and as frequently, are washrooms. No other areas can be kept up to previous standards. At the elementary level primary desks are only cleaned every second day and intermediate desks are only cleaned once a week. These desks double as eating tables for students, creating an opportune breeding ground for germs and bacteria.
  • Learning Assistance/Resource Teacher hours have been reduced. As a cost saving measure, the responsibilities of these positions have been downloaded onto administrative staff despite the fact that this goes against the recommendations made in the Special Education Report by Dr. Carter in 2013. SOURCE http://ssc.sd33.bc.ca/sites/default/files/Special%20Education%20Review%20Report%202012.pdf
  • In 2014/15, staff replacement costs were upwards of $500,000. The district experienced a significant increase in absenteeism, particularly of support staff employees, likely due to low workplace morale and an ever increasing workload for those whose hours weren’t reduced. In anticipation of continued high absenteeism, it will be necessary to increase the replacement staff budget. When support staff employees are absent, the most vulnerable students go without support, negatively affecting the entire classroom.

In addition to all of this, while BC is spending less on public education and communities are forced to close schools, $358M is going to fund private, independent schools. This is a gross misuse of public funds as these schools are exclusive and not accountable to the public.

Clearly, underfunding of BC’s public education system is not a myth, and the low-hanging fruit has long been picked. School District 33 already saves money by participating in shared services, and they have reduced district staff personnel. Parents are asked to fundraise for playgrounds, library books, on-line math and reading programs, sports equipment, and even text books. Some PACs have even been asked to pay for water fountains, classroom fixtures, and carpet. Parent fundraising has gone way beyond enhancing students’ educational experiences, and in some cases is necessary to keep the school operational. This is unacceptable, especially to students attending schools in less affluent neighbourhoods where parents may be unable to contribute financially to fundraising. This creates a gap between have and have-not schools and means some students are not provided with the same resources and opportunities as their peers in neighbouring schools.

The British Columbia School Act states that:

…it is the goal of a democratic society to ensure that all its members receive an education that enables them to become literate, personally fulfilled and publicly useful, thereby increasing the strength and contributions to the health and stability of that society.

If the government continues to reduce the amount allocated to public education in BC’s budget, it will soon become impossible to fulfill the British Columbia School Act mandate stated above. In addition, the School Act states that the PAC’s legislated purpose is to advise the board, principal and staff on any matter relating to the school. PAC constitutional duties include promoting parent involvement, educating parents on their rights within the school system, organizing community-building events, and contributing to the overall effectiveness of the school. However, the role of the PAC has shifted and because the focus is fundraising, the legislated purpose and constitutional duties of the PAC can no longer be fulfilled. Thus, the Chilliwack District Parent Advisory Council will continue to speak out against the chronic and unacceptable underfunding of public education in BC.

It is time for public education funding to increase so that all students have access to quality education, and so that parents can return to their roles assisting and supporting students, and promoting the interests of public education. We ask that you join us in advocating for the public school students in Chilliwack, and lobby the provincial government for increased funding in order to provide an equitable education for all students in SD 33, and across the province.

We thank you in advance for your much needed assistance in this important matter.

Sincerely,

Justine Hodge

President of the District Parent Advisory Council

SD 33, Chilliwack

cc: Mike Bernier, Minister of Education; Evelyn Novak, Superintendent of Schools; Silvia Dyck, Board Chair and DPAC Liaison

Seeing through the spin on public education spending

We think it is vitally important for the citizens of BC to demand accuracy and accountability from our elected representatives, so we were very glad to hear some education funding statements fact-checked on CBC Radio recently, and we hope to see and hear more media fact-checking in the future. In the meantime, here’s a little of our own fact-checking:

Statement #1: “110 million extra dollars to education this year”

This statement was made by MLA Dan Ashton and was analyzed by the CBC in its fact-checking segment; education minister Mike Bernier used the same wording in a different CBC interview. Presumably what this number refers to is the “total” line for the education budget (exclusive of capital spending), which is approximately $110 million more in 2016 than it was in 2015. What the MLA and the minister didn’t mention is that $48 million of that “extra” money is going to “independent” (private) schools and $36 million of it is going to “other partners” (eg, public libraries).

Public schools operational funding (instruction, administration, Learning Improvement Fund) is being increased by only $28 million. That is a less than 1% increase over last year, which amounts to a cut because inflation is 1.9%. (Not to mention more costs have been added; see Statement #2.)

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Statement #2: “These are local decisions.”

When faced with pleas to save a school or program, provincial politicians often distance themselves by saying these are “local decisions” to be made by the boards.

Yes, the difficult decisions regarding which schools to close and which programs to cut are made by the local school board, but the larger context cannot be ignored: the cuts are necessary because of provincial decisions. The provincial government controls the school boards’ funding and, to a large degree, the costs that boards face. Every time the province raises Hydro rates, MSP rates, ICBC rates, etc., and doesn’t increase education funding proportionately, that amounts to a cut to boards’ budgets. Additionally, the provincial government has a history of making spending decisions (for example, negotiating wage increases with employees, or constructing the Next Generation Network) and then pushing those costs onto the boards without increasing funding. The provincial pattern of downloading costs and not increasing funding is detailed in this letter written by School District 5 and this statement by School District 28.

