FACE participates in BC Budget 2018 consultation

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is conducting consultations until October 16, 2017, prior to making recommendations to government on Budget 2018. Go to their consultation portal to fill in a survey or make a submission.

Below is FACE’s submission. You can also find it here in PDF form.

Who we are

Families Against Cuts to Education (FACE) is a non-partisan, inclusive group representing parents and other citizens who are concerned about public education funding levels in BC and want to see public education treated as an important investment in the future rather than an expense to be minimized. We advocate for public education as a social good that benefits not only BC’s children, but also BC’s society more broadly.

Endorsement of submissions by other groups

In addition to our submission below, we endorse and applaud the submissions made by the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) and the Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN). In the interest of brevity, and to avoid repetition, we echo the points made in their submissions and urge you to implement their recommendations.

Public education in BC continues to be underfunded

FACE made submissions to this Committee in 2015 and in 2016; subsequently, in both of those years, the Committee made recommendations to increase public education funding. Unfortunately, the Committee’s recommendations with regard to public K-12 education were largely ignored in the 2016 and 2017 budgets, and it is necessary for us to repeat our call for increased funding.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) in its case against the government of BC. This resulted in an agreement with the BCTF with regard to increased hiring of teachers to meet class size and composition requirements, and more money has been allocated to pay for this agreement with the BCTF. This increased funding was included in the September 2017 Budget Update. But funding outside of the BCTF agreement has remained stagnant; therefore, many issues of underfunding continue to exist and grow in public education.

Year after year, districts throughout the province have been required to make cuts in order to balance their budgets and make up for the shortfall between the actual costs of running a district and the amount allocated to them by the government. For example, in budget season 2016, we compiled a list of 31 districts that had a combined shortfall of $85.28 million. Examples of the types of cuts made—and often compounded year after year—were listed by the BC School Trustees’ Association (BCSTA) in 2015:

  • Reduction or elimination of student bussing (once considered a core service)
  • Implementation of monthly student transportation fees
  • Increased class sizes and the loss of elective classes
  • Reduced support services for students including fewer Education Assistant hours
  • Reduced school supply budgets affecting the classroom directly
  • Reduced support for teacher and school-based innovation projects
  • Program, classroom and school closures
  • Expanded introduction of a two-week spring break and fewer school days
  • Reduced building and grounds maintenance, supplies and summer work
  • Deferment or cancellation of technology upgrades and implementation
  • Reduced library time and fewer library services for students
  • Loss of co-curricular music and arts programs
  • Reduced funding for students’ extracurricular programs such as sports
  • Reduced custodial services for schools
  • Reductions in school and district administration services
  • Delayed replacement of text books and library books
  • Higher costs for community groups wanting to use school facilities

Most of these cuts to programs and services relate to items outside the scope of the court case and therefore have not been alleviated by the increased funding related to the agreement with the BCTF. In other words, these cuts remain in force and will continue or worsen unless operational funding is increased to address these costs.

We will expand below on a couple of the items listed by the BCSTA, but want to emphasize that reversing all of these cuts is necessary in order to provide quality equitable public education to all of BC’s learners.

With regard to cuts to custodial services, a 2017 Canadian Union of Public Employees survey of custodial staff “found that 55.4% of staff don’t believe they’re able to maintain a clean and safe school.”

With regard to reduced building and grounds maintenance, the cost of accumulated deferred maintenance across the province has been estimated at $5 billion. Health issues such as lead and asbestos in schools have not been properly addressed, and many buildings have been allowed to decay into decrepitude. Our children spend their days in these buildings; they deserve better.

One way to address the outstanding deferred maintenance is to build new replacement schools as part of the Seismic Mitigation Program. New schools are designed to be usable immediately after a quake (unlike retrofitted buildings, which are only designed to allow exit during the quake), and building new addresses issues such as asbestos, lead, leaky roofs, ancient boilers, and inefficient windows, that would not be covered by seismic retrofitting.

The new provincial government has promised to speed up the Seismic Mitigation Program and to build new schools in areas where demand has increased (such as Surrey, Chilliwack, and parts of Vancouver, to name a few). Unfortunately, this promise was not matched with increased capital funding for the 2017/18 year in the September 2017 Budget Update. Capital funding for safe replacement schools and necessary new schools is crucial to ensure the safety of the thousands of children and adults who spend their days in BC’s public schools, and to ensure that community hubs exist and children do not spend their school years in portables.

