What do the BC election results mean for public education?
With the Green party holding the balance of power, for now at least, last night’s results may be good news for BC’s public schools and students.
How bleak? We’d likely be in for a round of school closures in districts like Vancouver and Richmond, continued budget shortfalls and program cuts, more stalling and delays on school seismic upgrades and new school construction, and another battle with the BCTF over their next contract.
If Weaver decides to make a deal with the Liberals things won’t get much better, according to Michelle Stack, an associate professor in UBC’s faculty of education, whose research interests include media, policy, social justice and politics.
"For those of us that care about public education, this is a time to push the Greens to make their education platform a priority as they broker a deal with government around issues they will drop and issues that are nonnegotiable,” Stack told me by email this morning, adding that she can’t see how the Greens, with a commitment to free childcare, increased education funding, free adult basic education, and tax relief for post-secondary students, could work with a Liberal government.
"The Liberal government lost at the Supreme Court of Canada and was ordered to put money back into K-12, has no intention of improving the daycare situation, put in fees for adult education and has done nothing to stem rising student debt and poverty,” Stack said. "I can see the NDP and Greens joining forces to form government. Both have commitments to accessible childcare, a better resourced K-12 system, accessible adult education and [English as a second language training] and poverty-reduction plans."
What’s next for the VSB?
A Liberal majority would mean government-appointed trustee Dianne Turner would likely stay in place until the October 2018 scheduled school board elections. Horgan promised to either reinstate the board or call a by-election and it’s unclear where Weaver stands.
Weaver’s thinking on this may be influenced by Fraser, who ran provincially in Vancouver-Langara for the B.C. Greens but didn’t get elected in the Liberal stronghold.
Reinstatement of the elected trustees, who were all fired by the Clark government last fall, would put Fraser back in the middle of the split VSB, where she wielded significant influence as the deciding vote on several high-profile issues. A by-election would be a risk for Fraser if Vision or the NPA won a majority, which would leave her with little influence at the board table, or no seat at all.
The B.C. School Act gives the yet-to-be-determined education minister the power to appoint the trustees, call a by-election or leave the appointed trustee in place. As of today, it looks like Weaver may have the final say in that decision.
Turner managed to keep a lid on the district’s simmering challenges through the campaign by avoiding consideration of controversial school closures and by planning to use the fund set up to cover the costs of hiring enough teachers to comply with the BCTF’s agreement with government — following its Supreme Court of Canada win — to cover most of her budget shortfall.
It remains to be seen if whoever forms government allows that to proceed, as it doesn’t appear to comply with the fund’s purpose or government’s instructions to school boards about its use.
A Liberal majority could reject Turner’s budget plan and trigger another list of proposed school closures. It could happen fast if Turner uses her authority to revise the VSB school closure policy to shorten required timelines for public notification and consultation. Those simmering challenges could boil over in no time.
If the seat count sticks and if Weaver works with the NDP, or makes increased education funding part of a deal with the B.C. Liberals, expect few or no school closures to come and an end to annual rounds of budget cuts. This would also likely spell the end to crippling fees for adult education courses and a decision to keep the VSB’s Main Street Adult Ed Centre (located at Gladstone Secondary) open, despite the VSB’s plan to close it.
Here’s hoping for better days for public education. Stay tuned.