BC teachers and the politics of education funding

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Teachers and supporters hit the picket line in Golden BC, Monday May 26

By Tara Ehrcke, bargaining chair and past president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association

Two days into rotating strikes and a “partial” lockout by the BC government, independent polling shows strong support for the teachers. An Angus Reid poll showed that among the general public, 41 percent supported the teachers while 30 percent support the government. Among parents with children in school, the support is stronger, with 51 percent supporting the teachers and only 28 percent support for the government.

The issue has also drawn the attention of BC’s opposition parties – both the NDP and the Greens (who have one sitting MLA). But while neither party supports the current actions of the government, they are also unwilling to take a clear stance supporting the demands of the teachers – in particular, the restoration of class size and class composition limits and a fair salary increase.

The NDP does not have a great track record on this issue. I’ve been following their position in every election since the limits were illegally stripped back in 2002. Not once since 2002 has the NDP come out in support of restoring the limits and reinstating teachers’ collective agreement language. I have personally asked this question in 2005, 2008 and 2013, and never has an NDP candidate I have spoken to committed to restoring the language or the funding.

In the last election, in 2013, the NDP platform included $100 million for education. This is dismally short of the $300 million needed to restore class sizes and additional funding to address increased costs to school boards. But sadly, it is even less than the $178 million they were proposing in 2005.

While the NDP is happy to attack the Liberals for their bargaining tactics, they haven’t made a concrete commitment to do anything different with respect to funding and restoring our contract. In yesterday’s question period, new NDP leader John Horgan chastised Education Minister Peter Fassbender saying, “a 12-year record of destabilizing public education. A child who started in grade 1 in 2002 has had 12 years of confusion as the result of this government’s policies.”

But never once in that twelve years has the NDP promised to do the right thing. The issue is not “confusion” as he claims, rather the issue is large, complex classes and too few resources.

The revelation about the government’s deliberate provocation of the strike pales in comparison to systematically underfunding schools and robbing teacher’s of their constitutional rights.

It sometimes feels that the NDP simply like to use our situation to play partisan politics rather than address the issues. The biggest media story they made of the last court case (when our contract stripping was found illegal for a second time) was the fact that the judge found the government to have provoked a strike. While important, the revelation about the government’s deliberate provocation of the strike pales in comparison to systematically underfunding schools and robbing teacher’s of their constitutional rights.

The Greens have also weighed in on the dispute, with a frustrating opinion piece by interim party leader Adam Olsen and a more thoughtful, if still problematic, blog post from MLA Andrew Weaver. Both refuse to take sides, implicitly suggesting the teachers’ complaints are not justified. Olsen writes, “it appears they have given up on making a real effort to find common ground, and instead focused their efforts on winning a publicity battle that is detrimental to our children and their teachers.”

I wonder if either Olsen or Weaver believe that if someone steals your house, and you get into a feud about it, the right answer is to just split it in half in a compromise?

Party politics aside, teachers are strong on the ground and the mood solid. Teachers are angry about the lockout, in which we do all our work for 90% of our pay. But spirits are high – we’re giving it our 90%!

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