Dear Premier Christy Clark,
Today I write you as a concerned citizen and parent to a wonderful little boy who started his first year in our public school system this year. I was fortunate to have him enrolled at the very elementary school I attended as a child, a wonderful school with strong community ties and dedicated teachers, admin, and parents.
With no children in the public school system before this year, I'm ashamed to say I had no idea what had been going on with our public schools the past 10+ years. That is, until the teachers announced their strike at the end of last year.
Almost instantly I began hearing many of your "advertisements" and speeches trying to portray the teachers of this province as "greedy," I saw your very active "digital influencers" trying to discredit the good nature of teachers online, insisting that they are just asking for too much. I saw, in my eyes, a full-fledged attack on the teachers of this province and I could not understand why?
Then I started doing my own research. I started reading independent, credible news sources such as The Tyee and Huffington Post; I started looking into actual stats of education funding in our country and others. I crunched my own numbers; I visited picket lines. I talked to teachers, and to friends with children in the schools, and formed my own educated, fact-based opinion of what is going on in our public schools.
The only problem with our public school system is that we have a government that is unwilling to fund it properly.
When you look at the facts, B.C. has some of the smartest students in the world. We have teachers who work relentless hours (a lot unpaid) and care immensely about their students, and we have parents who fundraise endlessly to support their children. What we don't have is the government funding that our schools need to maintain even the basic needs of our students.
We have students who are funded $1,000 less every year, and teachers who are the lowest paid in Canada. We have buildings that are unsafe and falling apart, with school bathrooms with conditions worse then what you would find in a prison. We have more then one out of five children showing up to school hungry, and the second highest child poverty in Canada -- and we are also the ONLY province without a poverty reduction plan!
Thanks to underfunding, parent advisory committees (PACs) are left to fundraise relentlessly with most contributing an average of $25,000 per school. (Some raise as high as $50,000+ and some as low as $10,000.)
With around 1,600 schools in B.C., that's about $40 million dollars that PACs are spending on our public schools per year and they are still struggling. There is no myth to underfunding issues, I can assure you Mrs. Clark.
PACs are now covering everything from playgrounds, sex ed, music equipment, sound systems, library books, art supplies, bus services, sports equipment, classroom supplies, field trips, office supplies, recess equipment and so much more. Not to mention how much teachers spend on their classrooms... I know my son's kindergarten teacher spends a few hundred a month making sure there are lots of centre activities, arts, craft, and books to engage our young learners.
Earlier when I said I was fortunate to have my son in the school he attends, I said fortunate, not just because of the wonderful staff they have, but because our PAC is able to fundraise enough to cover most of the holes left by your government's underfunding. But what about the PACs that can't, Mrs. Clark? How can you say that we offer a fully funded public education to every child in this province, if even the most basic components of their school depends on how much their parents can fundraise?
Some schools in lower income areas have no field trips, no music or sports equipment, no sound system, bare libraries, photocopied and out-of-date text books. Some even have no playgrounds. Could you look the students of that school in the eyes and tell them they are receiving the best quality education this province can provide?
In recent years, our board of trustees has closed multiple schools, cut 200 teaching positions, cut and consolidated admin positions across the board. To cut costs, we share services with other schools and also work with partner groups. Our admin costs account for only just over two per cent of our budget.
We have high schools with Grade 7 students in them. We have parents paying for bus services, and schools sharing librarians, vice principals and secretaries. I can assure you, without a shadow of a doubt Mrs. Clark, there is NO "low hanging fruit" left to pick in our district or any other for that matter.
The fact that you would refer to any part of a child's education as "low hanging fruit" shows how little you really care about the children of this province.
My friend's son has a learning disability that was recognized when he was four years old. When he entered kindergarten, he was placed on a wait list to be diagnosed through the school. He graduates this year, and guess what Mrs. Clark, he is still on that wait list. Do you think he has received the best education possible going through his entire school career receiving NO help with his learning disability?
Do you think children in lower income areas deserve less of an education then higher income areas? Do you think students in public schools wouldn't benefit from the same small class sizes, enhanced facilities and more one-on-one time that private schools advertise?
Not only are you grossly underfunding our public schools and denying an entire generation of this province to their right to a good quality, fully-funded education, you are also negatively affecting the future of this province in ways that will take years maybe even decades to recover from.
Unless you step up now and decide to do the right thing (which has already been recommended by your government's own reports) and fund public education properly and start a plan to reduce child poverty, you will without a doubt go down in history as one of the WORST leaders that this province and country has ever seen.
Mrs. Clark, I am deeply saddened by your complete disregard for the children in the province and I am ashamed to call you our premier!
F.A.C.E Families Against Cuts to Education
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: