Michelle Mungall

COLUMN: Bill 11 attacks BC education

We all know how important education is to any person’s success in life. It’s equally imperative to the wellbeing of our communities.

We all know how important education is to any person’s success in life. It’s equally imperative to the wellbeing of our communities and entire society.

In Canada, we are fortunate to have developed a robust public education system available to every child and rooted in democratic governance. That said, we must do all that we can to protect and build upon our education system with the constant goal of providing each child with the tools to meet their full potential. Bill 11 currently being debated in your legislature fails to do this.

Both the Kootenay Lake district parents advisory council and the Kootenay Lake school district wrote the minister of education and me to voice their concerns with this bill. I brought those concerns to the legislature floor, and joined theirs, teachers and others’ call for the government to withdraw this terrible piece of legislation.

This bill centralizes control of our public education system further into the hands of the minister of education in three ways. First, it erodes your elected school boards’ ability to manage schools, lands, services.

The minister would be allowed to direct your locally elected boards to sell lands. At the same time, the Liberals have cut the education budget by $29 million this year and $25 million next year and could force boards to adopt a shared service program to realize this budget cut.

While this may not sound bad, let’s consider that the savings do not go back into the classroom. They are cut from education altogether. Additionally, the last time the Liberals forced a shared service onto school districts, the $80 million computer system was scrapped because it was such a failure. The BC Liberal government simply does not have a trustworthy track record when it comes to inserting itself into the day-to-day operations of our school districts.

Another way Bill 11 gives too much authority to the minister of education is what it does, or doesn’t do, with student information. Essentially, we find less protection of student information and too many vague parameters that leave parents with questions like “who will have access to our kids’ records? Will this information be shared between ministries? And what happens if my child’s private information is wrongfully disclosed?” There are no answers to these questions, and the Liberals’ “trust us” response is cold comfort when they are continually chastised for not being able to protect the information of children in foster care.

The third major aspect of this bill continues Premier Christy Clark’s long held disdain for public educators. Every profession regulates their professional development standards and needs, and government has supported that. This is no longer the case for teachers.

No longer will school boards and teachers work together to identify local needs for professional development. Rather, the minister will decide based on a cookie-cutter that he crafts in his office. The result, Kootenay teachers may not get the training they need to support Kootenay kids because the minister in Victoria prioritizes Vancouver’s needs for the province.

Teachers, parents, nor school trustees were consulted prior to developing this bill. Ignoring the very people most impacted by legislation is a sure fire way to make bad laws. Our kids deserve better. We all deserve better.

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall writes here once a month.

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