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$50 million injection to BC education system

Last Updated Jan 6, 2017 at 6:02 am PDT

(File Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The Ministry of Education says it will immediately provide $50 million to hire new teachers and improve student supports as part of an interim deal following last year’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling against the provincial government.

The court ruled in November that a law imposed by the province in 2002 that blocked teachers’ ability from bargaining class sizes was unconstitutional. The ruling also restored class-composition and specialist teacher language to teacher’s contracts that was taken away at the same time.

The tax money is equivalent to compensation for 1,100 full time teachers, but Education Minister Mike Bernier says the actual number of teachers hired will be determined by districts, local unions, and the hiring process.

“This is new funding added to this year’s budget for education that will be included in our February budget,” Bernier says.

The funding, which will be divided across provincial districts according to the government’s formula, can go towards hiring regular classroom and specialty teachers including special education, speech language pathologists, behaviour intervention specialists, school psychologists, Aboriginal support, counsellors, English language, and teacher librarians.

Schools that can’t hire more teachers right now can use the funding for professional development, and recruitment and mentoring programs.

The Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Province, the BC Public School Employers’ Association and the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF), are the first step in responding to court decision, according to Bernier, and negotiations on a permanent agreement will continue.

The government currently spends $5.1 billion annually on education, however a final agreement will likely add millions. BCTF president Glen Hansman says recovering from the 15-years since the changes will cost upwards of $300 million per year.

A final agreement is likely still months away, but Bernier says neither side wanted to wait to inject the extra funds.

“We have a school year in place and everyone decided that while those negotiations are going to continue on what the final agreement will look like, let’s put some funding, let’s get some teachers in classrooms, let’s get some opportunities for students,” Bernier says.

Bernier did not specify whether the province has set aside extra money for education, since a final agreement will likely not happen before February’s budget.
Since winning the court case back in November, BCTF has moved forward with two goals according to Hansman.

“The first goal was to get as many teachers as possible back into schools and classrooms as quickly as possible. This $50 million agreement is the first step. It means hundreds more teachers will be in schools working with students across the province in a matter of weeks. The second and most important goal- full implementation of the 2002 collective agreement language-will now be the focus of talks between the two parties.”

  • Hiring additional classroom teachers this school year where it is feasible to do so given current timetable, physical space and labour supply limitations.
  • Hiring additional specialty teachers this school year where it is feasible to do so. This includes, but is not limited to, teachers employed as special education teachers, speech language pathologists, behaviour intervention specialists, school psychologists, Aboriginal support teachers, counsellors including for mental health, ELL teachers, and teacher librarians.
  • Where it is not feasible to add additional teachers during the current school year, the funding may be used to fund district-level capacity building opportunities such as upgrading existing teacher qualifications during the 2016-17 year, teacher recruitment programs and teacher mentoring programs.

In their own release, the BCTF says since winning the court case back in November, they have been moving forward with two goals according to BC Teachers’ Federation President Glen Hansman. “The first goal was to get as many teachers as possible back into schools and classrooms as quickly as possible. This $50 million agreement is the first step. It means hundreds more teachers will be in schools working with students across the province in a matter of weeks. The second and most important goal- full implementation of the 2002 collective agreement language-will now be the focus of talks between the two parties.”

Hansman says more negotiations are needed to fully implement language from the 2002 collective agreement.

He says it’s going to take much more spending to undo the damage the government has done to a generation of students.

“With this interim measure agreed to, the parties can now turn to the crucial task of fully implementing all the language that was restored by the court,” said Hansman. “The two sides will be meeting again next week to continue discussions. The BCTF’s goal is to ensure these talks are not long or drawn out and that all Boards of Education, schools, teachers, students, and parents have certainty about how and when the language will be restored.

“It’s important for parents and the public to understand how our contract language made a difference for kids. It guaranteed supports for students with special needs, and manageable class sizes for all. It ensured teacher-librarians, counsellors, English language and other specialist teachers were there to give students the individual attention
they need,” Hansman said.

“It has been almost 15 years to the day since then-Education Minister Christy Clark first brought in the unconstitutional legislation. The work to repair the damage to public education has only just begun.

“It’s going to take a significantly higher investment than $50 million to undo the damage this government has done to a generation of students. BC teachers will be looking closely at the February 21 provincial budget to make sure that funding is provided. To implement the full scope of the restored language.”

BCTF President Glen Hansman speaks with anchors Jim Bennie and Amanda Wawryk to give his reaction to today’s decision: