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December 15, 2016

The path forward for K-12 education

As BC Liberals, we believe the needs of students should come first – and that means that government, teachers, and school district need to work together.

The relationship between the teachers’ union and the provincial government in BC has often been a challenging one. That’s not surprising – employers and employees don’t always see eye to eye.

In fact, when our BC Liberal government and the BC Teachers’ Federation reached a 6-year deal in 2014, it was the longest negotiated collective agreement with teachers in recent history. Getting there wasn’t easy, and both sides had to make compromises – but it’s an opportunity for the grown-ups to put their differences aside and put the focus back on delivering great education for BC students.

There’s been a lot of talk and controversy around the recent verdict by the Supreme Court of Canada. The court case is rooted in the longstanding issue of whether class size and composition should be a matter of public policy set by the Ministry of Education, or negotiated between teachers and their employer at the bargaining table.

Following the ruling, government and teachers have been working together to determine how best to meet the needs of students. That work recently led to an investment of $50 million that will enable the hiring of up to 1,100 additional teachers throughout BC, but there’s more work still to be done.

All that to one side – British Columbians can be proud of our education system, the resources we invest in it, and the outcomes it delivers for students. This year, we’re investing a record $5.1 billion in public education – a one-third increase since the BC Liberals first formed government in 2001, even though enrolment has declined over the same period. In fact, funding per student is up by more than 40%.

Those investments are paying off: BC’s K-12 students are some of the highest achievers in the world.

In December, the highly respected Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked BC grade 10 students 1st in the world for reading, 2nd in science, and 6th in math. Students are completing high school at a rate almost 10% higher than in 2001. Aboriginal student completion has improved by more than half. And the completion rate for students with special needs has more than doubled.

We can still do so much more if we work together – leaving conflict behind us and putting the needs of students first.

But we also need to keep growing a strong, diverse economy so that we can afford to keep investing in education without racking up deficits and debt.

By Jillian Stead