The Parent Advocacy Network is relieved to see a budget that emphasizes childcare and early childhood education and that doesn't explicitly cut education funding. However, we are disappointed that K–12 education funding seems to be only sufficient to maintain the status quo. There are some savings that the boards will be able to keep and spend at their discretion, such as savings from the Next Generation Network implementation and pension over-contributions, but these do not amount to enough to reverse the losses of the last several years. Districts may see some relief through the 50% MSP cut, but how their portion of the new employers’ health tax will be funded is yet to be seen.
This means that boards don’t have much, if any, new/increased funding to restore programs and services (such as fine arts programs, gifted programs, and custodial services) that they have cut in previous years due to the need to balance budgets. It also means that children with special needs will continue to go without the level of Education Assistant time and other services that they deserve in order to fully access the public education system, which is their right, and long waitlists for assessments will continue to delay diagnoses for children who are struggling to keep up.
On the capital side, the playground fund is much appreciated, but it is important to recognize that parents fundraise for much more than just playgrounds: PAN did a survey in 2016 that showed that parents are fundraising for necessities such as fine arts programming, books, and sex education. The budget introduced last week will not reduce schools' need to rely on parents to raise supplemental funds for these items, and it does not address the inequities that result from this situation.
In terms of seismic replacement schools, new schools, and getting children out of portables, we are glad to hear that the government is committed to speeding up its work in these areas; we look forward to not just announcements, but shovels in the ground and children in safe schools.
Today PAN submitted the following to the K–12 Public Education Funding Model Review Committee.
(download pdf which includes footnotes)
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on the education funding model review. The Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education is a grassroots group of parents who have children in public schools in the Vancouver and Victoria areas; we also have connections with parents across the province. We are writing to highlight issues that we would like to see resolved in whatever the new model may be, as well as questions that will be important for the funding review committee to consider. It is essential to note that, ultimately, the most important factors are the adequacy, predictability, and stability of funding coming from the province. Without these, any funding model will be doomed to fail.
The current funding model puts the onus on districts to decide which programs and schools to fund in their yearly requirement to balance their budgets. Districts have attempted to protect what they consider “core” classroom programs by reducing or cutting altogether items such as education assistant hours, maintenance and custodial services, and music, fine arts, and gifted programs.
This has led to a situation where districts vary in the services and programs offered. Even within districts, schools vary in programming depending on PAC fundraising for items now considered “optional.” Our survey of PAC fundraising demonstrated that PACs subsidize much more than the clichéd playground construction. PAC fundraising pays for music instruction, art instruction, sexual education, classroom supplies, books, art materials, PE equipment, and technology, to name just a few.
Furthermore, as the range of programming offered by schools is reduced, parents and families have to spend increasing amounts of money on items like art instruction, music instruction, and supplies for their individual children. This is in addition to contributing to the funds raised by their PACs. The parents of children who need support but are not considered “highest need”—and therefore do not receive enough or any resource teacher support—spend money on tutoring in basic literacy, reading, and math. High school students increasingly require tutoring because they are taking online courses due to reduced course offerings in school.
The inequities that exist in this situation are stark and alarming. No child’s quality of education should depend on their parents’ ability to fundraise or to outsource educational support. Whether children receive a well-rounded education, which includes exposure to the arts and music, should not depend on which programs the district decides to cut that year.
The effects of budget cuts and increasing inequities have been felt even more severely by students with special needs, as advocacy groups such as BCEdAccess and Inclusion BC have demonstrated.
The absence of specialized arts teachers and dedicated rooms for arts education has been institutionalized in the Area Standards policy, which sets out how new schools will be constructed. The Area Standards policy requires elementary schools to be built without dedicated rooms for the arts and with very little space outside of enrolling classrooms. Dedicated funding for arts education at the elementary level and a change to the Area Standards policy to allow art rooms to be built are necessary in order to reverse the disappearance of fine arts from BC’s elementary schools.
We would like to see the Ministry re-centralize the task of deciding what is necessary and included in a quality public education, fund those programs adequately, and fund them transparently. This would include designating specific funding for specific programs and costs—such as arts instruction, educational assistant time, custodial services, technology—so that money intended for one use cannot be spent for another purpose by the district.
There may also be opportunities to look to other ministries to fund costs that the Ministry of Education currently bears. Many schools perform services that may fall under the purviews of the ministries of Health, Children and Families, and Mental Health and Addictions. By looking for opportunities to use schools as hubs for “wraparound services,” communities will be better served and costs could be borne across ministries.
In short, a successful funding review will include the questions: What is included in a quality public education? How do we make sure educational services are delivered equitably? and What is the role of the school in the community?
The Parent Advocacy Network
(download pdf version)
Joint Statement by PAN and FACE on the Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in the BCTF Case
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.
Yesterday (November 12, 2015) the Minister of Education released how his department awarded more than $35 million worth of improvement projects to schools throughout the province, as part of the Province's Routine Capital Program.
None of the funds went to Vancouver schools though VSB had requested $5 million.
Vancouver Sun article: November 12, 2015 includes the quote
"Bernier’s ministry said in a statement that it decided to exclude Vancouver after launching the funding program in August. Its original announcement made no reference to that decision.
“In the process of weighing these special capital funding applications, the government focused on school projects with the greatest return on investment and on districts outside Vancouver, which normally receive much less capital funding than Vancouver,” the ministry said."
Georgia Straight article: November 12, 2015
PAN updates and news, partner events, and other timely information relating to public school advocacy in and around Vancouver, BC.