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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 3, January/February 2004

Underfunding a first-rate education system

by Norm Gleadow

I wrote this letter to the editor of The Coast Reporter, September 8, 2003, in response to the full-page ad placed by the Ministry of Education headlined "Funding a first rate education system."

If you are a teacher, an administrator, a parent, a community member, or have anything to do with the educational system, then you will know from first-hand experience that the educational funding the government is allocating to schools is wholly inadequate. In our district, despite the best efforts of the teachers, parents, administrators, and the board office, we are seeing reduced bussing services, increased class sizes at the secondary and upper elementary levels, inadequate resources for supplies in the schools, almost no money to purchase textbooks for classrooms, fewer librarians, fewer special education teachers, reduced support for special education, less counselling, many split classes, and insufficient money for new equipment, equipment replacement, or equipment maintenance.

The ministry said in the ad: "This year school boards received $117 million more than in 2000–01." This means that the provincial education budget in three years went from $4.73 billion to $4.85 billion, a total increase of 2.5%. Can anyone (other than Christy Clark and her Liberal colleagues) claim that an increase over the past three years of 2.5% represents a real increase in funding? During the same period, the inflation rate or CPI in Canada was 8.87% (Bank of Canada figures). So, if we have had a 2% reduction in enrolment in the province and an 8% reduction in the number of teachers, let’s be generous and say that the system should then cost 3% less that it did in 2000–01. Therefore, the dollar increase needed to maintain the system at the same level that Christy Clark has identified as "First Rate" would be an increase of 5.87% over the 2000–01 year. The system should receive $5.0 billion, or $150 million more than she has allocated. She is saying that in 2005–06, the budget will be $5.0 billion. By then, the system will be severely damaged and distorted. A system that was first rate in 2000–01 cannot continue to be first rate if resources allocated to it are decreased.

The Ontario government, as part of its "Common Sense Revolution," rapidly introduced a new funding formula, reduced funding, a standard centrally defined curriculum, a standard report card, and province-wide testing starting in Grade 10. It emphasized greater accountability with fiscal restraint. It combined that with continual attacks on the professionalism of teachers. Sound familiar? Generally its policies have failed and stressed the system to the point where it is now scrambling to repair it. Our government is doing the same thing. Indeed, much of its agenda is a direct copy of Ontario’s. Unfortunately, it is not paying attention to the damage it is doing.

We do have a first-rate system; but it is under siege. By every international measure, our students outperform those of almost every industrialized nation in the world. To maintain that costs money; it is an investment we need to make. Our children deserve no less. This government is underfunding education. Its advertisement in this newspaper was a deliberate attempt to mislead us all.

Norm Gleadow is president of the Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association.

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