Once again, the Vancouver school Board faces an unwelcome rite of spring: a budget shortfall of over 8.5 million dollars. For well over a decade, BC’s school boards have struggled to comply with ever shrinking provincial government funding. So the VSB, like the rest of the province’s school boards, will be forced to make cuts. Kids, staff and programs will suffer. Again.
Curiously, more money for education seems to be available. The 2015 provincial budget added more funding to the private school pot, and also appointed a private education advocate. Along with Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Education Peter Fassbender is increasingly a supporter of private education. Although cuts to education are presented as fiscally responsible and one part of the pursuit of a balanced budget, the underfunding of education appears to be ideological.
Despite the government’s advances towards privatization, most British Columbians, and Vancouverites, believe that excellent public education is a priority and are fighting to preserve it. As the VSB’s budget shrinks, the pressure on Vancouver Parent Advisory Committees, which now act almost exclusively as fundraising bodies, increases. Books, breakfasts, computers, theatre and gym equipment, playgrounds, musical instruments, the list goes on. Corporations, interested in advertising tools and consumer recruitment, donate these resources to needy schools; even then, over 40 schools in Vancouver are at high risk of collapsing in an earthquake, kids are coming to school hungry, and programs like music, physical education, special education, art, and French are stripped.
All this because the province refuses to pay. School Board Chair Christopher Richardson promised to advocate for more provincial funding while increasing fundraising and major donations, but kids should not have to rely either on the kindness of strangers or the donations of big corporations to stock their public schools. We believe that any action that promotes or encourages private charity will undermine any advocacy for more provincial funding. What’s more, our most needy children need justice, not the stigma, inconsistency and potential humiliation of having to accept charity.
Ceasing the province’s attempts to privatize the system, and securing full and stable provincial funding for public schools and a provincial poverty reduction plan are necessities. At this point, they are also long-term goals. How might they be achieved?
Education activists, parents and families need to build a movement to bring about changes to save, and strengthen, the public school system. We can start by getting involved in our children’s school PACs, joining the fundraising conversation (see the recent Tyee online article), attending VSB public meetings, writing letters and emails, joining the advocacy groups FACE (Families Against Cuts in Education) and PPEN (Protect Public Education Now), both active on Facebook, and of course, we invite you to join in the OneCity discussion to help us define our education work.