A “to-do” list for BC's new education minister
Christy Clark’s controversial public education legacy has left behind a big job fixing all that ails the public school system.The VSB’s longest-serving board chair has some advice for whomever gets the job.
That wacky Christy Clark had some crazy stuff in her last-grasp throne speech, including a call for a royal commission on education. It’s not a terrible idea but it’s a long-term project and there’s a lot more to be done in the short term.
The funding formula for school boards needs to be reviewed, but what’s really needed is more money to bring B.C. in line with what other provinces spend per student. Make sure the money’s there as soon as you can and then start thinking about a review or a commission about how to divvy it up. Figure out the problem that needs solving before launching what could be a lengthy and expensive process that tells us more of what we already know.
A big shift that will have huge benefits for students is cultural. As a school board chair for six years and a trustee for eight, I was repeatedly disappointed in how little respect government, and your new ministry, showed for the co-governance relationship with school boards.
Whether it was sudden funding cuts, new administrative requirements or unilateral changes to funding criteria for capital projects, it made the work of those of us trying to govern school districts more difficult and eroded trust to dismal levels. We can all do our best when we work side by side, in a respectful, collaborative manner.
The B.C. Liberals squandered millions of dollars on petty political battles. Whether it was the epic court fight with the BCTF over stripping its contract or the three “special advisor” and “forensic” audits of the VSB — just don’t do that stuff. It’s vindictive and expensive and doesn’t improve anything at the school level for students, but does a heck of a lot of harm along the way.
You’ll also need to start laying the groundwork for implementing the $10-a-day childcare program. Call on the experts out there and make sure it’s done right.
Put some good people to work to address how we can continue to support the success of indigenous students and build key relationships with Aboriginal communities to help guide that. There’s been some good progress but the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal outcomes is still shamefully large. All partners in the system need to take responsibility for Reconciliation and for closing that gap.
It’s also time to bring education partners together to figure out the best way to ensure students with special needs are getting the opportunities and support they need to succeed in inclusive public schools. Current supplementary special education is grossly inadequate to meet the needs of our complex school populations. We need to figure out how much it truly costs to fully meet each student’s needs and the best way to deliver the right supports and services.
After the B.C. Liberals refusal to develop and implement a poverty-reduction strategy for so many years — unlike all other B.C. provinces — poverty continues to affect a large portion of B.C. students. While a comprehensive poverty-reduction plan is crucial, more funding is needed immediately to ensure all students who need it have access to healthy food at school. I encourage you to reach out to school boards to identify what their needs are and respond quickly while a longer-term, comprehensive plan is developed.
A few relatively easy ones to pick off once the urgent stuff is addressed is some enabling legislation to add student trustees to school boards. The VSB piloted this successfully in the absence of legislation but it would be nice to see all school boards follow suit and legislation would help.
Parents have struggled for years to pay for school playgrounds creating stress for them and inequities among schools. With kids having fewer outdoor spaces to play and more living in apartments and condominiums, it’s time government made a commitment to fund playgrounds as part of all primary and elementary schools. The new government will need to consult with school boards to figure out the best and fairest way to do that.
You’ll also need to take a hard look at what’s been going on over at the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA). Former Education Minister Peter Fassbender unilaterally dismissed its elected board members (they were school trustees elected by school boards) a few years ago. Since then it’s been operating under a BC Liberal government-appointed administrator with little accountability. It’s needs an independent review and audit, and restored elected oversight.
Farther afield, the B.C. offshore schools program appears to be in need of an overhaul and clean up. I wrote about that last week and shared the advice of some former offshore teachers about how to do it. While you're at it, take a look at the international student program. The B.C. Liberals pushed hard to increase it but while there are many benefits to bringing in thousands of fee-paying international students, there are problems with that as well.
I'm also concerned cash strapped-school boards are relying heavily on that income — income that isn't necessarily reliable and could change at any time because of factors way beyond the province's control.
That's it for now but I'm sure there will be much much more on your very full plate.
Good luck in coming days and once again, congratulations on your new role.
All the best,