It’s easy to forget that BC public school teachers are still on strike. I mean, it’s summer. It’s time to drain your brain from thoughts of all things school, right? And if you live in one of the districts where summer school was cancelled, that’s probably pretty easy to do. No summer school means no picket lines since, well, there’s nothing to picket.
So, I thought I’d run a little summer school of my own. You know, a refresher. Just to remind you of what’s at stake – and what you can do to help us get back to school for September.
1. BC students are the second lowest funded in the country.
Public education in BC is funded on a per student basis, and our students receive $1000 less per pupil than the Canadian average.
To put this in perspective, British Columbia’s largest school district (Surrey) is seeing an increase of 37 students next year. This is good, right? More money for the district!
Except the Surrey School District was facing an $8.5M budget shortfall, even with the new students. Teachers and support staff, supply budgets, programs, and services have been reduced by the cuts required to in order to balance the budget.
2. Teachers are fighting for smaller class sizes.
Smaller classes mean more attention for every student in the room – whether they have one question a day, or one question every five minutes. They mean less classroom management issues and more learning. They mean better success for all students.
But instead of smaller classes, budget inadequacies mean that many districts are looking at larger class sizes next year as teaching positions have been cut. This doesn’t help the kids.
3. Teachers are fighting for better class composition and support.
To be very clear, class composition is not referring strictly to students with physical disabilities, which is a misconception that I’ve had to correct in daily life. We’re talking about a wide variety of different conditions, ranging from mental health issues, to cognitive (brain) development concerns, to severe learning disabilities and behavioural issues.
Classroom composition affects every member of the class. If a student needs extra help, I want to be able to give them that assistance. If a student can manage on their own, I want to be able to check in with them during class, to motivate and encourage them.
Right now, I can’t say for certain that I’m able to do that for every student on every day. And I’ve never had a Special Education Assistant assigned to a student in my class. Ever. And not because I didn’t have students who needed one.
4. The province saves $12M each day the teachers are on strike. And they’re keeping it.
That’s more per day than the Surrey School District needed to cut from their 2014-15 budget. But still, Surrey needed to make those cuts. Even though much more than that currently sits unspent at the provincial level, originally earmarked for education.
However, the province will not guarantee that the money they have saved – and will save, if the strike continues into September – will be returned to education. Each day that the teachers are on strike, fighting for improvements to funding and learning conditions, the government is stockpiling money that they could return to the very kids we’re fighting for. But they aren’t.
There is already at least $168M in strike savings that has not – to my knowledge – been redistributed. This number just goes up if the strike continues into September. And, unless it’s returned to the education budget in some manner, it’s essentially money that’s being stripped from an already underfunded public education system.
5. British Columbia is not a totalitarian state.
Real quick Socials lesson: a totalitarian state is run by a government that has complete control over people and policy. In short, they can do whatever they want, and it’s legal. Because they say it is. And they make the laws. So they can never break them.
A democratic state, however, has an elected government. They have earned their power through votes from the people. Their role is to represent the people who have voted for them by working toward the promises that got them elected. They cannot do whatever they want just because they form government. They are bound by the same laws as their citizens, and cannot simply change them without due process (ie. jumping through hoops and following all protocols).
Here’s where we have an issue in BC. Because this province is supposed to be a democratic state. But it’s not feeling that way.
See, the Liberals have broken the law. Twice. They’ve broken a Canadian law, which they cannot change. They have gone against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You know, that massive document that outlines who we are as a country and how we treat our citizens.
They have broken that law. The Supreme Court of BC has told them that they broke it. They’ve been told that they need to make up for the illegal things they’ve done. They have been told that, no, they are not above the law.
And they’re appealing that decision. Again. They’re appealing the court’s decision that the class size and composition limits that they removed need to be returned. And, hey, they’re allowed to do that. It’s their legal right. But really? They’re spending more taxpayer money to avoid properly funding education? Indeed.
The appeal is scheduled for October. The current contract that they’re proposing for teachers includes an escape clause to do with this appeal. It states that the contract can be dissolved and negotiations can start up again if either side is unhappy with the outcome of the appeal.
Seriously. They’re talking about re-opening all these talks in the fall. So, let’s talk hypotheticals.
Say the Liberals win the appeal after refusing to negotiate a contract that addresses class size and composition. They could re-open the contract and attempt to further strip supports for students, further eroding our education system and causing more labour unrest.
Now, say the BCTF wins. That would be good, right? We would have a third court win to use as leverage in negotiations. We could re-open that contract and make the Liberals negotiate on class size and composition to provide adequate funding for our students. Only I doubt we could. I suspect the Liberals would appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada next, stalling the negotiations again.
There is nothing in the Liberals actions to this point that make me think they would obey a third court ruling against them when they have further appeal options available.
So, what can you do if these things don’t sit right with you and you feel that fist of helplessness clenching your voice?
Hop on over to Protect Public Education Now. Take a look at their support for public education campaign. Print a sign. Tape it to a window. Show your support.