Smaller classes to come: B.C. allocates $50M to hire new teachers
School districts across B.C. can begin hiring new teachers immediately, thanks to a $50 million cash injection from the provincial government offered as a result of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
The Liberals reached an agreement with the B.C. Teachers' Federation this week to provide the province's school districts with millions of dollars earmarked for hiring teachers and "improving student supports."
In a statement, the Ministry of Education said the funding is meant to be used "immediately," and is equivalent to compensation for approximately 1,100 teachers. The actual number of teachers hired will be determined by the districts and unions.
In addition to new classroom teachers, the budget is meant to go toward the hiring of specialty teachers, including those with training in special education, speech language pathologists, behaviour intervention specialists, Aboriginal support teachers, counsellors, school psychologists and more.
The funds can also be used to hire teacher librarians, Aboriginal support teachers and "English Language Learners" teachers.
In districts where teachers cannot be hired this year, the funding can also be used for training for existing teachers, recruitment and mentoring programs. The funding will be divided up among the province's 60 school districts, roughly based on student population.
The ministry said the $50 million comes in addition to the $5.1 billion already invested in public education in B.C., including $100 million in the provincial "learning improvement fund" already in place to help hire more teachers and educational assistants.
But the BCTF said the agreement was an "interim measure," and just the first step in talks that began following a ruling from Canada's top court in November.
Negotiations between the province, the BCTF and the BC Public School Employers' Association started when the Supreme Court of Canada sided with unionized teachers in a long-standing battle over the rights to bargain class sizes.
The fight started in 2002, when the province and then-education minister Christy Clark imposed legislation that illegally stripped teachers’ ability to negotiate class sizes from their collective agreement.
The BCTF pushed back, and after 14 years climbing up through Canada's courts, the case reached the SCC and a decision made by the B.C. Court of Appeal was overturned. At the time, government officials said the decision by the SCC doesn't reopen the entire contract, but does restore teachers' rights to bargain over class size and composition, including the number of special needs children in each class.
On Thursday, the BCTF and the ministry made what Federation President Glen Hansman said he hopes is the "first step" in restoring the provisions axed back in 2002.
Hansman said the total amount of money the BCTF is owed is about $300 million, enough to restore all clauses removed. He said that number was consistent with estimates the province made in 2002 about how much would be saved by removing the clauses.
"Things seem to be moving ahead… That said, we are frustrated with the pace," he told reporters, adding that members of the BCTF will be watching the budget due next month very closely.
He explained that much of the job action in the last 14 years, including recent teachers' strikes, had to do with the outcome of the SCC case.
"That wasn't acrimony for the sake of acrimony. There were real, live, important issues at play there," Hansman said.
The BCTF said it is pleased with the $50 million meant to alleviate some pressure in B.C.'s classrooms in the next few months, and that the initial agreement will allow negotiators to focus on the bigger issues at hand.
"We welcome this money in the first week of January 2017, but we're still not all the way there to the full amount, or restoring the guarantees that were originally negotiated locally back in the day, and provincially," Hansman said.
"That language has to be respected and that's what we're working for. Hopefully this first step will lead to further conversations that will be productive over the next few weeks."
In a statement, Education Minister Mike Bernier said the "positive" talks will continue, and that "we're going to keep focused on solutions that work for kids in their classrooms."
Speaking to reporters after the announcement, NDP education critic Rob Fleming said the $50 million is a good thing, but reminded parents of the government's history with teachers.
"The government was forced to do this by the Supreme Court of Canada, to the extent that this is a down payment on restoring 15 years of cuts from classroom learning resources," he said.
"Today is a good day, but people will look at the record of this government and understand that Christy Clark had every opportunity every budget year to make kids the primary area of investment for our future and she chose not to."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan and The Canadian Press