As a party in power, there must be at least 50 ways you can make billions of dollars disappear from where they’re supposed to be: delivering services to people. You could go the brutish route of Doug Ford in Ontario and slash billions from public health and education services.
Or could do it the Christy Clark way, smilingly, while she introduced legislation that would effectively remove four billion dollars from education funding over 15 years.
This latter strategy is a rather legally cumbersome way to disappear education funding though. It took the BC Liberals a lot of maneuvering through the legislature and the courts over a long period. And in the end, the Supreme Court called foul.
Besides, mimicking the BC Liberals shenanigans could not be your first choice because you campaigned on a platform to fully support public education, not to undermine a collective agreement with teachers. Definitely would not look good.
You’re in a tricky situation because you spent 15 years in Opposition, criticizing the short shrift that teachers and students in public schools were getting from the previous government. Over and over again you promised that you would do better, provide more funding, and fully support students with special needs.
But the accountants have declared that keeping your promises would cost about a billion dollars more than you have currently allocated for students’ education. That’s a lot of money. You have other priorities.
Back in 2001, when you last formed government, education funding comprised 20% of your budget. But things have changed.
But you can’t just blatantly state that there’s not enough money for education.
Your base would be enraged. They voted you in on your public service platform and they want to see results.
To be fair, you have increased funding by 12.4% for Level 1 Special Needs. That’s good news for 570 students. Level 2 funding (affecting 22,352 students) was increased by 4.1% and Level 3 Special Needs funding was increased by 4.6% for 8,390 students.
But for most students in the public education system, there was a funding increase of 0.6% or $45, keeping BC students shortchanged by $1,866 below the national average.
You are well aware that there are thousands more students who need learning support. They’re the ones who fell through the cracks over the 15 years when a lack of school psychologists meant that waits for a diagnosis averaged 3 years. A lifetime in a child’s development.
You know that your meagre funding increases do not even begin to address the impact of inflation on costs.
But $5.7 billion is such a big number. It sure looks like it should be enough.
You hope that parents don’t notice that the money allocated for education is actually only 11% of your total 2019/20 budget. They might begin asking questions about why you don’t invest more in students.
This would be an awkward question to answer. You know for your political image that you need to make it look as though you are increasing funding, even though you have no intention of doing so.
So, you announce that a group of experts will review the funding model. Thanks to the Supreme Court win, most parents are well aware that the model was drastically changed in 2002 and so they will have some familiarity with what was lost.
And, through the work of parent advocacy groups, many parents will also know that what was restored still left too many gaps for too many students.
You do not include a single teacher on the funding review panel.
It would be inconvenient for teachers to be represented there where they could remind everyone of how, throughout your tenure as the Official Opposition, you consistently agreed with teachers when they called for significant increases in funding .
You could do without teachers raising a ruckus when they discover your plan to implement a funding model that will essentially turn students into statistics.
You know that harried and hurried parents are not going to have the time to study the details of the new funding model. You know that many feel intimidated by convoluted statistics but you know that you still need a slick way to get the public to think that prevalence is the way to go.
You hope against hope that parents don’t read about the suffering of students with special needs wherever prevalence funding has been implemented.
You know that terms like “accountability” and “equity” are popular with the public.
You don’t want any of your supporters to remember that “accountability” is exactly the reason Christy Clark gave for stripping teachers of their contract, leading to the loss of 2500 teachers within the system.
So long before you begin bargaining with teachers on a new collective agreement you start a stealth marketing campaign, ensuring that there is a widespread belief amongst the public that the current collective agreement with teachers is the reason that students are falling through the cracks and not getting the services and supports they need.
The message is spread that the newly-restored class size and composition language in the collective agreement is too restrictive, that it hamstrings school districts in their provision of services to students.
You do not publicly correct that.
You would like parents to believe that if only teachers were more innovative, and more flexible, all students could have their learning needs met. You want parents to believe that it’s not the lack of funding for supports that’s the problem: it’s teachers’ lack of flexibility, creativity and empathy.
You would prefer that the public not know that teachers gave up salary increases from 1988 until 1994 in exchange for the establishment of minimal supports for students.
You would prefer the public not to know that the concepts of inclusion and integration are not new to teachers. That their commitment to inclusion goes far beyond any government policy.
You’d rather the public believe in the prevalence model even though it abdicates your government’s responsibility for delivering the public service of education to all students in public schools, regardless of learning difficulties.
You don’t want the public to ask questions about who collects the data that the prevalence model demands. You don’t want the public to ask about what parameters will be used to interpret the data.
You don’t want the public to know that “trends” in public education are hardly ever captured by statistics. If they were, thousands of parents would not be clamouring for more schools to be opened in areas where “statistical trends” decades ago predicted that no schools would be needed.
You don’t want the public to know that the map is not the territory, that no amount of statistics gathering can replace what teachers know is happening in their classrooms to students whose names they know.
But teachers can let the public know.
There are at least 50 ways to show parents what’s actually happening with education funding.
Just as in a shell game, those who watch carefully know under which cup the object is.
We’ll show parents where the billions disappeared.