Budget Estimates: Education and Childcare fails to meet targets and expectations!

Apr 26, 2024 | 42-5, Blog, Estimates, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

For the past several years we have heard from the BC NDP government of their investments in education and childcare. At the same time, I have heard from my constituents and education professionals in Saanich North and the Islands the opposite.

We are not seeing the results of the massive investments.

The funding formula for schools is not supporting educators and administrators to provide the best public education system. Meanwhile, the promise of $10/day childcare is far from being met as the provincial government has failed to have more than half their announced spaces operational now seven years into the program.

In this exchange with both education minister Hon. Rachna Singh and childcare minister Hon. Mitzi Dean, I canvass the lack of success in meeting the promises and expectations of childcare and the failure of the education minister to ensure school districts are able to deliver properly funded public education while their budgets are simultaneously being hollowed out by inflation with no assistance from the provincial government!


A. Olsen:

Just following up with some child care questions.

I’m just wondering if we can get some data on how many child care spaces have been announced by this ministry, and how many are operational.

Hon. M. Dean:

Can I ask a clarifying question?

The Chair:

Go ahead, Minister.

Hon. M. Dean:

Thank you.
What do you mean? Do you mean new…? Can you clarify for me…?

The Chair:

Just through the Chair.

Hon. M. Dean:

I’m sorry. Through the Chair.

I’m not exactly sure what type of spaces I’m being asked about, so I need a bit more understanding and definition there.

The Chair:

Thanks, Minister.
Member, are you able to clarify a little bit, through the Chair?

A. Olsen:

Yeah, sure. The government, the ministry, has been announcing new child care spaces since 2020 — has been announcing new child care spaces since 2017.

Let’s start with just the number from 2020 until now. How many new spaces have been announced? And how many of those spaces that have been announced are also operational?

Hon. M. Dean:

Since 2018, funding for 34,500 new spaces has been provided through the government space creation programs, of which more than 16,000 are operational and the others are in progress.

The other number to share since 2017-2018 is that the number of licensed child care spaces in the province has increased from 111,000 to 146,600, which is actually an increase of approximately 32 percent.

A. Olsen:

Let’s go with the…. Let’s first start with the number of the 34,500, which is the announced number. How much of…? And then the 16,000 are operational, so just slightly under 50 percent of those that have been announced since 2018 are actually currently operating child care spaces.

How many of each of those numbers are designated for $10-a-day spots?

[5:20 p.m.]

Hon. M. Dean:

To become a $10 a day centre is an application process. A provider has to already have signed up into the government’s fee reduction initiative program and be operational for one year, and then they would be eligible to apply to become a $10 a day centre when we’ve got the application process operational.

We currently have 15,300 child care spaces that are $10 a day. And next year, we will meet our target of 20,000.

A. Olsen:

Wasn’t the target to ensure that child care was $10 a day? Where did the 20,000…? Where was the 20,000 spaces…? Where was that target set? When was it set? My understanding was that it was the goal of the ministry to make child care $10 a day.

Hon. M. Dean:

I’m just going to read from my mandate letter — into the record, again — just to reinforce the vision of $10 a day.

I’m expected to make progress on: “Continue to implement Childcare B.C., our government’s ten-year plan to provide universal, affordable, accessible, quality and inclusive child care to every family that wants or needs it, with the goal of no family paying more than $10 a day for licensed child care, when fully implemented in partnership with the federal government. As a next step, expand our child care fee reductions to all licensed before and after-school care spaces so more parents are seeing savings in their monthly budgets.”

So the 15,000-spot and 20,000-spot targets are in the Canada-wide agreement for early learning and child care.

[5:25 p.m.]

A. Olsen:

So about 10 percent of the spots, in just rough numbers, in B.C. are at $10 a day currently. We’re seven years into that ten-year plan, and we were in a confidence and supply agreement when that ten-year plan started.

Part of the reason why we talked about the number of spaces that were announced and the number that were opening was that during that first four years there were a lot of spaces that were announced. We talked about 2018 as the target number, and we see that less than half of those are operational.

The minister’s mandate letter suggests that within that ten-year plan we’re going to have it for any family that needs a $10 or wants a $10 spot. It just suggests that we’re quite a ways away from hitting that target. This was the government’s flagship policy. The new policy program was part of affordability and making life more affordable for British Columbians.

With respect to early childhood educators, will the early childhood educator wage enhancement be increased this year?

