THE BLOG

Let's Look At The Wonky Logic Behind Less B.C. Student Funding, More Jail Investment

05/03/2015 02:00 EDT | Updated 05/02/2016 05:12 EDT
Shutterstock / Vincent St. Thomas

When you hear parents, the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) and school boards call for better funding for our public schools, the biggest argument you will hear from Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender is often the declining enrolment. After all why invest more money into a system that has less people then last year?

Let's forget about the fact that every province in Canada, with the exception of Alberta and Saskatchewan, has seen declining enrolment over the years, yet EVERY province except B.C. continues to hire more teachers and invest more in per student funding.

Let's forget about salaries, inflation, rising costs such as hydro, medical services plan (MSP) and other operating costs. Forget about the growing need for schools to keep up to date with today's ever growing technology based world.

Let's talk about the criminal justice system in B.C. for a minute. From 2004-2013 our Crime Severity Index (CSI) in this province has dropped from 153.4 to 89.2. Overall crime rates have steadily dropped around five per cent every year and in 2013, B.C. reached its lowest crime rate in two decades. However, provincial spending is at an all time high, with Clark overseeing a multi-million dollar campaign to expand and build prisons.

But wait, why is our government so willing to steadily increase funding to meet national averages for a declining system, when that is their main argument against raising funding for schools? Why make the largest building investment in provincial history for corrections when we are at the lowest crime rate in 20 years, while pushing back upgrades desperately needed in public schools?

I recently talked to a teacher who saw an old student on the news being arrested for armed robbery. She described him as a very sweet and caring boy who had learning disabilities that greatly affected his ability to participate in his own education. She watched him struggle through the school system on a daily basis.

This teacher found herself wondering if he had received the help he needed in our schools, if he had been able to actively participate in his own education and had been given a real chance to reach his full potential, would he still be living a life of crime?

Not an easy question but a fair one nonetheless. According to reports, illiteracy and low education are a common problem in young offenders. There are also studies that show students with learning disabilities are more likely to drop out of school and not finish their basic education, along with a very high number of prisoners stating they never finished school.

Another study says 21 per cent to 46 per cent of people in our correction system have attention deficit disorders. In my opinion, it's a reasonable assumption that if that student, or any of the thousands like him in our school system, did receive the help and support he needed, he could have graduated and gone on to live a more productive life.

Instead, he and countless others are being left behind, robbed of their basic right to a good quality public education. A quote attributed to Ignacio Estrada says, "If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn." It's a concept far lost on our government officials who instead offer a "one size fits all" education that doesn't fit a large majority of our students.

In 2007, B.C.'s per student funding was $73above the national average, according to the BCTF; fast forward eight years and our students are now funded a whopping $988 below the national average. To really put that in perspective, if funding remained at this level by the time my son -- or any child -- finishes their education they will have been short-changed around $13,000 in funding.

If our government decided to do the right thing and meet the national average, we would have 6,660 more teachers and an additional $543 million in funding. Seeing that declining figures don't seem to effect the government's ability to fund our corrections system, I fail to see how our province is unable to provide our children with at least the national average for our public schools.

After all, it has been proven many times that education is the best weapon we have against poverty and crime. Which stands to reason: the more we invest in education right now, the less we will have to spend on corrections, social services, and poverty reduction later.

By meeting the national average, it would cost roughly $8,150 per student a year compared to an average of $74,000 a year to house an inmate -- where would you rather your tax dollars go?

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