As I sit here watching teachers picket during Richmond's day of rotating strikes a number of complementary and conflicting notions regarding the state of our education system keep running through my mind. Underlying all these ideas is the simple question "Why are we going through this…AGAIN?" We live in one of the richest countries in the richest epoch in history, so why are we, as a society, perpetually nickel and diming our education system? Long ago we ran out of "fat" to cut, we've been cutting and eliminating crucial elements of our system for years now.
Somehow we've managed to remain a world class system, that's a huge accomplishment by the thousands of dedicated educators across this province. But it can't keep going like this, as an administrator I'm starting to see the edges fray. EAs taking more sick days off each year due to stress and burnout, kids with special needs not being addressed due to lack of resources. The irony is that more so than ever we know how to help kids with special needs thrive, yet for some we have no option but to watch them float or worse, flounder.
Our school systems have done a wonderful job of incorporating inclusive education principles over the past two decades, kids who are "different" are now more accepted than ever. But we risk losing some of that if we continue to underfund the system. Some special needs kids thrive in mainstream classes given enough support. But providing that support for all kids who need it has become an impossibility, and having these students in class without support leads to frustration for the student and often disruption for the rest of the class. The result is that some students are often left out of classes in which they could otherwise be successful.
The provincial government is ever mindful of the bottom line, as it should be. But at what point do we, as a society, decide that a robust education system is more important than ever lower tax rates? We have some of the lowest income and corporate tax rates in Canada, but we also have the second lowest rate of pay for teachers next to PEI…and we most certainly don't have the second lowest cost of living.
The bottom line is simply that our education system needs more money. Teachers ARE NOT greedy, they're not in it to get rich, but neither should they be getting progressively poorer. As enrolment decreases costs most certainly do not decrease accordingly, yet funding does. MLA Andrew Weaver has provided a cogent and workable way forward here, we all need to start looking for a better way to do things, starting with a more collaborative and respectful relationship between the government and teachers. As Derek Bok said, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."