As our children head back to school this year, it’s a time for British Columbians to reflect on the value of the incredible public education system we’ve built over a century. Parents and students are blessed to have great teachers, great staff and great schools in their communities. However, it’s also a school system that has been undermined by a decade and a half of B.C. Liberal cuts.
While Premier Christy Clark likes to talk about the importance of personalized learning, the reality is that there are fewer teachers per student in B.C. schools than 10 years ago. On a per-student basis, other provinces in Canada have hired more teachers than we have in B.C. Making matters worse, our schools have lost 1,529 specialist teachers since 2001 and this means less personalized supports for children in our classrooms.
When it comes to education, our provincial government consistently gives with one hand and then takes it away with the other. After forcing parents and students to endure the longest school strike in B.C. history, Premier Clark promised to fully fund the agreement she signed with teachers. Then she turned around and cut funding for school administration by $54 million, referring to the cuts as “low-hanging fruit.” Sadly, these cuts have resulted in parents having to pay more for everything from basic school supplies to school bus services as their children return to school this year.
The B.C. Liberals continually boast about providing record levels of funding to public education, but Statistics Canada shows that British Columbia has gone from the second highest funding for education in Canada to the second lowest. This neglect of public education has put more and more pressure on our local school boards to cut programming and close schools, and it’s put more pressure on parents to pay to keep our system running.
On top of decreasing per-student funding, the B.C. Liberals have increased costs for school boards. Since 2012, we’ve seen school boards struggle to find almost $200 million just to cover increases to medical premiums, hydro rates, and pension contributions. Like families, school boards are paying more and getting less.
It’s not just learning conditions that are suffering under this government. Tragic disasters around the world – such as the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan in 2011 – have highlighted the importance of making sure that our students are protected in schools that are seismically safe. Today there are still 169 high-risk schools in British Columbia that have yet to be upgraded. The disasters in New Zealand and Japan should be a call to action. Instead of keeping her promises to fix these schools, Premier Clark and the B.C. Liberals announced that they will delay seismically upgrading our high risk schools by an extra 10 years. Promise made, promise broken.
Premier Clark’s approach of confrontation and complacency has done considerable damage to our public education system, but for all these challenges, B.C. teachers, school administrators and support staff continue to provide quality education to our children. Those hard at work in our school system deserve our support, but more importantly, they deserve a government that is committed to taking our great public education system and making it even better. That’s what parents want, and that’s what New Democrats want.
As your children head back into the classroom, remember that we all have a role to play in protecting our public education system, not just for today but for the future.
John Horgan is the B.C. New Democrat leader, and the MLA for Juan de Fuca