We must reprioritize our education dollars

"82 (1) A board must provide free of charge to every student of school age resident in British Columbia and enrolled in an educational program in a school operated by the board, (a) instruction in an educational program sufficient to meet the general requirements for graduation. . . ."

B.C. School Act, Aug. 1, 2012

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READING-GLASSES on, can you find any caveats in that statement?

If there is nothing that says dyslexic or other students with barriers to learning are excluded from the word "every," why must some parents pay $20,000 a year in private school fees to give their dyslexic child the best education possible?

What happens to intellectually different children if their single or working-poor parents cannot even afford the $2,500 assessment fee, let alone the $20,000?

In the best of cases, these students remain with their peers in the regular school system where specially-trained tutors may be available to supplement the work of classroom teachers.

But the best-case scenario doesn't apply in every classroom across the province; nor does it apply uniformly across cash-strapped classrooms in a given school district.

Why is that, when, according to online information from the Ministry of Education, all school district budgets are adjusted to account for differences between rural and urban schools and differences between the costs of educating regular learners and those designated as "unique" students?

As you might expect, the more the ministry talks the more the labels change and the more likely you are to end up comparing apples to bananas.

The per capita basic allocation for regular learners for the 2013-14 school year will be $6,784.

The per capita grants for "needs students" are as follows:

Level 1, students identified as physically dependent or deaf/blind: $36,600;

Level 2, students with moderate to profound intellectual, physical or chronic health disabilities, visual or hearing impairments and autism spectrum disorder: $18,300;

Level 3, students with serious mental illness, or who need intensive behaviour interventions: $9,200.

Our society, represented by government and the legislation, has decided every child has an equal right to access public school and post-secondary education. The critical point here is that the word equal cannot be qualified; rights are either equal or they're not.

So unless we're prepared to change the legislation, we cannot accept that parents of some dyslexic children must mortgage their family's future to the tune of a low-salary job-equivalent every school year.

If these issues aren't addressed, the hazards to those students and to society are at least two-fold - and could end up costing us a fortune in dollars and heartbreak. Whether for regular or special-needs Canadians, lack of optimum education can result in barriers to employment, poverty, poor nutrition and ill-health. Worse still, the resulting stigma and low self-esteem can lead to acting-out, brushes with the law, alcoholism and/or drug-addiction.

Saddest of all, are the results of a study by North Shore psychiatrist, Dr. Tom Barnett that show a sharp rise in emergency-room visits between 2009-2012 by young people aged 0-19. Diagnoses are depression, suicidal thoughts or deliberate self harm.

I have not seen the full report and do not know what led to these events. But we cannot rest easy knowing that on at least 285 occasions a young person in our midst was so desperate they ended up at the ER door.

When Dr. Michael Markwick - the independent candidate who dared tilt at Ralph Sultan's West Van-Capilano windmill on May 14 - emailed me the Barnett data, he wrote: "If this graph had depicted a rise in AIDS/ HIV, heart disease or gang violence, there would be the proverbial . . . to pay."

In last week's column, Planned CapU Cuts Show Degree Priorities, I said the Access to Work program would lose $1.3 million due to the university's budget shortfall.

In fact, university-wide program cuts are planned to balance the budget.

Worse was to come. Budget analysis posted to the Capilano University Faculty Association website shows that from 2008 to 2013, faculty full-time equivalents dropped nine per cent, while the FTEs for administration in the same period increased by an eye-popping 57 per cent.

Meanwhile, a June 10 review by the university's Senate Budget Advisory Committee says the government operating grant that traditionally covered 80 per cent of the university's total budget now only covers 42 per cent.

Yet even though the Information Technology departmental budget of $4.6 million was a "specific area of interest," the SBAC submission concluded it was "unable to solve the budget problem without cuts to programs and sections."

So much for the concerns of a North Shore mother who told me her young adult son is "struggling to find work placement due to a disability and badly needs to be accepted into the university's programs."

Several meetings are on the CapU agenda this week. Let's hope they'll result in more palatable solutions.

There are billions of dollars in British Columbia's education pots. What we need now are some new glasses to focus on how those dollars are being deployed. rimco@shaw.ca

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