Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Education and the provincial election

If you live in BC, you know the writ has been dropped, and the parties are finally releasing their platforms, including my favourite topic - education.

I was happy to see a recent report on CBC's Vote Compass in which education is cited as the second most important topic to BC voters who have taken the Vote Compass survey. It came second only to healthcare, and also in the top section was 'social programs'. I believe the discussion about inequality in our society is inextricably linked to the social programs we provide through collective taxation. These ensure minimum levels of services to all citizens and in the case of healthcare, ensure that quality care is not determined by one's income. Sadly, in education, this is not the case - money can still buy you a better, private school experience.

Only one party has included the issue of private schooling in their platform - the Greens. Their platform reads:

Phasing private independent and alternative schools and programs into the public school system, without affecting the autonomy and objectives of these schools, should increase the diversity of the school system.

I'm not clear what is meant by "without affecting the autonomy and objectives". One aspect of public schooling is public oversight into the content of public schools. A publicly funded free for all might well equate to a voucher system or the charter system prevalent in the US. This would be publicly funded, privately managed schooling and is a terrible idea. On the other hand, if this statement means doing what Finland did (, by eliminating private schools through incorporation into the public system, then it is the right direction.

Sadly, the NDP has stated they will not even touch the issue of public funding of private schools, meaning they will continue to support 50% funding for private institutions teaching the BC curriculum. This drains valuable dollars from the public system and provides an unnecessary and unfair public subsidy to those wealthy enough to afford private school tuition.

On the issue of funding, only the NDP appears to have made any concrete commitments to increased funding in K-12. They have stated they will add $100 million to the education budget. Unfortunately, this number is far, far short of what is required.

Just to reverse the illegal removal of class size and class composition limits enacted by the Liberals through Bill 28 would require $300 million. But on top of that we need the province to make up all the funding shortfalls passed on to school boards over the last decade: MSP premium costs, pension costs, carbon offset payments to the Pacific Carbon Trust ( And after two years of zero wage increases for every employee in the public schools system, it is time to recognize and value the work and provide at a minimum wage increases that reflect the increase to the cost of living. Adding these factors, a reasonable estimate just to return us to the school system we had in 2001 would mean more like $500 million.

Interestingly, the $100 million figure put out by the NDP is well below what they were committing to some years back. In 2005, they were stating that they would increase public school funding by $178 million ( Since then, we've seen Board after Board of Trustees write about the funding shortfalls and the impact this has had on delivery of programs and services to students. Why only half that amount now, eight years later?

The Liberals have made only a single commitment that I am aware of - a tax credit for teachers who coach. Teachers have long argued that there should be tax deductions for the large amounts money that teachers put into their classrooms to purchase materials. But to single out just one extra curricular activity for a tax break would be unfair.

Sadly, no party appears to be taking the chronic under-funding issues seriously. We can see what this leads to by looking at some new data from the Toronto schools, where increases in home tutoring are skyrocketing, particularly among the affluent ( When the public system cannot afford to provide a quality education to every student, those who can afford it, subsidize the system. This leads to increasing private education services and to increased inequity between the children attending schools. If any party was genuinely interested in addressing inequality in society - perhaps the single most important political issue today - they would rethink their commitment to public education.

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