British Columbia will replace a “one-size-fits-all” funding formula for school districts to account for differences in urban and rural communities, Premier John Horgan says.
He told members of the B.C. Teachers Federation at their annual general meeting Tuesday that the previous Liberal government introduced a funding formula in 2002 without conducting broad consultations.
“We’ve put in place a team to address that and I’m confident that, with the input from the B.C. Teachers Federation and others, we’re going to have a funding formula that makes sense in every corner of British Columbia,” he told the teachers, who begin contract talks in about 10 months.
School districts currently receive funding based on the number of students, but the union is calling for a needs-based formula that would prevent cuts to programs and staffing levels when enrolment decreases.
The government will invest more money in public education up to 2021, Horgan said.
“I know you’re saying, ‘But what about the bargaining?’ That’s not in there, that’s somewhere else, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Since September, the province has increased funding to hire 3,700 full-time teachers, Horgan said, though he acknowledged many of the positions were filled by substitute teachers, leaving few teachers on call.
“That’s a problem you didn’t have 10 years ago. That’s a problem, let’s hope, you won’t have five years from now,” he said.
Union president Glen Hansman said members want a wage hike but he’s realistic that other public-sector workers across the province will also be heading to the bargaining table at around the same time.
Hansman said “mature conversations” will make a difference for the union that had a bitter relationship with the former Liberal government, which in 2002 stripped teachers’ right to bargain class size and composition.
“Teachers in B.C. have some of the worst starting wages in Canada. It’s only us and Quebec that are that far down,” he said.
More teachers are needed to meet the objectives of a landmark 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling requiring the province to restore staffing to 2002 levels, he said.
“We need more bodies, from Manitoba, Ontario, and Alberta,” Hansman said, adding teachers in those provinces earn up to $20,000 a year more than their counterparts in B.C.
“That’s a problem. We need a plan to entice more teaches to come west of the Rockies.”
He said special-needs teachers are often pulled from their classes when there’s a lack of teachers in other classes, leaving vulnerable students without the resources they need.
But students in many subjects are doing without adequate staff, he said.
“We’ve got kids now that still don’t have their teacher. It’s the 120th day of the year, something like that, and there are still students who have a revolving door of people so far in the school year.”