A Program for Education Reform Under BC NDP-Green Alliance

Well, it looks official now, with just some parliamentary maneuvers left to play out we wait for Premier Christy Clark we to be defeated on a confidence motion, a throne speech or budget. It seems the Green Party under Andrew Weaver is not interested in cabinet seats which would be a coalition, but in a legislative agreement that lasts a full four years. The agreement will ban big corporate and union money in BC elections and move towards Proportional Representation with a referendum.  From this perch, let’s look at education.

Mike Lombardi fired chair of VSB

Restore the VSB.

The very first item of educational business should be the full restoration of the Vancouver School Board. The fast way is to put the very same trustees back in power. The wildly undemocratic move to fire the board must be reversed ASAP. This move is cost free and gives a strong pro-democracy signal.

Educational Funding K-12

K12 funding in BC is $1000 per student per year less than the Canadian average. As a percent of GPP it is declining rapidly. Canada has three ‘have’ provinces but in recent years Alberta has suffered from the drop in the price of oil and Ontario has suffered a manufacturing crisis. No such excuse exists for BC.

Progressives need to understand that what took years to erode cannot be restored overnight but they are not asking for this. It will need a full term at least to raise BC to the national average and another term to make them a leading province. That must be the goal and serious progress needs to be made every year with the aim to be a top three province in the very near future. The new alliance has listed an increase in educational funding in its agreement but how much and how fast is left open.

Childcare – Preschool area

The NDP and GPBC both made strong progressive promises in the childcare area but the plans are not the same. They need a committee to reconcile the plans, consult with the childcare community and then get on with implementation to have something firmly in place by 2020 which will be very difficult for future governments to destroy. Childcare is also in the agreement but which parties plan will be used? Will it be a fusion or a compromise?

School Closings

BC is subject to the same destructive school closings plaguing the whole country.  School closings are the bureaucratic answer not the community answer. The first position should be to allow parents to vote. If parents don’t want closings, boards and the province ought to be very reluctant to close community schools. Parents are often sold a bill of goods that their kids will get a far better education at a well-equipped, highly centralized school after very long bus rides. Don’t believe it. It is far better to retain local schools than fall for the ‘better program’ bait.

The next position ought to be schools as community hubs. The empty space in the schools could be used for childcare, community libraries, health clinics, community centers, new teacher housing, whatever the community priority turns out to be.

Centralization and long distance bussing are not the answer. Hard to staff elementary subjects like music and French might have to use off site, Skype style technology. Far from perfect, it is also far better for children than bussing.

 

Seismic Upgrades.

The outgoing Liberal government was far too slow in dealing with required seismic upgrades to make BC schools safe from future Earthquakes. Which MLA, trustee or bureaucrat wants to feel the day after a disaster, which they could have done more? The NDP in particular, ought to see this as exactly the kind of public expenditure that provides stimulus and great safe public infrastructure at the same time.

Relations With BCTF.

Like a quote from Orwell’s 1984 “We have always been at war with East Asia” it seems the Liberal government has always been at war with its teachers represented by BCTF. This is only exacerbated by the involvement of Christy Clark’s contract stripping as Minister of Education or profoundly underfunding education as Premier.

There needs to be reconciliation between the new government and its rightly aggrieved, teachers plus the education workers. BC teachers make substantially less than Ontario and Alberta teachers and deal with housing prices that rule out even new two teacher families from even owning a home in BCs urban areas. This is absurd.  Working conditions are still not good and classes are still too big even after the Supreme Court remedy.

Glen Hansman BCTF President. 

Governments cannot do everything overnight, but the establishment of a good working relationship based on trust and mutual respect is the beginning. This has been sorely lacking for 14 years.

The new government may have too order speedy compliance with the SCC order. The BCTF website lists the boards that are foot dragging with implementation.

Our friends in the BCNDP and the GPBC ought to be both bold and careful at the same time. It is not just the citizens of BC watching. It is the education and progressive community of Canada that that is watching.