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B.C. lags in education spending, BCTF says

Oct 02 2012

B.C. lags behind the rest of the country in spending on public education and needs to invest more than $500 million just to reach the national average in key areas, the B.C. Teachers' Federation said Monday.

In a brief to the province's select standing committee on finance, the union argued that the education system is worse off today than it was 10 years ago because budgets have failed to keep pace with rising costs.

"Yes, enrolment has declined in B.C. over the last decade," the union said. "Yes, the number of dollars spent on education has increased.

"But this simplistic narrative of fewer kids and more funding doesn't tell the real story. The stark reality is that funding increases have not been large enough to preserve the same levels of service our students had a decade ago."

BCTF president Susan Lambert told the committee in Vancouver that B.C. has the worst ratio of students to teachers and administrators in the country, according to 2009-10 Statistics Canada figures, the most recent available.

The ratio of 16.6 students per educator was higher than the national average of 14.

"That translates into an inability in classrooms in schools to offer students the services they require," she said.

She noted that the numbers of students with special needs has jumped by 1,560 in the last decade. Yet, the province has lost 752 special education teachers.

Lambert said B.C. would need to hire 5,800 full-time teachers at a cost of $500 million to reach the national student-educator ratio.

Lambert said money for improvements should come from raising taxes, rather than cutting services. She said the Liberals' 25 per cent tax cut a decade ago increased the disparity between rich and poor in the province.

"So what we would suggest is that you look at the top end, you look at corporate taxes, and you increase those proportionately so that we can afford the public-education services that we need in this province and the other public services that we need."

Education Minister Don McRae said he's always willing to look at improving the system, but that the government is focused on erasing its deficit.

"I don't have half a billion dollars for the teachers right now," he said. "We're really trying to balance the budget in British Columbia."

McRae also said that B.C.'s students continue to do "incredibly well" in school despite the issues highlighted by Lambert.

"We do well in how we relate to the rest of Canada [and] how we relate to the developed world," he said. "We have an absolutely phenomenal education system in British Columbia.

"If there are more dollars coming forward as we balance the budget, I look forward to having all the players come to the table and say, 'How can we spend those dollars well?' "

lkines@timescolonist.com

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