Hon. M. Dean:

Just to put it on the record with regard to affordability for parents and the government’s investment in supporting parents with child care fees, there are other ways that parents are supported and that fees are being reduced for parents.

The child care fee reduction initiative supports over 80,000 spaces, for children zero to five, with fee reductions of up to $900 a month per child, and 48,000 spaces for school-aged kids, with fee reductions of up to $145 a month per child. The affordable child care benefit supports an average of 35,000 children each month. The Aboriginal Head Start program supports over 1,700 no-fee, culturally-based spaces and is on track to increase to roughly 2,300 spaces by 2025. You can also combine these programs as well.

[5:30 p.m.]

So for some people, they might not be paying anything for child care, and for other families accessing these supports, they might be paying $10 a day or less for child care without being in a $10-a-day dedicated centre. For kids aged zero to five years, the average daily cost of child care has decreased from $54 a day to $19. And for children up to the age of 12, the average cost has gone down from $45 to $18. So we are making substantial progress towards $10 a day across the whole of the province.

It was on January 1 this year that we did make another increase to the investment in the hourly rate for early childhood educators. The top-up now is $6 per hour for ECEs, and the average hourly wage for ECEs in British Columbia now is at $29 an hour.

A. Olsen:

I appreciate that there’ve been a number of initiatives that the minister outlined. I think it’s just important to acknowledge the promise that this government made. And this is the political side of it, but the promise that this government made in 2017 was to align themselves with the $10-a-day daycare plan. They were very clear: $10 a day. That was the promise.

I can tell you that for the people in my riding, the families in my riding, the experience that they have has not been the commitment that the government made to that program, not a myriad of programs that make up $19 a day. We’re seven years into this ten-year program, as the minister outlined. That’s the time frame that’s in the mandate letter. So, politically, what the government has promised and then what we have been able to administer are out of line, and that’s never been realigned. I just think that it’s important to make that connection for British Columbians, because it is true there are a myriad of other ways to bring costs down, but that wasn’t what the promise was.

There was a whole campaign that the B.C. NDP at that time completely aligned themselves with. So I think that’s important, and that campaign was very happy to have this government aligned with that very simple message of $10 per day. That hasn’t happened yet in my riding or for, actually, the vast majority of people — 15,300 spots in this province at $10 a day. I think it’s just important that we are very clear on that.

What is the minister doing to incentivize ECEs for staying in the industry? We hear that the amount that the $6 top-up is still making it very, very challenging for ECEs to be able to afford to live in their communities or near where they work, especially in rural communities. That’s very, very challenging.

What is the ministry doing other than the $6 that was just pointed out to incentivize ECEs to remain in the industry?

[5:35 p.m.]

Hon. M. Dean:

We did make a significant commitment to build a system towards all families being able to access $10-a-day child care. If we hadn’t made such a bold commitment, we wouldn’t actually be at this point now, where we’ve made significant progress, where the average cost of child care has come down by so much in the province of British Columbia.

I talk to families across my constituency, This is life-changing. People are making different lifelong decisions because they get money put back in their pocket. They can invest in university for their kids when they’re older. They can invest in education. They can invest in training. People are making choices to have more than one child because they can afford it.

The measures that we have taken and the results that we are observing for families are really significant, and they’re life-changing. If we hadn’t made that commitment and started the work, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We do still have three years ahead in order to continue making progress. I read the content of my mandate letter. The commitment is still there.

In terms of early childhood educators, ECEs…. They are really important people in the lives of children and families who are accessing early learning and child care services.

In 2018, we launched the early care and learning recruitment and retention strategy. That’s already providing better access to education and professional development and helping with the cost of education. And the wage enhancement and streaming pathways for international ECEs as well.

For retention, we’ve made sure that early childhood professionals are fairly compensated for the work. We increased the ECE wage enhancement by $2 an hour as of December 2023, as I said earlier on, resulting in…. The median wage for ECEs working in provincially funded licensed child care programs is now $29 an hour. Over 13,500 ECEs are working in more than 3,300 facilities and receiving the wage enhancement each month so far in this year.

In January 2024, we also introduced the annual ECE specialized certification grant to recognize ECEs with an infant-toddler educator or a special needs educator certificate. ECEs with both post basic certificates can apply to receive a $3,000 payment, and ECEs with one are able to apply for a $2,000 grant.

We have also committed to developing and implementing a wage grid for child care professionals. Work is already underway on that.

