After health care, education is the second largest budget item for the provincial government.
And in the Nanaimo riding, talk of school closures and budget shortfalls is circulating – the school district balanced next year’s budget by making cuts and a draft 10-year facilities plan calls for school closures, while at the post-secondary level, Vancouver Island University’s budget calls for growing student numbers and getting more entrepreneurial to balance the books.
NDP incumbent Leonard Krog said more money needs to be invested in the system – the party is calling for investing an additional $100 million per year on top of what is already being spent on K-12 education.
An NDP government would also replace the Foundation Skills Assessment – an annual exam administered to all Grades 4 and 7 students in the province.
“A lot of educators have suggested that it’s not that helpful,” said Krog.
He would like to see as many of the area’s small community schools kept open as possible.
The NDP would also make investments in skills training and student grants at the post-secondary level, including $100 million for a needs-based, non-repayable student grants program.
“So many students are leaving now with incredible amounts of debt,” said Krog, adding that the apprenticeship program needs to be fixed so the province doesn’t end up in a scenario where there are people with no jobs and jobs with no people.
B.C. Liberal policy includes negotiating a 10-year agreement with teachers and $32 million over three years to support new licensed childcare spaces.
Liberal candidate Walter Anderson said his party’s Learning Improvement Fund is putting more teachers and education assistants in classrooms – more than 90 per cent of classrooms across the province have 30 students or less.
While it is ultimately up to elected school trustees, he would rather see money directed to educational programs than to keeping half-empty schools open and he supports the right for parents to choose the type of education they want for their children, including the option of private schools.
On the post-secondary education front, Anderson said the Liberals expanded the number of post-secondary spaces and announced a skills training program last fall to help boost the number of skilled workers in the province.
The Green Party of B.C. wants to increase funding to the post-secondary education system with at least $200 million annually, immediately reduce tuition fees by 20 per cent and eliminate interest on student loans over five years, with the long-term goal of making all levels of education free.
Ian Gartshore said education is a high priority for him – providing access to higher education options leads to better social outcomes, lower policing costs, a better sense of belonging to the community, lower health care costs, increased productivity and better functioning relationships.
He also believes that, while there may need to be some rationalizations, it is important to keep small schools open so that children can go to school in their own communities.
Schools also need to be opened up more to the community, allowing services to be delivered where people live, Gartshore added.
Gartshore said changes need to be made to the current per-student funding formula in the K-12 system – declining enrolment in Nanaimo has meant that the district has struggled to provide services – but it would be up to individual school districts to decide how best to fund education services.
B.C. Conservative candidate Bryce Crigger believes the public education system is too narrowly focused on encouraging students to go to university.
He said the curriculum and tests are designed with the purpose of going to university, at the expense of encouraging students to look into other career paths such as the trades.
“In my opinion, there’s a whole attitude and mindset problem that needs to be changed,” said Crigger, adding that programs such as Nanaimo school district’s Career Technical Centre, which allows students to get started on post-secondary education in the trades while still in high school, should be expanded.
Comprehensive, ongoing testing, more clearly defined learning outcomes and revamped provincial tests are also part of the Conservative platform.
For post-secondary, Crigger said his priority is to expand training programs for trades and other areas where a shortage of skilled workers is expected.
He said making more money easily available to students would effectively raise the price of tuition and while he’d like to see tuition increases only rise at about the rate of inflation, he doesn’t believe tuition fee caps are the answer.
Independent candidate Brunie Brunie feels that post-secondary institutions are beginning to be run more as businesses rather than educational institutions. She said tuition fees should be increased for international students and she would organize a community forum on education.