B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier left some important things out of his year-end wrap up

OPINION: The BCTF's landmark court win was the biggest education news in BC — but Bernier didn't mention that.

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His $1million gift of public funds to 14 private schools that serve students with special needs was panned by parents who rightly pointed out that the ministry’s own policy says that there should be equitable access to education for all students, including those with special needs.

That extra money means some private schools that already receive a portion of the per-student funding public school along with special education supplemental grants are now eligible for even more taxpayer dollars.

They can add that to tuition fees which are often north of $20,000 a year. Given the cuts public school boards have had to make to balance their underfunded budgets and how difficult it can be to access special education support in public schools, it’s no wonder Bernier left that out of his year-end wrap up.

He took away a few things too in 2016.

Ask the students, parents and staff at Victoria’s Shoreline Community Middle School. They were preparing for a temporary move out of the school at the end of June so long-awaited seismic upgrades could get underway.

Bernier changed his mind and pulled the plug in May, leaving a lot of disappointed a frustrated people.

Why? Apparently not enough families want to send their kids to a school with a high-seismic risk rating, which means it wasn’t full enough for Bernier to consider it a priority for upgrading. So months and months of planning and preparation were tossed aside and 250 lives will be at risk indefinitely. Shame on you, Mike Bernier.

And despite sending out a ridiculous number of news releases in 2016 announcing funds for non-newsworthy school maintenance work, Bernier also didn't mention a project that was actually big news for Brentwood Bay’s Bayside Middle School – it’s leaky roof is getting fixed.

Why, you may ask, is a roof repair newsworthy? In this case it really was a big deal – the roof’s been leaking since 1992. That’s not a typo. Students and parents had to campaign with petitions and signs to finally convince government to do the job properly.

And in what should be a cautionary tale for government that will likely be ignored, what started out as a smallish leak led to damage that will cost over $7 million to repair. (No, I’m not making this up.)

As any responsible and experienced home owner or property manager knows — water causes nasty and expensive damage and leaks left un-repaired are far more expensive to fix than those dealt with promptly. It shouldn’t take an election coming to do the sensible thing.

Like Bernier, I hope for exciting things to come for the education system in 2017.

For me that means a speedy agreement on restoring class size and composition terms to teachers’ contracts and getting additional staffing into schools quickly.

It means predictable, stable and adequate funding that moves B.C. from being Canada’s second-lowest in per-student funding to among the best.

It means truly equitable access to quality education for all students, regardless of their needs.

It means teachers who are enabled and empowered to do their very best by having optimal working conditions with class sizes and composition that allow them to give each student the time and attention they need.

It means every school is seismically safe, well equipped, heated on cold days, clean, bright, with well-stocked libraries staffed by qualified teacher librarians. It means all school cultures are safe and welcoming and students have timely access to counsellors and any other supports they need to be able to thrive at school.

It means parents don’t feel pressured to fill funding gaps through additional fees and fundraising. It means hungry students are greeted with a healthy breakfast and provided with a nutritious lunch and clean water flows from drinking fountains.

It means all primary and elementary schools have safe and stimulating playgrounds. An exciting year would certainly mean every intermediate and high-school student has access to specialized instruction in music and given the opportunity to learn to play an instrument.

In my version of an exciting year, new initiatives like the government-prescribed curriculum and coding instruction would be accompanied by funding to fully support their implementation.

It would also mean that adults who need to upgrade their high school credits to access post-secondary programs could do so without facing hefty fees.

It would also mean every Vancouver elementary student could attend a vibrant, safe neighbourhood school within walking distance from home. And those schools would offer a wide range of engaging learning opportunities to ensure every student’s learning needs are met. What a year that would be.

 All the best for 2017.


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