The Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association is joining other teachers’ unions around B.C. to call on the provincial government to improve public education funding.
“A huge infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars is required just to catch up with the rest of the country,” said Susan Croll, vice president of the MRTA. “In this district, many teachers are telling us that the system is bursting at the seams. While trying to do their best and meet the needs of every last student, in many situations the resources are stretched beyond limits.”
While Croll says the $122 million Learning Improvement Fund, part of the Bill 22 legislation passed in March, was put to good use, the funds don’t go far enough.
“While there are fewer classes with more than 30 enrolled students this year, there are many, many classes with a high number of students with special and diverse needs that lack the support required to provide learning success for all,” she said in a statement released by the MRTA earlier this month.
Throughout the past decade, non-enrolling or learning specialist teachers, as well as teacher/librarians and ESL positions have seen their positions dwindle, according to Croll.
“The district increased the number of counseling positions this school year and while appreciated, it is still not adequate,” she said.
The plea for more funding comes after a similar requests for more post-secondary funding.
Last month, six B.C. university presidents asked the legislative finance committee for more than $180 million in additional post secondary funding to pay for 11,000 new spaces, as well as more grants, scholarships, and loan reductions for students.
“Like our counterparts in the post-secondary sector, we want to renew the call for a steady increase in public education funding that will meaningfully address the consequences of a decade of underfunding,” said Croll. “Education, whether we speak of the K-12 system or post-secondary is an investment in people, the citizens who are the future of our worlds, both locally and globally.”
Maple Ridge Liberal MLA Marc Dalton defended his party’s record on public education, disagreeing with the MRTA’s assertion that B.C. teachers have fallen behind.
“I’d say we’re quite comparable [to other provinces],” he said.
As proof, Dalton pointed to the fact that thousands of new teachers enter the work force every year.
“Good wages attract good teachers, and certainly that’s happened,” he said.
While total enrollment has fallen over the past decade, the number of Ministry-identified students, including special needs, has tripled over that span.
“That presents great challenges,” said Dalton. “We have to best use the financial resources we have. We have a priority as a government to live within our means, and going into debt harms public education in the long run.”
Dalton noted The B.C. Liberals have increased K-12 funding every year for the past decade, despite falling enrollment. Over that span, the ratio of teachers to students in the public education system has remained constant, at around one teacher for every 16.5 students.
“Our priority is to have a world class education system, and we have that,” said Dalton.
Dalton said while the Learning Improvement Fund was initially conceived as a three-year commitment, he expects it continue afterwards. He added that 85 per cent of education costs are teacher salaries.