Students of all ages are back in school this week. It’s always exciting to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones, sort through school supplies and make your way through the halls and into the classroom. Whether you’re 5 years-old starting Kindergarten or 50 years-old and pursuing that degree to which you’ve always aspired, the first week of September is special.
While we celebrate, however, we also live the reality of sixteen years of neglect and funding cuts to education. This is Christy Clark’s legacy.
Whenever John Horgan and my NDP Opposition colleagues ask her questions in the Legislature, Premier Clark fires back that her government is supporting education with record levels of funding. With school districts closing schools, overcrowding, an endless stream of portables in Surrey, a lack of resources for special needs students, post-secondary schools shutting high-demand programs, and no financial needs-based grants for college and university students, common sense would dictate that her responses are all talk.
But common sense can be elusive in politics, so let’s rely on research. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives put Ms. Clark’s assertions to the test and she failed.
Here are the facts. Under the B.C. Liberals, per student funding in this province has gone from second best in the country to second worst. B.C. kids get nearly $1,000 less in per student funding than the Canadian average. The share of our province’s GDP that we dedicate to public education has fallen by 25 per cent since 2001. –At the same time, the B.C. Liberals have downloaded a host of hidden taxes and rate hikes, from hydro rates to MSP increases, onto school districts.
To be sure our school districts are being forced to do much more with way less. This is the day to day reality of our education system. As we know from our experience this summer, school districts then have to make tough choices that land between a rock and a hard place.
At the same time, the richest two per cent walk away each year with a $230 million tax break, Christy Clark spends nearly a million dollars on a personal photographer and hops on and off private jets to Kelowna rather than any one of the dozens of daily commercial flights. Why is there ample money for Christy and her friends, but not enough for public education?
When communities push back, and push back hard enough and at the right time in the election cycle, they might just see some badly needed investment. But our public education system shouldn’t be built on random acts of funding for the purpose of making bad headlines go away. Public education –our kids and ourselves– is too important and deserves to be a top priority, not an afterthought.
So bushels of apples to our teachers, professors, staff and administration for doing an amazing job in the face of difficult circumstances. It is your dedication and perseverance that make our public education system from K to PhD great. In the year ahead, you will once again prioritize students and help them shine. Thank goodness we can count on you.