[5:40 p.m.]

We’re also investing in initiatives to provide better access to post-secondary education so that we’re increasing the number of qualified professionals working in the field and to be able to support well-staffed child care programs and, therefore, reduce burnout and stress for long-serving educators too.

The number of active ECE certificates has been trending upwards, increasing by 11 percent since the end of the last fiscal year. Since 2018, the ECE education support fund has awarded approximately 14,100 bursaries to nearly 7,500 ECE students to help cover the costs of their education. Since 2018, the province has funded over 2,200 new student spaces in public post-secondary ECE programs throughout the province. As part of the StrongerBC Future Ready action plan, 1,300 spaces are being created between ’23-24 and ’25-26.

B.C. also introduced work-integrated learning program delivery, currently available at five public post-secondary institutions, enabling over 300 students to obtain or upgrade their provincial ECE certification while remaining employed. Finally, we’re supporting child care professionals to pursue ongoing learning and peer mentoring by helping to reduce the cost of professional learning opportunities.

A. Olsen:

What is the timeline for B.C. to implement the wage grid for ECEs that was announced in 2021?

Hon. M. Dean:

Well, it has already started. We’re already testing the first iteration of a wage grid and a compensation standard for child care professionals. That includes benefits, paid time off and funding for professional development. We’re starting with this through the operating funding model with about 40 $10-a-day child care B.C. test sites. It’s going to take time to develop a wage grid that works for child care professionals given the variety of operators and settings across the whole with the province. We’re going to continue working with the child care sector and other partners as we learn more, because we want to make sure we get it right.

A. Olsen:

One of the issues with the way that those original announcements came out was that the province was focused almost entirely on just making announcements for new spaces. It didn’t matter whether they’re public spaces or private spaces in private businesses. We’ve got a number of instances in my riding and right across the province where public funding went to support a private business, which is fine.

That’s where a lot of the child care spaces were at, especially back then. The government really focused on an announcement of a big number. In fact, that’s how it was articulated to us — that it was most important to the Premier’s office at the time to just announce as many spaces as possible.

But, now, what that’s created, from how it’s been articulated to me, is that many of those spaces simply cannot meet the thresholds that the ministry has set. Now, we’ve got this situation where we’ve got, in many cases, the government-funded private spaces. They can’t meet the thresholds. They can’t bring the cost to operate down enough. But we’ve basically got a public and a private system and a promise that the government made that anybody who needs child care is going to get it for $10 within ten years — three years from now.

[5:45 p.m.]

What I’m interested in, and as it’s been described, is that there are just these layers of different programs that child care providers have to apply for, and different kids get access to different pots of money, and it’s made it really, really administratively burdensome and nearly impossible for many of those companies that have been supported with the space funding to be able to maintain that.

So just a simple question, and it’s probably not a simple answer, but what is the ministry’s goal with respect to, now, the public and the private businesses? How are we going to deal with the private businesses that can’t meet those thresholds?

Maybe I’ll just frame it this way: is it the ministry’s goal to move it to an entirely public system? And if that’s the case, how are you going to work with those private business owners to get there?

Hon. M. Dean: We do need every child care space, and so we have been supporting private businesses with operating funding. And 96 percent of spaces are operating with our fee reduction initiative, so that affordability is being passed on and available to parents across the province.

We’ve gone through the renewal process recently, and the majority of these providers are working within the fee cap. We’re building the system with operating funding, supporting private businesses, as well as public spaces.

In expanding and creating new spaces, government is investing more in public assets. So to be able to apply to the new spaces fund to increase the number of spaces, you need to be a non-profit organization or an Indigenous-led service or a public body.

[5:50 p.m.]

A. Olsen:

Thank you for the responses and recognizing that building a system out of nothing is a challenge. I think that it is important that it is framed in that.

I appreciate the opportunity to ask a few questions, and we’ve got some questions now for Education, so thank you.

I had a similar question to the one that my colleague from Peace River North was asking when I arrived here, just around teacher and EA shortages.

During those questions, the member was asking specifically in the North, and the minister’s response was around $500,000 attracting 50 teachers into rural communities. Forty-one or something, I think, were up north; seven of those were on Vancouver Island.

I’m wondering if the minister could provide some context. Fifty teachers at $500,000 in terms of recruitment — those are numbers. I’m just wondering what the context of those numbers are. How many teachers do we need? How many EAs are we short?
Here, I’ll…. Consistent ask… How many teachers are we short and how many EAs are we short across the province?

