Regardless of who wins the May 9 provincial election, there will be millions more dollars and thousands more teachers entering the public school system.
This election follows the Supreme Court of Canada’s November decision to reinstate terms for class size and special needs support removed from the B.C. Teachers’ Federation contract in 2002, when Premier Christy Clark was education minister.
The ruling B.C. Liberals moved quickly to end 15 years of bitter conflict in the courts and on picket lines, first announcing interim funding for 1,100 more teaching positions. The BCTF estimated going into budget talks that it would take $300 million a year more to comply with the agreement, and the BC Liberals offered that and more in negotiations that continued after their February budget.
The offer was endorsed by the BCTF executive and the bargaining agent for B.C.’s 60 school districts. In March, 98 per cent of teachers voted to accept the deal that promises 2,600 additional teaching positions.
The BCTF continues its political activism, running campaign ads referring to “15 years of cuts” a urging voters to choose “a government we can trust with our kids’ education.” In fact the B.C. education budget has risen each year, despite declining enrolment in most districts over the past decade.
The B.C. Liberal platform includes a pledge to review the current per-pupil formula for funding school districts, after tinkering with it in recent years to prevent rural schools from closing while focusing capital spending on new schools for growing urban districts.
The B.C. NDP platform builds on the increased spending in the B.C. Liberals’ pre-election budget, plus an additional $29 million a year for classroom supplies. The NDP also proposes to remove fees from adult basic education courses offered to complete high school studies.
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver wants to bring in an enormous expansion of kindergarten, currently at full days for five-year-olds. The Greens want to expand that to include three- and four-year-olds, after a daycare program for children up to age two with working parents. All would be free to parents.
Weaver proposes to increase public school funding by $220 million this year, on top of the $330 million increase in the current deal accepted by the BCTF. That would rise to $1.46 billion in extra funding by 2020-21.
• The B.C. Liberals aim to implement the March agreement on class size and special needs support, and negotiate a second six-year contract with the BCTF. Their budget also includes an extra $5 million for recruitment and retention of rural teachers, as urban districts begin filling thousands more positions.
• The B.C. NDP vows to replace portables with “real classrooms” and complete the long-running program to retrofit schools to resist earthquakes.
• The B.C. Green Party proposes to use $35 million of its massive education funding increase for “nutrition and physical activity programs,” $140 million over three years to train teachers on new curriculum, and review the funding formula for public schools.