The current funding model is not working

Persistent underfunding of the public education system is the root cause of the issues discussed above. Furthermore, the per-pupil model of funding implemented in 2002 is innately unpredictable and makes it very difficult for districts to make long-term plans. In addition, the provincial government has a history of dictating what funding will be given to the districts, without consulting the districts as to what their costs are, and leaving them to scramble to address shortfalls. We reiterate our call for a commission to review the funding model with the aim of moving to a model that includes cooperation and consultation with districts in order to provide funding that is predictable, stable, and sufficient to provide quality equitable public education to BC’s children.

Summary

 We urge the Committee to recommend that the government

  • increase operational funding to reflect the actual costs of providing quality equitable public education;
  • increase capital funding to address deferred maintenance, speed up the Seismic Mitigation Program, and build needed new schools; and
  • appoint a commission to find a cooperative funding model that ensures stable, predictable, and adequate funding.

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2017/18 Shortfall List

UPDATE JUNE 26, 2017: The Ministry of Education has revised the amount of funding it will be sending to districts to fund the changes needed to comply with the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on class size and composition contract language. The resulting amounts indicate that some districts will have trouble complying with the court order; for example, one district, Vancouver, is receiving $22 million LESS than the Ministry originally promised; Saanich is short $1.5 million; and Richmond is now $7 million in the hole. 

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In light of these new numbers and the current state of flux of the provincial government, it is currently very difficult to tell exactly which districts are facing shortfalls and how much they are short. We’ll keep an eye on the situation, but until there is some certainty it is not possible to compile an accurate shortfall list.

 

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Last year we compiled a list of 33 school districts with a combined shortfall of $85.28 million for the 2016/17 school year before the province stepped in with various funding announcements that partly alleviated the shortfalls.

 

Unfortunately, school districts are once again beginning to announce anticipated shortfalls and the need for cuts, despite the government’s claim of “new” funding for public education in the 2017 budget. The “new” funding is going mainly to cover salaries for the teachers that must be hired to address class-size and composition pursuant to the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on the government’s breach of teachers’ Charter rights in 2002; some of it is also going toward funding new students entering the system. But districts face many costs that won’t be covered—costs that have been downloaded to them by government or that have grown over the years without a corresponding increase in funding. The BC School Trustees’ Association estimates that there are $96 million in unfunded costs outstanding for the 2017/18 year, and that is not including costs that will arise out of the class-size and composition changes.

 

So it is time for us to begin the list of shortfalls for 2017/18.

Running total (as of May 3, 2017): districts, combined $5.05 million (or more)* shortfall.

SD 37, Delta: estimated $2 million shortfall.

SD 38, Richmond: estimated $10.5 million $0 shortfall (updated May 3/17).

SD 39, Vancouver: estimated $12 million $2.1 million* shortfall (updated April 6/17).

SD 63, Saanich: estimated $950,000 shortfall.

*Note: The Ministry of Education seems to disagree with the Vancouver board’s use of class size and composition funding to reduce its shortfall, so this number is subject to change.

If you have shortfall information, please email us at facebc.vancouver@gmail.com or contact us on Twitter (@FACE_BC). We only post shortfall information that is documented, ie not word of mouth.

Statement on Budget 2017

In response to last week’s announcement of BC Budget 2017,  FACE and PAN today issued the following media release in cooperation with six other parent and advocacy groups:

“Status Quo” Budget Not Acceptable—Government Does Bare Minimum for Public Education

The BC government has characterized its 2017 Fiscal Plan as “providing an additional $740 million over three years to the education budget.” However, this budget does not put sufficient money behind the Finance Minister’s statement that education is the “most important” service the government provides. Budget 2017 does not redress the current deficiencies in our public education system nor does it provide the adequate, predictable, and sustainable funding necessary to ensure a quality equitable education for all children.

The Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN) in cooperation with parent and advocacy groups–Chilliwack DPAC, Comox Valley Families for Public Education, Families Against Cuts to Education, Public Education Network Society, Richmond Schools Stand United, Seismic Safety for BC Schools Committee, Surrey Students Now—are deeply disappointed by the government’s allocation of funds for public education within Budget 2017.

While it is a relief to have a budget without overt cuts to public education, parents across BC know that this is the bare minimum that government is obligated to provide without being in contempt of court or in contravention of its own per-pupil funding formula. “This budget does not address the systemic, structural inadequacy of the per-pupil funding model that continues to undermine and erode our public education system. The government again cut education funding in last year’s budget and this one barely maintains the scarce status quo. This is unacceptable after 15 years of cumulative cuts,” said parent and PAN co-founder Andrea Sinclair.

