“Whew, glad that’s over!” That was how many of us felt when an agreement, that included increased support for learning, was reached between the provincial government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. In Vancouver, over 50,000 students were again in school. Thousands of classroom teachers and other hard-working VSB employees are again providing excellent public education.
Many of us were elated last June, when despite well-organized objections from a small number of opponents, the Vancouver school board updated its sexual orientation and gender identities policy that will help make our schools safer, more inclusive, and welcoming for all students.
We would love to think that everything is now fine in the classrooms.
But everything is definitely not okay. A key lesson of the teachers’ strike was that public education funding per student in B.C. is amongst the lowest in Canada. The next provincial budget is projected to continue the under-funding trend, and download more costs onto school boards. School boards across the province, including Vancouver, are being crushed by the accumulating impacts of more than a decade of underfunding. That means larger class sizes, less teacher-librarians, more cuts to maintenance, delays to seismic upgrades, more pressure to close schools. It means more fundraising, and more donations of supplies by teachers. It means even less help for students who need it most. Those who face extra barriers such as learning disabilities, English as an additional language, racism, poverty, and harassment. Despite the board’s updated inclusion policies, there is no budget to train staff to help students harassed due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for other reasons.
What can we do? Already, an entire generation of Vancouver students have gone from kindergarten through secondary school, impacted by relentless cutbacks. Solutions can’t wait until the next election, the next round of bargaining, or a Supreme Court decision years in the future.
The only alternative is to step up the pressure, to demand that the provincial government treat public education as a vital component of a just and democratic society—not a so-called “burden on taxpayers”. The Public Education Project is one way to keep up that pressure, and that’s why I am running in this election.
During my two previous terms as a trustee (2002-05 and 2008-11), I was proud to be part of boards that tried to keep the cuts out of the classrooms. We didn’t always succeed, but we relentlessly advocated for full funding of public schools, and we combed the annual budgets to find savings that would allow us to put every possible dollar into better teaching and learning conditions, making schools better for both students and staff. I am particularly proud of my own work on developing the VSB’s sexual orientation and gender identities policy, and of my efforts to defend students and families facing poverty, racism, and extra learning challenges.
Yes, I want be a school trustee again, to continue this unfinished work. Maybe my chances on November 15 would have been better if I had sought a nomination from one of the main civic electoral parties. But this time, I was proud to file my nomination papers, together with Gwen Giesbrecht, as a Public Education Project candidate. This is a truly unique initiative. For the first time in Vancouver history, a party has been formed to focus solely on public education, without being completely drowned out by—or drawn into—the strident debates at city hall. This time, every vote for a Public Education Project candidate is a vote for better public education, and Christy Clark will have to pay attention.
I am already enjoying this campaign. For the first time, I can focus completely on standing up for public education, for safer, more welcoming, inclusive schools that celebrate diversity. Education is too important to be pushed to the sidelines in this election, and our message is resonating everywhere across the city.
The current Vision majority on the VSB has done good work. Under chair Patti Bacchus, the Vision trustees have been courageous critics of the Liberal government’s policies. Their vote for more inclusive schools was welcomed by the B.C. Safer Schools Coalition, which I helped to organize last spring. They deserve support, and other progressive candidates who truly value public education are also on the ballot.
But this is a moment which cries out for new ideas, new strategies, and especially for candidates who will put the needs and interests of public education ahead of sectarian politics. When the next round of budget cuts looms, we need trustees to say that it’s no longer good enough to work hard to minimize the damage. Our students, and our hard-working teachers and education staff, deserve better. They need trustees who will work with teachers, parents, students, and the community to mobilize for full funding of public education. The time has come to vote for public education, and to reject the strategy of endless compliance budgets. If you agree, help to make public education front and centre in this election, and vote for Public Education Project candidates on November 15.