Jan 30, 2019

Budget 2019: Strengthening public education vital after years of chronic underfunding

This post is part of our BC Budget 2019 series, which highlights key findings from the CCPA’s research and outlines our recommendations for the 2019 provincial budget. Find more from the series at: policynote.ca/budget2019

Strengthening public education is a vital public policy area as the government of BC prepares its 2019 budget, and the CCPA-BC has sent its funding recommendations to the Province.

After years of chronic underfunding of public education in BC, two years ago the Supreme Court of Canada mandated restoration of class size and composition contract provisions for kindergarten to grade 12 teachers. Canada’s highest court ruled that these provisions were illegally stripped from teachers’ contracts by the previous government and as a result of the ruling, thousands of new teachers have been hired and class sizes are being reduced across the province.

But there is much more work to do. The overall amount of operating funding for public education must increase. Additional funding could help to recruit qualified teachers and address the current province-wide shortage (BC teachers are paid less than their counterparts in most other provinces).

Most urgently, Budget 2019 should make substantial new investments to ensure that students with learning disabilities and special needs receive the supports they need to reach their full potential.

Budget 2019 should make substantial new investments to ensure that students with learning disabilities and special needs receive the supports they need. 

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of special education teachers in BC declined almost 25% and the ratio of special needs students to special education teachers increased. Just two weeks into this school year, parents of kids with disabilities had already reported nearly 100 incidents of these students being asked to stay home, sent home early or separated from their class, among other types of exclusion.

Parents of kids with special needs have made it clear that their children are being left behind.

In order to provide funding for these vital needs, we recommend that public funding of elite private schools be immediately eliminated with the savings redirected to students with special needs. This should be used to provide an approximately $43 million boost to special needs funding or an 8% increase, which is only a fraction of the over $400 million in public funds flowing to private schools. In the medium-term, we recommend that the government review all remaining public funding of private schools and consider eliminating this funding.

In capital spending, progress has been made in fast-tracking seismic upgrades and building new schools to relieve overcrowding in some districts. After so many years of delay, it’s critical that the pace of investment be maintained and accelerated. Continued investment is also needed for deferred maintenance needs that piled up during the long period of underfunding. 

Post-secondary education

There is also a pressing need to increase funding for colleges and universities.

For almost two decades, provincial operating grants for public post-secondary institutions plummeted as a share of revenue, forcing institutions to increase their reliance on tuition fees. This resulted in student debt reaching new heights and eroded the public nature of these institutions.

Budget 2019 should boost financial supports available to post-secondary students while moving to fulfil the government’s promise of eliminating interest on student loans. The CCPA-BC recommends a comprehensive grants program to make post-secondary education free for lower-income families with the aim of moving towards a universal reduction and ultimately elimination of tuition fees.

And, not only students have been affected by reduced government funding of public post-secondary education. Employment for untenured academics has become more insecure and funding and action is needed to reduce the increasing reliance on precarious academic labour.

Recent investments in BC’s public education system—particularly the K-12 sector—mean real progress is being made. Additional action and funding, however, is still urgently needed, particularly if we are to meet the needs of all kids and ensure that our post-secondary education system is truly public.

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