I have been hearing about the challenges that school districts are facing managing the unfunded inflationary pressures that are piling up.
Especially in districts of stable or declining enrollment newly elected school board trustees will be tasked with challenging decisions about what is going to get cut.
The BC NDP government has yet to show families in British Columbia that public education is a priority, delivering just the basic levels of funding that is required by law and collective bargaining agreements.
I shouldn’t have to remind the Minister that every dollar of unfunded inflationary pressures in a school district is a dollar not spent on a vulnerable child.
EDUCATION FUNDING AND IMPACT OF
INFLATION ON SCHOOL DISTRICT COSTS
We know, and we’ve heard from all of our constituents, how inflation is impacting individuals, but it’s also impacting our public education system. School districts are challenged in addressing unfunded inflationary pressures.
For many years, the funding rates have been adjusted for the cost of the collective agreements. That means that all the other inflationary costs go unfunded. That includes exempt staff, benefit cost escalation and service and supply inflation. The conservative cost of inflationary pressure in one school district in my riding is $1.2 million this year. What does that mean? Well it means tough decisions for the incoming school board trustees — potentially less support staff, less resources for students with high needs, less arts.
In districts where stable or declining enrolment exists, they simply cannot absorb these inflationary pressures year after year. Every dollar of unfunded inflationary pressures in the school district is a dollar not spent on a vulnerable child.
To the Minister of Education, it might be that the ministry just doesn’t know the increasingly unsustainable difference between the increased rates of funding and increased costs to school districts. It could be as simple as the ministry doesn’t know the extent of the gap. The school districts do, though.
Will the minister commit to undertaking a full review and fund the gaps that are identified?
Hon. S. Robinson:
I know that the member is well aware that bargaining has been undertaken now with all of our public service sector, and that’s, certainly, part of the conversation, the shared recovery mandate that we have set in motion. We engage regularly with all of our partners around how these global inflationary pressures are affecting service delivery.
I also want to point out — and the member might not be aware — that this past summer, recognizing some of the significant challenges that families were experiencing and that put pressure on schools, we allocated $60 million dollars so that school districts had additional resources to help families with food programs and to help with expenses like school supplies. I know that school districts right around the province were very relieved to receive these additional funds, recognizing the additional pressures that families are under and that schools were under as a result of global inflation.
Third Party House Leader, supplemental.
My question is not about the collective bargaining process that is underway. I understand that it’s underway. That’s not what my question is about. My question is not about a food program in schools. I think the school districts appreciate that.
My question is about the unfunded inflationary pressures that school districts across the province — specifically, those school districts that are not experiencing high growth in their in their communities — are facing due to the fact that this government continues to only fund the increases that are agreed through collective bargaining and not the increases for exempt staff, say, for an example, or for the benefits, for an example, or for the cost of everything that a school district needs to supply their schools with so that our children can get a quality public education.
If you consider inflation, the funding for our public schools hasn’t gone up at all. The percentage of GDP we put into our public schools has declined dramatically over decades and is well behind other provinces. I’ve heard stories of schools overrun with rats and of children with disabilities told to stay home because there’s just no support for them. Meanwhile, we’re struggling with a massive teacher shortage.
The BCTF president has been pretty clear why we can’t retain teachers: the high cost of living, inflation, the fact that B.C. teacher salaries are the second lowest in Canada. Teachers can’t afford to work here. Staffing shortages are so severe that, in some districts, they’re advertising for uncertified teachers.
To the Minister of Education. The minister’s mandate letter promises quality public education and more investment, but our kids keep getting shortchanged by this B.C. NDP government. Why isn’t this government funding public education like it’s a priority?
Hon. S. Robinson:
Children are our most precious resource, and that’s why, from 2017 to 2021, we’ve had the fastest rate of investment in K to 12 in this province’s history. That’s why we haven’t been investing in public education. It’s why…. The member says this isn’t about bargaining, and it is about bargaining. His examples were about bargaining. And that is why we have a shared recovery mandate. It’s also why we have been funding playgrounds, because we recognize how important they are to the education system and parents were tired of having to fundraise for playgrounds. That’s why we are funding development of playgrounds. That’s why we’re funding fully school busses and energy costs and a new Indigenous student supplement.
We’re going to continue investing in our children, because that’s the most precious resource we have.