We acknowledge and welcome the $320 million in provisional funding allocated to comply with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling and restore class size and composition language that was unlawfully removed from contracts in 2002, and we expect that the full amount will be reflected in the revised budget once a final settlement has been reached. This money will enable school districts to begin to address untenable classroom conditions and improve supports for students with special learning needs.

In response to the budget, the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) stated: “Beyond funding additional teachers, school trustees will be looking for government to meet their commitment to funding such key needs as additional classrooms, corresponding support staff increases and school district operational budgets.” These needs are not currently addressed in Budget 2017, and will not be covered by the settlement with the teachers. Like the BCSTA, we expect government to provide the requisite funding to meet these increased costs.

The government states that it is “adding” $228 million over three years to address increased enrolment levels. To call this “additional” funding is disingenuous: increasing funding to reflect enrolment growth according its own per-pupil formula is the government’s legal obligation and not a funding increase. The government has failed to address the fact that the current per-pupil funding amount, which doesn’t even reflect inflation, is insufficient for school districts to meet the educational needs of BC’s children.

Similarly, reinstating previously funded services such as busing in rural areas is not “extra” funding, nor is the partial return of forced “administrative savings.” In November 2016, BCSTA advised government that school districts would require an additional $96 million for 2017/18 above and beyond these “relief” funds restored in the spring of 2016, merely to maintain services at current levels. As a result of this $96 million structural deficit, school districts with stable or declining enrolment will once again need to cut programming and vital student supports.

Parents cannot be placated with a one-time $27.4 million Student Learning Grant for supplies to “help defray” fundraising pressures. A one-off partial restoration of the $29 million that was stripped from operational funding in 2015, which amounts to little more than $50 per student, is insulting to parents and demonstrates a complete failure to comprehend the degree to which underfunding has decimated public education. The government must do more than “help defray costs”; it is the government’s duty to provide a quality and fully funded public education that encompasses the full curriculum and is accessible to all children regardless of ability or economic means.

Budget 2017 does not provide supports for the thousands of children designated with special needs that do not qualify for funding under the current model. It does not provide relief for children living in poverty, who require additional supports to succeed in school. It does not restore the staff or resources necessary to support arts education in elementary schools. It does not allow high schools to offer the full range of core and elective courses reflected in the new curriculum. It does not address the cumulative deficit of digital technologies, books, equipment, and educational supplies, including furniture, which schools rely on parents and charitable organizations to provide. It does not provide the funding necessary for districts to begin to address the hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance that is evident in the decrepit state of many school buildings.

The government’s continued failure to provide adequate, predictable, and sustainable funding for K-12 public education to meet the learning needs of all students and the resulting disparity between educational equality based on economic advantage that is occurring as a direct result is in contravention of the democratic purpose of education as set out in the BC School Act.

We reiterate our call on the provincial government to increase K-12 public education annual operational funding by 20% to redress all of the current deficiencies and reprioritize our education system to ensure an equitable quality education for all children.

See Provincial Letter and Declaration in Defence of Public Education.
(download pdf version)

Feb 6 Public Education forum

This Monday, February 6, join us for a discussion of the purpose of public education, the current state of public education in British Columbia, and what concerned citizens can do now.

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FACE on Spice Radio

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On January 4, 2017, Jen Stewart of FACE did a wide-ranging interview with Spice Radio, in which she discussed the origins of FACE, the government’s failure to implement the Legislative Finance Committee’s funding recommendations, the slow pace of seismic upgrades, the firing of the Vancouver School Board, the premier’s newfound enthusiasm for public education investment, and what parents should know on the topic of education funding.

Click here to listen now or download for later.

BC Public Education: Keeping the Covenant with Future Generations?

Mark your calendars for February 6th, 7:00-8:30 PM at SFU Woodward’s (149 West Hastings). Together with Your Education Matters, the Public Education Network Society is running an open dialogue that promises to be informative, stimulating, and timely. Jennifer Stewart of FACE is one of the featured speakers. Please share this information with anyone who may be interested in attending.

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Joint Statement by PAN and FACE on the Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in the BCTF Case

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We know that many parents have questions about the meaning and impact of the Supreme Court’s recent decision. What follows is a brief explanation of the decision, its consequences, and the ongoing concerns of the Parent Advocacy Network (PAN) and Families Against Cuts to Education (FACE) with regard to the underfunding of public education in BC.

