$1M for private schools irresponsible: SD5
The School District No. 5 (SD5) Southeast Kootenay Board of Education had a last minute addition to last week’s public Board meeting agenda, following the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) October 4 funding announcement of a $1 million funding infusion to private schools.
According to government’s media release, this funding, which is being used to “boost its support for special needs students attending specialized independent schools” will more than double the number of private schools designated as Special Education Schools (SESs) from six to fifteen and provide $2000 of additional funding for each SES student who qualifies.
Currently, private schools receive 50% of the full-time equivalent (FTE) funding and 100% of the special needs funding that is provided to public schools yet special education students attending public schools, sharing the same needs as the qualifying, private SES students won’t receive any additional funding.
According to SD5 Board Chair Frank Lento, this private school funding – which was announced – without much fanfare – after the board’s public agenda for October was finalized—is a timely issue that the board felt needed to be addressed now rather than waiting for their next scheduled board meeting of November 8.
“For government to announce that they are boosting their support for a handful of special needs students whose parents can obviously afford to pay for private education, while ignoring the underfunded needs of the 58,000 public school students who are also designated as special needs is irresponsible,” Lento said.
The board also took exception to Education Minister Mike Bernier’s statement that “all students in our province deserve a learning environment that helps them succeed,” saying that such a sentiment is “extremely disingenuous” given that districts across the province are unable to fund these students solely on the special needs money provided by government and are forced to use operating monies otherwise earmarked for the classroom in order to provide adequate support to these students. This year, Lento said, the board supplemented special education by $1,730,000.
“Our board recently sent government our district’s Needs Budget for 2016/17. This document outlines those line items for which SD5 does not receive funding, but which are necessary to fund if our District is to provide equal, accessible and adequate education to all students in our district,” Lento said, adding, “This year’s Needs Budget totals over $6.5 million –and identifies a shortfall of more than $800,000 in special needs funding. This amount is in addition to what our board currently supplements.”
Another point of contention for the board is Bernier’s assertion that the $1million handout of public funds to private, SES schools expands choice for parents.
“Choice based on the disproportionate ability of a higher income family over an average –or low—income family to pay for these upgraded educational services is not a “choice” for most British Columbians. It contradicts the basic principal of equal opportunity.”
Lento said that given one-in-five children in this province currently lives in poverty, 20% of B.C.’s students are automatically disqualified from receiving the lower class sizes, higher teacher-to-student ratios and increased services for special needs students etc. afforded by private schools, of which their own parents’ tax dollars help support.
According to a recent submission by the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services (SSCFGS), private education funding from government since 2005 has increased by 61.7%, while funding for public education has only increased by 19.7% during that same time period.