Statement #3: “The Vancouver and Saanich school districts are the only ones facing a budget shortfall.”

The Times Colonist quoted education minister Mike Bernier saying this on May 14, 2016. By that date, FACE already had 30 districts on our shortfall list, with a combined shortfall of over $84 million. The only thing unique about Vancouver and Saanich was that those trustees had put their foot down about making cuts to cover their shortfalls.

*New* Statement #4: Cuts and closures are necessary “due to declining enrolment.”

Provincial politicians often cite “declining enrolment” as a reason that boards need to close schools or make cuts. This implies that enrolment growth would solve the problem.

However, even districts with growing enrolment, such as Surrey, Sooke, and Maple Ridge, are facing operating budget shortfalls. So enrolment growth on its own is no magic bullet, and the per-pupil amount of funding is clearly insufficient to cover costs. (The per-pupil funding model has many drawbacks: it is unpredictable and punishes kids in districts with declining enrolment, but that is a discussion for another post.)

Context is key

We will keep checking the education funding facts, because it is important for citizens to have correct information. Without context, background, and accuracy, numbers are essentially meaningless.

For more context, questions, and answers, look here.

“Why has the government de-prioritized public education?”

***Update April 26, 2016: PAN has now posted a document that contains some answers to its questions as well as some corrections to figures used in the questions. Find it here.***

Members of the Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education have put together a list of questions about the BC education budget for 2016. The document includes information and figures in context that will be very helpful to parents/citizens who have been hearing the government spin on education funding.

You can find the questions here:  pan_questions_on_bc_budget_2016_moe_final

And here is the cover letter/media release that sets out the over-arching policy question:

“Why has the government de-prioritized public education?” Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education Questions BC Budget 2016

VANCOUVER — Following the February 16 announcement of BC Budget 2016, and in anticipation of the Ministry of Education budget estimates being discussed in the Legislature, members of the Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN) have been examining the funding figures and have posed a number of questions about the K-12 education budget.

Taking into account inflation, Ministry of Education funding has fallen by 11% since 2002. Furthermore, the percentage of nominal GDP that BC spends on education as a function has also decreased since 2002. Economic growth has not been reflected in education funding. Our over-arching question is “Why has the government de-prioritized public education?”

Supporting this over-arching question are several detail-oriented questions that result from a close examination of the education funding figures. As citizens, parents, and taxpayers in British Columbia, PAN members are looking for answers to these questions in order to understand how funding is allocated to the school districts, independent (private) schools, and other partners.

PAN has submitted these questions to the BC Liberal government, the NDP opposition, the Green Party, and the Independent MLAs in the Legislature, as well as to the media. PAN hopes to gain a better understanding of the budget details in the answers to these questions. PAN also hopes that by asking these questions, and prompting others to ask them too, some light will be shed on the stark reality that education funding in BC is inadequate. It is time to take action to put education back in the priority position it deserves.

What’s Happening to Public Education in BC?

IMG_0036“What’s Happening to Public Education in BC?” is now updated for 2016: FACE Pamphlet March 2016. This pamphlet was created by FACE–Vancouver, but it contains information that applies across BC. Download it, print it, and pass it out!

We also have a fact sheet with sources for the information in the pamphlet: EducationFacts-March2016.

Nanaimo: Let’s FACE the facts about our public schools

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FACE–Nanaimo has created an information sheet that contains facts specific to School District 68 as well as province-wide funding facts. View it here (by clicking the photo on the right), or download the pdf: faceNanaimo.

5 ways parents can advocate for better education funding

Talk to the media

Put a face to the underfunding: news outlets like to be able to tell stories about specific people and their experiences. Find contact info on websites for newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.

For example, CBC has its “Go Public” feature and some papers have education reporters, eg: Cheryl Rossi at the Vancouver Courier (@Cheryl_Rossi) and Tracy Sherlock at The Vancouver Sun (tsherlock@vancouversun.com).

Examples of parents in the news:
Fed up mom refusing to pay for school’s photocopy paper
For Vancouver Parents, School Fundraising ‘Has Become Our Lives’

Talk to your elected representatives

Find contact information for MLAs (your representatives in the provincial legislature), the premier, and the ministers of education and finance here.

Tell them what you want them to do to improve public education.

Talk to parents around you

Tell other parents the facts about education budget cuts. Post the articles listed above on your PAC’s bulletin board. Download and post this information (pdf) and the FACE pamphlet (pdf) too.

Connect with groups advocating for public education

Families Against Cuts to Education (FACE):
facebc.wordpress.com; @FACE_BC; facebc.vancouver@gmail.com

Parent Advocacy Network (parents from PACs in Vancouver): PANVancouver.caparentadvocacynetwork@gmail.com

BC Parents of Special Needs Children (Action for Equitable Access to Education): https://equitableaccesstoeducation.wordpress.com

Facebook groups such as:
BC Citizens for Public Education;
Watchdogs of Public Education BC;
BC voters supporting BC teachers and public education
Families Against Cuts to Education – FACE Vancouver

On Twitter follow #BCed