Do you agree that all young British Columbians should have access to an excellent education?
I’m a parent with a child who is graduating high school next month after 12 years in the public education system. To be honest, “excellent” is not a word I can use to describe the totality of his experience, nor that of his peers.
And the statistics bear out that observation.
B.C. has dropped from the second-best funded education system in Canada to the second-worst. This has led to more kids crammed into the classroom. That makes it harder for teachers to teach and allows for very little individual attention. This year alone there was a 25 per cent increase in the number of classes with more than 30 students. Since 2002, B.C. has lost the equivalent of 3,500 full-time teachers.
The heart of the problem is the failure of the B.C. government to adequately invest in public education. The government has other priorities, such as a tax break for the wealthiest two per cent of B.C.’s population. (It pulls more than $230 million out of the public purse every year.)
Today the number of children enrolled in public schools is increasing. And yet the provincial government is decreasing funding. Last year’s budget decreased funding for public schools by $54 million. B.C. school boards already spend less on administration than any other school system in Canada.
This is a problem across B.C. but it hits home too — right here in Saanich. This week School District 63 (Saanich) has been overwhelmed by two new government demands: our schools must now adjust to a decrease of $700,000 for administration and at the same time conjure up $314,000 every year for internet access.
Less money has led to lower quality. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. The costs of education are being downloaded onto schools that have often already been cut to the bone — or cut out of existence. Saanich has already had to close six schools in the last few years alone. Across B.C. more than 200 schools have closed in the last decade.
If the government does not change its ways, another generation of public school children will again see a degraded quality of education. We can do much better than this in British Columbia.
My colleague and opposition spokesperson for education, Victoria Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, continues to direct a spotlight on this problem. High-quality public education is an investment in our children and in our future. It is a great societal equalizer that ultimately benefits all of us. But to achieve that benefit we need the foresight to increase our investment in public education today.
Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South.