The province is budgeting $740-million over the next three years for B.C. schools.
In concrete terms, that means B.C. public schools will get a boost of about $240-million this year, while private schools will receive $25-million.
The biggest slice of that, forecast at $320-million, is to cover the province’s obligation to the teachers union regarding class size and composition following last year’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
The court found the province, under then-education minister Christy Clark, was wrong to tear up teachers’ 2002 contracts which allowed them to bargain for class size and composition.
Finance minister Mike de Jong was quick to point out the money is a placeholder, not a final figure, as negotiations with teachers are ongoing.
“There is money within the budget to address the ongoing negotiations that are taking place, but it is a negotiation, and I thought it would be inappropriate to stand here and tell you while those negotiations are ongoing that here’s how much it’s going to cost.”
The BCTF estimates about 3,500 teaching positions are needed to return schools to 2002 levels, with a ballpark price tag of $300-million.
Last month, the province and the BC Teachers Federation reached a deal on the first phase of implementation worth $50-million.
BCTF President Glen Hansman says it’s good to see the government address education funding following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
“We’ve just had 15 years of some pretty awful working conditions in our schools. Hopefully that’s going to ameliorate. We’re optimistic in that regard, but we can’t forget that none of this needed to happen in the first place. So it’s money that’s being restored to the system. It’s not necessarily new money.”
Today’s budget also provides $228-million to fund districts facing growing enrollment, along with the continuation of a number of previously announced programs, like the “Rural Education Enhancement Fund,” designed to stave off the closure of small town schools like the one in Osoyoos.
Funding for public education has been an ongoing hot-button issue for the provincial government, with the opposition, parents groups and the teachers’ union, long arguing the system is being underfunded.
The government has argued declining enrollment and inefficiencies within districts has meant administrators must make tough, belt-tightening choices.
Conflict over funding led to a major showdown with the Vancouver School Board last year, which refused to pass a balanced budget including close to $21-million in cuts and baulked at closing 11 schools. The board was fired in October.
Meanwhile, in fast-growing Surrey, parents have been complaining about overcrowded schools with students packed into portables.
Last month, the province announced $217-million to open up 5,200 student spaces in Surrey. The money will come from capital funding, rather than the ministry of education’s budget 2017 budget.
The province has also opened the coffers with a series of one-time funding announcements for districts in the last year, including returning $25-million in administrative cuts the province had demanded, $20-million in the fall for a “school enhancement fund,” and $29-million on Sunday as a “Student learning grant.”