Thursday, November 1, 2012

Attacks on public education are working...where is the NDP?

The news this week that BC parents are increasingly turning to private schools was not surprising. For two decades, teachers and trustees have been raising the alarm over the impact of funding cuts to our public schools. Parents notice too, and if they can afford it, they go elsewhere.

One of the biggest differences in private and public schools is class size. Whereas most private schools have classes in the 10 - 15 range for primary and the 15-20 range for secondary, BC public schools now have no class size limits whatsoever above grade 3 and class sizes are often 20 - 24 in primary and 28 - 30 and even larger in secondary. This week a group of students put a video online lamenting their class of 50 and how the only way to reach their teacher was via Facebook ( It is one of the single biggest differentiating factors between the two systems, and almost always a selling point for private schools.

The BC Liberals began the steady  increase in public school class sizes in 2002 when they unilaterally eliminated class size limits from teacher contracts. For a decade since, teachers have been out protesting and striking to try and regain those limits.

Sadly, it now appears that the NDP has no intention to reverse this trend if elected. In an interview with the Globe & Mail, Dix said he is concerned about class composition (the number of students with special needs in a class), but not class size. ( When I raised this point at a recent Victoria Labour Council meeting with MLA Maureen Karagianis, she replied that we shouldn't listen to the right wing media, they get it wrong. Not a very convincing argument without a public statement from Dix. Evidently he has no issue with the Globe's reporting or we would have heard otherwise.

A few short days later, Dix chose to weigh in on private school funding. Currently private schools receive 50% of public school funding amounts per child. Evidently an NDP government would make no change to this (

So is it any wonder that private schools have waitlists? Public schools are underfunded, with large and unmanageable class sizes, and neither party wants to do anything about it.

Some of my friends in the NDP say it is ok, the NDP is just being quiet before the election so they can win and we can't expect much anyway. I find this hard to swallow. First, parties win on a mandate, and if you don't state what your values are and what you want to achieve before the election, it becomes impossible to make change by stealth afterwards. (remember the HST). Second, I think the NDP is completely missing the boat on this one. Even the BC School Trustees Association, hardly a radical left wing group, says public funding should go to public schools, not private schools. I believe there is plenty of public support to redirect funding to the public system and to substantially increase funding to schools. After all, even the Fraser Institute acknowledges that 9 in 10 students are still attending public schools. So for that 90% of parental voters, it is just plain old self interest to want all of that public funding going into public schools.

But even for those without students currently in the school system, the rise of inequality and the loss of a middle income standard of living is intimately linked to the ability to rely on a strong social safety net. As Justin Trudeau pointed out this week in the Toronto Star (, key to combating inequality is the "need for a stable social safety net, essential to the middle class’s standard of living and economic security".Free, quality public education is a critical component of that safety net. Funding private schools with public money and refusing to address class sizes in the public system will lead to a further decline in our public system and drive more parents (who can afford it) into the private one.


  1. I think that no NDP govt should be providing public funds to private schools - that's why they are private!
    Personally, by providing this money gives a leg up to "private school" to do better than public school.
    Let's hope that when the NDP wins, it does a "education funding review".

  2. Why vote for the NDP? They're not going to change much of anything so what will the difference be? I've always supported the NDP but won't now. Unfortunately there are no options so we'll be stuck with one of them and continue to watch the demise of our province.

  3. Anyone who thinks teachers would be better off under the Liberals, after ten years of watching these scoundrels tear up collective bargaining and impose draconian legislation, is delusional, quite frankly. The NDP debated vociferously against Bill 22. I admit that they have been silent lately on educational issues and I would rather they spoke more specifically about what they will do, but honestly: Christy Clark or Adrian Dix? Whaddya think?

    1. I don't think any party could be worse than the Bc liberals, but that doesn't mean the ndp can or should support private school funding and ignore class size. I expect a social democratic party to take positions in line with the support and protection of public services, including public education.

  4. I would like to see the Abbotsford School District try to handle `the immediate influx of 3,000 students if the provincial government removed funding from independent schools. Methinks that it may stretch their budget in capital costs for one.

  5. It seems this NDP just made a worse mistake than our government as far as the education sector is concerned. Putting public funds on private schools? Now that's a not-so-smart move right there.

  6. This is probably a problem that all nations share. I just can't figure it out why other projects are allotted with the right amount of budget but when it comes to education it is always lacking. It's easy to forecast the number of incoming students but I don't see why the funds are always insufficient.