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  • Tracy Sherlock

Wondering who to vote for in B.C.? Here's a rundown of education platforms


Unlike in 2017, education is not a hot topic in this B.C. election.

Perhaps it's because covid-19 back-to-school plans are not popular with teachers or parents, or for some other reason, but all three parties are rather underwhelming in their promises for how children are educated. Only the BC Green Party places any emphasis on schools in their materials.

Here’s a run-down of the three main parties’ education election platforms.

BC Liberals

The BC Liberals promise to implement a province-wide framework for hybrid and online learning options and restore $12 million to Independent Distributed Learning programs. This is a reference to the covid-19 pandemic and many parents’ and teachers’ concerns that the current, mostly in-person, system is unsafe. Every district implemented their covid-19 plans in different ways, with no provincial oversight. At first, parents were told they would lose their children’s spot in their neighbourhood school if they took online courses, but that later changed when the federal government offered up funding. The Liberals don’t offer any specifics of this province-wide framework they would introduce, so it’s hard to say whether it would be for better or for worse.

The Liberals also say they will increase supports and earlier assessments for identifying learning needs and provide school instruction that meets the diverse learning needs of students. They pledge to work with school districts to ensure the provision of consistent portals for parents, including access to report cards and other forms. They say they will upgrade K-to-12 facilities and ensure they are properly equipped, as well as build new schools throughout the province.

BC NDP

The BC NDP platform begins with a dig at the Liberals, saying they underfunded education, but that funding has now caught up, under the NDP. It has to be said that much of the additional funding the NDP government has put towards education was mandated by the teachers’ court win in 2016, after the Liberals stripped class size and composition rules from their contract in 2002.

The BC NDP say they will keep kids safe during the pandemic by installing new ventilation systems, plexiglass barriers, comprehensive cleaning stations and ensuring more cleaning in all schools. As mentioned earlier, parents and teachers are concerned about safety in schools, and the way the government brought students back into the classroom has been criticized.

The BC NDP pledge to build on existing mental health supports for students and staff, as well as “better supporting” students with special needs. They say they will buy more computers and tablets, focus on seismic upgrades, bring in local food programs and take the fundraising burden off parents, in particular by paying for playgrounds. They say they will provide classroom supplies, so parents and teachers don’t have to foot the bill.

BC Greens

The BC Green Party puts education at the top of their platform and they devote quite a bit of space to it, which says it is a priority. They pledge to redesign the education system for a future in which many of the jobs of today won’t even exist. They say they will focus on skills like adaptability, perseverance, problem solving and creativity, but there are no details as to how that will be done.

The Greens, who held the balance of power in this minority government, are hoping for similar in this election. It’s not realistic to think they could form government yet. Their platform takes the same dig at the Liberals as the NDP platform and then says the NDP government – with which they shared power – has “taken some action around the edges.” They say not enough has been done to address the pandemic in schools and promise to end the “age of scarcity in education.”

They promise to keep funding for next year at the same level as last year, so that enrolment during the pandemic doesn’t cause a funding shortfall. They say they will ensure every district has the resources to develop a robust remote learning option, to ensure students learning at home keep a connection to the school they attend. They promise $24 million in new funding for school counsellors and a province-wide plan to address racism in schools. The Greens promise $25 million for food programs in school districts.

The BC Green platform calls for a long-term plan to address B.C.’s per student funding, including a plan to address disparities in wages, class sizes and class composition between districts, more access to speech-language pathologists and school psychologists, new resources for students with special needs and a new funding formula. But again, the exact details of what a new funding formula might look like are missing from their platform.

Peripheral, but still connected to K to 12 education, the Greens would integrated education for three and four-year-old children into the main education system, including $300 million for their education and $100 million for capital.

I’m not sure this is the election to pin your vote specifically to education issues, given it has taken a back seat to other issues this time around. But, as parents, grandparents, teachers and students, it’s good to know at least what is promised.

Tracy.sherlock@gmail.com

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