Opinion: Little reason for optimism

Teachers and the government are too far apart to make a settlement seem likely.

Amid the rhetoric, acrimony, and accusations, the dispute between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government comes down to one thing: Money.

The two sides may choose a more colourful palette: Politicians will argue its all about responsible stewardship of the economy; teachers will say its about quality of education.

But still, it all comes down to money.

Or more to the point, taxes.

Currently, $4.7 billion of your tax dollars is spent on the education system annually. The government says that should be enough. In fact, it argues it’s 27 per cent more than what was spent in 2001.

The BCTF says it’s not. Citing stats that suggest B.C.’s per student funding is among the lowest in Canada, it says more must be done.

The debate has polarized the province. But while taxpayers may agree to disagree on who’s to blame for the latest impasse, there is one thing they can agree on: The system is broken.

Only twice in the past two decades has a collective agreement been agreed upon by all the parties involved.

During that time, there has been a noticeable contraction in public education. In the past five years, for example, the number of students enrolled has dropped by 21,498. At the same time, student population at independent schools has gown by 6,605.

To suggest that labour unrest is the reason for this migration would be an oversimplification. And yet, every time there’s a labour disruption enrollment climbs at private schools.

Clearly there are people who are willing to spend more to educate their children.

The BCTF argues the average taxpayer should do the same. It says education in B.C. is chronically underfunded and deserves a bigger share of the fiscal pie. But it also says that should not come at the expense of other government sectors.

That means one thing: higher taxes.

And that seems unlikely. During the last provincial election neither the NDP nor the BC Liberals showed any appetite raise the kind of money needed to meet the spending expectations of the BCTF.

Doing so now seems even less likely, meaning an arbitrated settlement that only perpetuates the distrust and animosity until the next round begins again.

If that sounds pessimistic,  it’s not. Given the history, it’s simply realistic.

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