Moms on the Move

MOMS: Province, BCTF not putting students first in contract dispute

For over a decade, MOMS has led advocacy efforts for increased provincial funding to address growing gaps in public education, and especially in special education.  We have advocated for respectful, collaborative partnerships that bring all education partners together to address funding and other challenges and to develop effective solutions that put students first. Our silence in recent weeks has prompted questions about where we stand in the current teachers' contract dispute. As a broad ad hoc provincial network, we know there are MOMS supporters who strongly favour of both sides.

However, we do not support the positions taken by either the Province or the BC Teachers Federation. We believe neither side is putting students first, with key positions by both parties that are harmful to students with special needs in particular.

Our previous post addressed what to us is one of the key issues in the dispute -- class composition caps -- with links to a 2011 MOMS brief arguing that class composition caps are an ineffective, costly and discriminatory solution that has failed to address the problem of unmanageable classes, while accelerating the erosion of special education resources in our public schools.

This post focusses on funding, in particular funding for special education and other critical learning supports.

The bottom line is the Province has failed to fully fund public education costs for more than a decade. Students across the province have faced cuts to service levels almost every year since we were first thrown into the role of parent advocates in the late 199os.

In the 1990s, teachers traded pay increases for improvements in "working conditions": i.e. contract provisions limiting class size, composition and supplemental staffing.  Those provisions were always controversial and they were lost when former Education Minister Christy Clark illegally tore up the teachers' collective agreement in 2002. In 2006, the Province restored a new variation of class size and compostion limits through Bill 33, despite near unanimous opposition from other education partners, including parent groups. We argued that class composition caps, in particular, were discriminatory and ineffective. Six years later, with parents and teachers more frustrated than ever, students being left ever further behind, and parents avoiding having their children formally designated to avoid discrimination, those concerns have been vindicated.

When Christy Clark tore up the teachers' contract in 2002, she imposed a new agreement offering salary and benefit increases that added hundreds of millions in new education costs. She also eliminated targetted provincial funding grants for most students with special needs, creating enormous pressures for boards with relatively high proportions of students with learning disabilities, for example. The failure to fund these cost increases forced local boards to make unprecedented cuts and to close scores of schools, sparking grassroots campaigns like the 2003 Vancouver SOS movement and a hunger strike to save the only school in remote Wells Barkerville.

Since then, despite acrimonious relations between the Province and the BCTF, several more imposed contracts have each granted further pay and/or benefit increases. Increases in the average salary for BC educators since 2001 have outstripped inflation (Consumer Price Index) by 6%. Meanwhile, total provincial education funding has lagged inflation, and lagged actual costs even further, since staff salaries are (naturally) the primary component of education costs.

The result: BC's public school students have financed the growing gap by absorbing repeated reductions in front-line service levels.

Since the introduction of Bill 33 helped reduce class sizes and/or limit further class size increases, boards have been forced to cut other services to cover the costs of smaller class sizes, which the Province again failed to fully fund. This is why supplemental learning services like libraries and special education have been disproportionally hit, resulting in a devastating erosion of services for the most vulnerable students in the public education system.

(It is worth noting here that while overall enrolment has declined since 2001, the number of identified students with special needs in BC's public schools has continued to climb.)

The above spreadsheet was initially developed 2 years ago, to support our advocacy efforts as public schools faced another round of harsh cuts in 2010 due to a Provincial Education budget that failed to cover rising costs, including teachers' salary increases. We have updated it to reflect the 2011/12 data.

In light of all this, we believe a position that puts students first would include the following:

  1. A significant increase in provincial funding for special education (the Province's current offer doesn't come close to making a dent in what has been lost - a minimum would be $100 million in new dollars for special education in 2012/13, with more in year 2 as determined collaboratively under #3 below).
  2. Agreement between the Province and teachers that any Provincial education funding increases will go first to restoring lost staffing and other front-line supports for students (e.g. libraries, special education, ESL and Aboriginal student services, early assessment and intervention for learning challenges, training, etc), before the Provincial government grants any further increases to staff salary and benefit costs.
  3. Agreement by the Province and the BCTF to sit down and work collaboratively with parents and other education partners to identify all the causes of class composition challenges (including underfunding, teacher training and other structural barriers) and to develop and fund effective and mutually-acceptable solutions to class composition challenges.
  4. No interrruption of services and an immediate return to teachers' performing their full roles.

Dawn Steele & Cyndi Gerlach, MOMS

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is law in every jurisdiction in Canada, and therefore, under that law, so is our children’s right to equitably access a public service – in this case, a public education. This is not a law that can be negotiated away or enhanced through contract negotiations or granted only in times of plenty. The law is the law, and when it is broken, there needs to be a consequence. Yet the Ministry of Education and many school districts have determined that equitable access is simply a goal that they are working towards achieving. What other Canadian law has been so ignored and rendered uninforceable as this one? It is my belief that there are few other groups of Canadians who have had their rights trampled upon with such regularity than those of students who have disabilities.

  2. First I’d like to acknowledge that I think this is a good statement that would seem to represent the diversity of your organization while still stating strong and consistent values.

    To be honest, as a teacher and parent of two children with identified special needs, when I first heard the idea that a cap on IEP students was discriminatory I thought this group was really missing the point. Yes in it’s own way it is but it was also an attempt to do better by those students we do have in our classes. However I am also not going to take the position that it is a panacea or that things can’t be done better. If there are better methods out there then I, and I hope my union, would be happy to hear them. We likely do need to be more sympathetic to your position

    However if we are to work collaboratively there are some ways this organization may need to become more sympathetic to the needs of teachers. I’ll speak directly to two of your recommendations.

    First is #4. An immediate return to work with no further disruption is only in the students best interest if the government agrees and demonstrates a genuine commitment to whatever process will accomplish the goal. Teachers just going back to work means that the interests of the students you speak for, the ones you will speak for in the future, and teachers will likely not be met. It would mean the government could just say “see the schools are open” and we would return to business as usual with the current less than adequate situation continuing.

    My second concern is the idea that all additional funding increases go into returning staffing. While this would of course benefit teachers as well as students it requires teachers to allow their interests to again be sidelined. As your statement noted teachers gave up salary increases to gain class size limits and this was then taken from us. What you are expecting is teachers to pay for these improvements twice. It cost us the first time, ultimately with no benefit, and now we are to start from scratch and put off the needs of our own families a second time until you are satisfied. I understand that my point violates your starting point of putting kids first but to me your position is a slap in the face to teachers and treats them as if they had no interests other than serving children.

    Those who disagree with teachers often say we are using the kids but there are times such as this were I feel students are used as a bargaining chip against me. If I am not willing to give and only gain by meeting the needs of the other “partners”, I, by your position statement, don’t put children first and therefore am somehow unworthy of the support of parents of students with special needs.

  3. While there certainly is stronger evidence to support the impact of class size in the earlier grades, it seems to make good sense that class size would continue to make a difference to students in later grades, although the impact may not be as significant as it is in the early grades. The PISA study clearly supports this conclusion.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.