BC Teachers’ Federation President Glen Hansman on Wednesday welcomed some important promises around increased spending to upgrade unsafe schools and to get students out of crowded portables made in the latest Throne Speech. He urged the government to invest significantly more in the operating side of public education in next week’s budget to ensure students’ learning conditions continue to improve.
“Public schools have seen some big changes since the BCTF won our Supreme Court of Canada case, but implementation hasn’t been free from challenges,” said Hansman. “The ongoing teacher shortage is having a big impact in many communities, and too many students are losing out on their educational programs as a result. This is especially problematic for students with special needs who are seeing their specialist teachers reassigned to cover classroom teacher vacancies. Special education and English Language Learner supports should not be treated like dispensable luxuries.”
In the September 2017 budget update, the new government committed to an additional $110 million for public schools in 2018–19. That is in addition to the funding announced to implement teachers’ Supreme Court win.
“Given all of the challenges facing our schools, we need to see that $110 million figure grow significantly,” said Hansman. “The BC Liberal government spent 16 years underfunding our schools and forcing cuts onto school districts that took important programs and learning services away from students. Beyond funding the restoration of jobs, BC still has a long way to go to make up for that era of program cuts, unconstitutional legislation, and school closures.”
Hansman called on the government to implement the recommendations of the Legislative Assembly’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. This year, the committee has made several sweeping recommendations to improve education funding. The recommendations include several specific points raised in the BCTF’s submission. The committee called for more funding to tangibly support implementation of the revised curriculum, provide better support for Aboriginal education initiatives in all regions of the province, hire additional specialists, and many other long overdue changes.
Hansman also called on the BC government to let school districts keep their share of the savings from the recent 50% reduction in the Medical Service Premium (MSP). School districts, as employers, are saving about $20 million in MSP costs this year for teachers alone.
“For 16 years, the BC Liberal government downloaded costs like MSP increases onto school boards without any funding to pay for them,” said Hansman. “That put huge pressure on school districts to make even more cuts. Our hope is that the new government will let school districts keep their share of the MSP savings and not count it toward any increase in funding.”
Hansman said the priority for that estimated $20 million in MSP savings should be used to address the teacher shortage, provide resources for the revised curriculum, support mentoring initiatives for the thousands of new teachers, and hire additional specialist teachers.