When our neoliberal provincial government has systematically gutted nearly every social welfare program most British Columbians have come to depend on, it should come as no surprise that the funding for the root and foundation of our very economy and way of life—namely our public education system—is also on the chopping block. The B.C. Liberal government, led by Premier Christy Clark, seems dead set on dismantling our current public education system, a system for which multiple generations have worked arduously and sacrificed significantly in order to build and adequately fund.
In exchange for our current system, which views education as an individual right for every British Columbian and not a privilege for the elite and as an invaluable social benefit rather than a pesky social burden, the B.C. Liberals seem intent on dismantling our public education system in favour of a privately funded system in our province. This has led many people, myself included, to ask the uncomfortable but highly time-relevant question: are we headed toward the stratification of Canadian society between those that “have” and those that “have not” via a two-tiered education system?
The lack of funding for public schools and education initiatives in British Columbia cannot be overstated. Currently, the B.C. Liberal government funds education at an estimated $1,000 less per student than the national average. We have the second lowest per-student funding in the entire nation, only to be underspent by Prince Edward Island—a struggling maritime province without a tenth of the technology, infrastructure, resources, and development British Columbia boasts. The chronic and deliberate underfunding of public education in British Columbia is an embarrassment to our province, and a testimony to our provincial government’s abysmal opinion of public education. Simply put, it’s just not a B.C. Liberal priority.
And who sacrifices as a result of these cuts? Directly, our children do and, indirectly, we do. A lack of adequate funding results in major changes, such as hiring fewer teachers and support staff, larger classroom sizes, using outdated materials and technologies, downloading administrative and infrastructure costs to boards of education, delays in seismic upgrading, and even closing schools. Moreover, vital programs aimed at helping our most vulnerable students are exacerbated. Students with special needs suffer, arguably the most, because of the lack of support available to them. What type of society thinks it is acceptable to balance its budget off the backs of its most vulnerable— special needs children? The B.C. Liberal government promised to reduce class size and address class-composition issues quite some time ago; however, students are still waiting for the support they desperately need.
Of course, these cuts have absolutely nothing to do with attempting to balance our provincial budget. This is just a red herring to redirect attention from the true neoliberal corporate agenda, as there is money, seemingly, available for the priorities of the B.C. Liberal government, which includes providing huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. This is not about a lack of money; rather, it is about a government with highly convoluted and downright callous priorities. Education falls way down at the bottom of our government’s priority list and well after lining the pockets of the wealthy and corporate elite. It is time that we stood up for the voiceless (i.e. our children) and demand that our public schools receive stable, predictable, and adequate funding.
Our public education system needs our support for it acts as the “gatekeepers of possibility” for our students, and the “guardians of hope” for an egalitarian, pluralistic, democratic society. We must halt our government’s nefarious attempts to set us back a hundred years and privatize our public education system. Education is not a business, it is a public trust for the benefit of every citizen. It is up to each and every one of us to get out and vote for progressive voices that truly embody the notion that all people, not just wealthy British Columbians, are entitled to a first-rate, high-quality education.