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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 6, April 2005

Think of the 3Rs May 17
Rights, resources, and respect

by Jinny Sims

A child is a child only once." This sentiment surfaced in the 1986 provincial election following four years of cutbacks to education funding by a government that also slashed funding and support in virtually every realm of public service. It’s an important statement about public education and the role it plays in a democratic, pluralistic society. And it is relevant today.

Children cannot and should not have their education depend upon how well the economy is doing while they are in school. The education we provide in the K–12 system is a foundation for the life and future of the individuals in our classrooms at any given time. Funding for that education should be stable and adequate to ensure that every student gets the educational resources and support that she or he needs to be a successful learner and future citizen.

Over their four years in government, the Liberals have underfunded public education, downloading major costs to school boards, forcing them to cut services, change school calendars, close 113 schools, increase class sizes, reduce the services of specialist teachers, and terminate the employment of over 2,500 young and able teachers. The Liberals didn’t have to do that!

The decision of the Liberal government immediately after the election in 2001 to give tax cuts to a well-to-do segment of the population set the stage for the underfunding and resultant cuts in education services that are the hallmark of their four years in office. And 28 one-time education-funding announcements in 26 months is symbolic of the government’s inablility to manage secure and stable funding for one of our most important public services.

The Liberal government has been unapologetic about its attack on the rights of B.C.’s teachers: our bargaining rights as employees, our professional rights as teachers and our citizens’ rights as parents. In four short years, the government took away our right to full and free collective bargaining by removing our right to strike and by making it illegal to bargain major terms and conditions of our employment. And when we have had minor legal victories against their assault along the way, they have simply changed the law. They have created an imbalance at the bargaining table in favour of the employer that takes us back almost 20 years. We have had favourable rulings against government actions from the International Labour Organization of the United Nations. But the rulings have been ignored by the Campbell government. And central to its education-funding cuts was the government legislation that stripped from our collective agreement existing provisions on class size and composition and specialist teacher staffing ratios. That allowed school boards to cut the services to students that were protected by the agreement. And the government completely eliminated agreements in a number of our locals in amalgamated school districts.

Not satisfied with removing our basic collective-bargaining rights, the government launched a major attack on our professionalism when it took over the College of Teachers. It was an insult, and remains an insult, to every teacher to say that we are incapable of regulating our own profession through a process of democratic elections. Add to this the government’s decision to deny teachers the right to serve as parent representatives on school planning councils in their children’s schools, and you begin to get a sense of the contempt this government feels for teachers.

Respect comes when our rights are recognized and accepted. It is not possible for a government to say it respects teachers and the work that we do in the classroom when it is not prepared to grant us the basic rights accessible to other organized employees and professions in society.

The lack of respect for the teaching profession by this government is further demonstrated by its unwillingness to consult with teacher representatives on matters of education policy that directly impinge upon our work as teachers. An example is the unwillingness of the Premier’s office to include your representative as a participant in his recent Literacy Summit. How is it possible to discuss literacy initiatives without representatives of teachers present? How can a government responsibly shape the direction of education in this province without listening to the advice of its teachers?

When you examine the history of BCTF involvement in provincial elections, major efforts have always occurred when teachers want a change in government. That was certainly the case in 1972 and again in 1991. The underfunding of public education, the assault on our rights, and the lack of respect for the profession is each by itself good enough reason for us to want to work for change.

So, as we teachers go to the polls on May 17, the issues of resources, rights, and respect will be foremost on our minds. But experience in past elections has shown that while voting is important, it is not enough. If we want a government that will properly fund public education to support student learning conditions, grant us the rights available to other organized employees and professionals, and respect our input and advice on education matters, we need to do more.

Three years ago, the BCTF established a long-term Public Education Advocacy Plan and a Public Education Defence Fund to support its implementation. We knew then and do now that the fight for rights, resources, and respect would take us to this election. Locals have developed plans to help get a change in government direction through this election, and I encourage you to become involved in that campaign. Work for change. It is the only reasonable response to the Liberal government’s damaging policies for teachers, for students, and for public education in B.C.

Jinny Sims is president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

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