[5:55 p.m.]

Hon. R. Singh:

We know our communities are growing, and we are in need of more teachers. Every year, on average, I think we are short of about 600 teachers and 200 education assistants.

A. Olsen:

Perhaps I’ll just make a statement that what’s going to be needed is more than the $500,000 plan to recruit 50 teachers. We need a multi-million-dollar plan to recruit 600 teachers. Those 600 teachers and 200-something EAs are significantly limiting the learning of our children. So my hope is that that’s an urgent activity that’s going on within the ministry.

How is the classroom enhancement fund being distributed? What’s the criteria for that, and how many classrooms benefit from it?

[6:00 p.m.]

Hon. R. Singh:

I just want to put on record the previous question that the member had asked. The $500,000 that the ministry has allocated — that is just for the rural and remote communities. But since the spring of 2023, the ministry has been working with the sector partners to discuss the current state of the K-to-12 workforce.

Representatives from employer groups, school districts, Indigenous organizations, unions, post-secondary institutions, the B.C. Teachers Council and government have been involved in a consultation process at the executive level and through working groups to collaboratively develop a K-to-12 workforce plan focusing on four areas. Attracting and retaining talent through desirable workplaces and rewarding careers.

Offering flexible, accessible and robust post-secondary education and career pathways. Supporting adult well-being and professional growth. And fostering cross-sector collaboration for an agile education system. Ultimately, this plan will aim to support stable, qualified, and engaged K-to-12 workforce now and into the future.

Also, through the StrongerBC future-ready action plan, the province is providing $12.5 million to support the recruitment and retention of Indigenous teachers, as well as to boost the recruitment and retention of teachers in rural and remote districts. Initial initiatives include investments to create and expand teacher education programs that deliver a substantial portion of programs online to support accessibility and flexibility and also include bursaries for practicum placements in rural schools in northern B.C. and also hiring incentives to recruit teachers in some of the most remote schools in B.C.

The Ministry of Education and Child Care has reduced processing times for teacher certification applications, and BCTC has updated the teacher certification standards to allow for a higher number of internationally educated teachers to work in B.C.’s K-to-12 sector.

To the question that the member asked, the classroom enhancement fund was introduced in the 2017-18 school year to fund the implementation of the memorandum of agreement with the B.C. Teachers Federation to restore the class size and composition language from before 2002 to BCTF collective agreements. The total CEF allocation provided to school districts to implement the restored language for the 2023-24 school year is over $697.2 million.

CEF has three components: staffing for classroom and specialist teachers; overhead for the cost of employing these teachers, including support staff dictated by collective agreement language; and remedies where school districts are unable to implement the restored language despite best efforts. We don’t have the classroom data available at this time.

[6:05 p.m.]

A. Olsen: I’m somewhat taken aback that we’ve only been engaging the full suite of sector stakeholders on the workforce requirements since 2023.

My hope is that this is an ongoing process that continues into the future, that this isn’t something that ends and then future governments will have to talk starting back up again. Because the workforce will need to be keeping an eye on it perpetually. I’m assuming that there’s some level of that that’s happening already.

I’m quickly running out of time here, but I need to move on to discuss something that has been consistently brought to me by the school districts in my riding and outside school districts. That is the operations and functioning of our school districts, how inflation has absolutely hollowed out many of the supports that school districts have. The funding that school districts have has been spent on inflated costs of everything. The ministry really hasn’t stepped up to help school districts cover the costs, and they’re having to cover the costs by decreasing the services to students.

At this time, where we see teen mental health…. My colleagues were asking about school psychologists and counsellors. The reality is that as inflation increases, the services and supports for our students, for our kids in our province, are going down.

Why has the ministry decided to not support school districts in making up the gap that they’ve had to cover from those budgets for inflation, like every other sector has been facing?

[6:10 p.m.]

Hon. R. Singh:

Most of the school districts’ costs are labour-related and not directly affected by inflation. The cost of negotiated agreements for teachers and support staff, which account for approximately 90 percent of school district costs, continue to be funded through the operating grants. The operating grants to school districts, including special grants, are estimated to total almost $8 billion for the 2024-25 school year, increasing by $209 million from last year and $2.8 billion or 55 percent more than 2016-2017.

The province has been steadily increasing operating funding since 2017. Including special grants, total operating funding per student is now estimated at over $13,000 per student for the ’24-25 school year. This is 40 percent higher than in 2016-2017. It also includes over $70 million this year through feeding futures to support the school food programs throughout the province.

