The last few weeks have seen a flurry of funding announcements from the B.C. Liberals, falling on the doorsteps of select school districts across the province. In one instance they decided to remove their request that boards cut $25 million from their operating budgets this year.
Of course they didn't put it in those words -- the Liberals announced it as "additional funding," but those of us who have been paying attention are well aware this is far from an addition, but rather a reduction in this year's cuts. There has been no talk of restoring the $29 million boards were forced to cut last year, or any permanent funding increases going forward, for that matter.
There was also an announcement of funding to add 3,000 school spaces in Surrey, where some schools are over 200 per cent capacity and so overcrowded that the entire school property is full of portables. Unfortunately, in Surrey there are 7,000 students who are forced to learn in portables, so this funding announcement won't even help half of them, and the district is still facing a budget shortfall this year.
I find it rather ironic that the Liberals' excuse for other districts facing shortfalls has always been declining enrollment, but in Surrey you have a district that is growing in size every year, with schools way over 100 per cent capacity, and facing an even bigger shortfall than other districts who are seeing numbers decline.
The latest announcement was for $2.7 million to help select rural schools across B.C. stay open. Many are taking issue with the horrible timing of this announcement, as districts have already been through months of public consultations and school boards have worked hard at balancing their budgets by making tough decisions. All the planning has been done to prepare staff for layoffs and students for the move to a new school, and some school boards have even faced threats of lawsuits for closures. Now just two weeks before their final budget is due, Clark decides to throw money at them.
The timing might be bad for school districts as they now scramble to reconfigure their budgets and rearrange plans for closures before the summer. But the timing is seen as perfect for the B.C. Liberals, with the provincial election right around the corner.
This becomes even more obvious when you start looking at what areas are receiving this surprise, last-minute funding and realize that many of them are in swing ridings or in ridings like Quesnel, where the Liberals are facing a very tough re-election bid.
Just like that, Clark begins a slew of million-dollar announcements, many aimed at ridings she knows the Liberals will struggle to get elected in.
In fact there are many rural schools facing tough closures that, for some reason, didn't make the list, while one school in a Liberal swing area (whose enrollment was only three students this year, projected at zero students for September) somehow made it on the list to be saved.
For years the Liberals have claimed over and over that there was simply no more money for education, and in fact they needed to enforce claw backs and cuts to funding because of declining enrollment. They have stuck to these claims all while a growing number of parents, advocacy groups, teachers and school boards have been desperately calling for funding increases for years. They have stuck to this argument despite B.C. coming in last on almost every measure of public education in Canada. And even now -- instead of doing the right thing and increasing the overall budget for public education, which would give boards a more consistent and reasonable budget to work with, -- Clark is doling out one-time Band-Aid funding that will just leave boards in the same tough position next year when the money isn't there.
For 14 years the B.C. Liberals have waged a war on public education, starting with illegally stripping class size and composition from teachers' contracts and moving up to demanding millions of cuts every year from districts across the province.
Now, less than a year before the provincial elections, education has been identified as a key election issue -- and just like that, Clark begins a slew of million-dollar announcements, many aimed at ridings she knows the Liberals will struggle to get elected in.
Bottom line is that the B.C. Liberals are hoping that parents across this province aren't smart enough to see through their fake election ploys and will vote for them based on one of these temporary funding announcements. They are counting on people being dazzled by this Band-Aid solution and hoping they will simply forget about the past 14 years of cuts, much like someone trying to distract a small child with a shiny object.
But make no mistake, if the Liberals are re-elected next year they will continue on the same path of devastating cuts and overall war on our children's education that they started on 14 years ago. With the Liberals steering the ship, it will be four more years of school closures, budget deficits and overall cutbacks to every aspect of public education in B.C.
A vote for the B.C. Liberals in the next election is a vote for a dimmer, bleaker future for the children of this province and our future society.
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