B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming says the province’s 600,000 students will return to class in September with record levels of funding, smaller class sizes, more teachers and support staff.

The province’s schools have been given a $580-million funding boost that has enabled the government to hire up to 3,700 new teachers and a number of educational assistants, he adds.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2016 forced the provincial government to restore staffing to 2002 levels after it ruled a former Liberal government improperly took away the union’s right to bargain class size and the composition of those classes.

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The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has blamed a shortage of teachers and specialists for causing disruptions in the last school year.

Federation president Glen Hansman said the increase in teachers or funding isn’t something Mr. Fleming, or the new NDP government, has done.

“It’s something that the court ordered because of teachers’ persistence through the court,” he said. “Beyond what the court ordered there hasn’t been any new additional funding on the operational side from the province.”

Mr. Fleming said the province is having difficulty recruiting French immersion teachers and school districts in the Lower Mainland have had to curtail the planned expansion of French programs. Some districts in rural areas have also had trouble hiring secondary school math and science teachers, he said, because moving to those areas is a “bigger life decision.”

Mr. Hansman said it is also difficult to find teachers for Vancouver because of how expensive it is to live in the city.

In a letter to Mr. Fleming earlier this year, the federation recommended that the minister establish a province-wide recruitment and retention fund, and assist in student loan payments, among other things.

Mr. Fleming said the problem has been left for so long that it is taking a lot of care and attention to fix.

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Mr. Hansman said the federation wants the province to be “more proactive,” and he gave the former B.C. Liberal government credit for putting $2 million into a fund to help rural and remote school districts offer moving allowances to help attract teachers from other provinces.