A. Olsen:

Yeah, thank you. It’s just really important to highlight how inconsistent the answer is with the reality that I’m shared on the ground. It’s just inconsistent.

Certainly, the government is spending more money. The ministry has not helped school districts keep up with inflation, so we’re losing. If we don’t keep up with inflation in a government program like public education is, then we’re going to have that loss felt elsewhere.

Where it’s felt is in accessibility. Kids’ school buses, for example. When I take a look at the school buses for the school district in my riding, every year they get older. There hasn’t been any…. We’re going to get to a point where those school buses aren’t operational anymore.

When I consider the IT in my kids’ school, the computers are old. Many schools are challenged in keeping up with modern technology to be able to meet the needs for students in a rapidly changing environment. Where the inflation increases, school districts aren’t able to upgrade their IT, so then kids aren’t able to access it.

Then we talk about limiting use of personal devices in school. Kids who aren’t able to get a computer or get access to a computer at school because there’s not computers available or the computers at school are outdated. Now we’re taking away the device that’s the only access.

In my kids’ school, Google Classroom is being used. It would be fine to remove the distraction devices if the school education system was keeping up with making sure that every student had access to a computer to be able to do their work on. Where that’s not happening, then not only are we seeing the erosion of IT and resources in school, but now, potentially, we’re talking about limiting access to kids. It just becomes an equity issue. Those who can afford a computer, they get access to their schoolwork on Google Classroom. Virtually all of my engagement with my son’s school is done online now. Without access to good IT, it’s not going to happen.

Talk about the learning resource centre, where we once had collections of books for kids to read. Those are gone now. Those are now spaces where those outdated computers are. Because we’ve not done something that we’ve known that we probably should have done for a while, and that’s take the public education system and the public library system and match them up and say: “Here, this would be a great opportunity to provide up-to-date collections by partnering with the local or the nearby library system and giving more space for library systems to store books.”

[6:15 p.m.]

We’ve not been able to overcome the hurdles of organized unions and labour and all of that, so we haven’t done it. So what’s happened is my kid doesn’t get access to books. The textbooks are outdated. More and more, I don’t see my son coming home with textbooks. The resource material is online. That goes back to the IT piece.

We can talk about $8 billion and hundreds of millions and millions here and celebrate and feel like we’re accomplishing something because we’re barely keeping up. The reality is that school districts that have growing populations are able to masquerade the problem. They’re able to mask the problem.

School districts where the population is stagnating, that’s not the case. It becomes very evident where this funding formula and the government’s unwillingness to fund inflation, pretend like inflation is everywhere except for schools…. Then those school districts are falling behind.

We need to take this seriously. School districts have been saying it consistently to this government. Then what we hear is: “Oh no, we’re doing great. Didn’t you know? We’ve spent this money.” I just think it’s really important to note how inconsistent the response from government is with the response from what I’m hearing on the ground and the desperation from what I’m hearing from teachers in their classrooms and EAs in the classrooms.

The Chair:

Just a reminder to members of the standing order.

A. Olsen:

The fact that parents are being encouraged in our school districts to get designations for their children for learning disabilities so that they can get access to educational assistants. And then those educational assistants are not being there to support those kids because they’re needed to support kids that have violent outbursts. This is the result of what’s happening in our schools. That’s not the response from the minister. It’s like: “We’re doing great.”

It’s very frustrating to continue to stand up year after year in estimates in question period and raise these issues that we’re hearing from our school districts and then hear from government: “We’re good.”

The Chair:

Okay. We are going to have to wrap up, as the standing orders say 6:15.
Minister, do you want us at this point to move progress, or would you like to quickly respond?

Hon. R. Singh:

I just want to tell the member that the issues you are raising are very important ones. That’s what the role of public education is, to create equity. When I talk about all these investments, it is like the commitment of the government to fund our school districts to provide that quality education that our kids deserve. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect.

We have much more to do. I am very cognizant of the barriers that some school districts are facing. I’ve heard their stories myself. We and the ministry staff are looking at those issues very, very seriously.

We are funding the education system, but we are looking for much more ways of how we can support them. We have done that with…. We heard the school district. That’s why we brought the feeding futures program. We have brought the child and affordability fund so that no child, especially the vulnerable and marginalized children, is left behind. Much more to do with this.


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