The Supreme Court’s decision

On November 10, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled in favour of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). The ruling ended the long-running dispute between the BCTF and the BC government that began in 2002 when the BC government used legislation to strip class size and composition matters out of the teachers’ collective agreement (contract). The SCC did not write reasons of its own; it adopted the reasons of Mr. Justice Donald’s dissent in the BC Court of Appeal.

The essence of Mr. Justice Donald’s decision is that the BC government did not bargain in good faith before it brought in a second round of legislation in 2012, after the 2002 legislation was found unconstitutional. Therefore, the BC government’s 2012 legislation, which was very similar to the 2002 legislation, was also unconstitutional. As a remedy, Mr. Justice Donald ordered that the stripped class size and composition sections must be returned to the collective agreement immediately.

As of 2014, the collective agreement between the BCTF and the BC government contains a clause that says “If the final judgment affects the content of the collective agreement by fully or partially restoring the 2002 language, the parties will reopen the collective agreement on this issue and the parties will bargain from the restored language.”

What the decision means and doesn’t mean

The combined effect of the court decision and the clause in the collective agreement means that the BCTF and the BC government must now engage in good faith negotiations on the topic of class size and composition, with the restored language as a starting point for those negotiations.

It is important to understand the legal meaning of “good faith” in collective bargaining. Here is how Mr. Justice Donald explained it in his reasons:

Parties are required to meet and engage in meaningful dialogue where positions are explained and each party reads, listens to, and considers representations made by the other party. Parties’ positions must not be inflexible and intransigent, and parties must honestly strive to find a middle ground.

The BCTF’s court victory does not mean that we are immediately transported back to the school conditions that existed in 2002, prior to the unconstitutional legislation. It means that the BCTF and the BC government must meet and do their good-faith best to reach an agreement on class size and composition. PAN and FACE hope that both parties will do what is right for our kids. Since the 2002 contract stripping, our kids have been in larger classes with fewer supports, and we have seen crucial non-enrolling positions like art teachers, librarians, counselors, ELL teachers, and Special Education teachers disappear from our children’s schools.

The court’s ruling also doesn’t mean that public education’s underfunding problem is solved. While the negotiations will hopefully lead to better supports for kids and more non-enrolling teachers in schools, there are costs that fall outside the collective agreement that have increased and not been funded, and those are not solved with this decision. For instance, the BC government has required school districts to upgrade their internet connectivity but has not funded that work (Next Generation Network). The BC government has also agreed that principals and other administrators should get a much-delayed raise, but has not increased funding to the districts to enable them to pay these raises without making cuts elsewhere. There are many other such costs; these are just two examples to demonstrate that underfunding is not solved by the resolution of the BCTF’s case.

We are pleased that Mr. de Jong, BC’s Minister of Finance, has declared his desire to immediately begin negotiations in good faith with the BCTF. We remind the Minister that increasing funding to ameliorate class size and composition is only the first step in restoring a level of funding for public education sufficient for all of BC’s children to have access to the staff, resources, and facilities they need for a quality education that meets their learning needs. Parents are still fundraising for essential resources such as library books, classroom furniture, technology, and arts programming, and there are still tens of thousands of children in schools across BC that remain at high risk of structural failure in the event of an earthquake.

A net increase in funding is required

PAN and FACE will continue to advocate for adequate funding that covers all the costs of equitably providing quality public education. We also must be vigilant to ensure that, if the BC government is required to put more money into public education in order to fund increased staffing levels required by any agreement it may reach with the BCTF, it does not “make up” for that increased funding by clawing back money from other areas of public education. There is history to support this caution: In 2014, the BC government promised to “fully fund” the costs of the settlement it reached with the BCTF that year; yet in Budget 2015, the BC government forced districts to make $54 million in “administrative” cuts. Due to the years of previous cuts leaving no “low hanging fruit” to cut, those “administrative” cuts resulted in direct effects on kids and their ability to equitably access quality public education.

We will be watching to make sure that the BC government does not attempt to minimize the costs of a negotiated agreement on class size and composition by making cuts in other areas such as seismic upgrades, maintenance, and support services. There is no area of public education in which further cuts can be justified. What public education needs is improved, stable, predictable funding that allows districts to provide quality education to all learners in seismically safe buildings.

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Useful links

(Download PDF version of this statement.)