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B.C. Public Schools Need More Funding, Not Fundraising

I find that the inadequacies of public education funding have ignited a fire in me. Is anyone else feeling like we should stop fundraising for the things that should be funded by the government?

Are there any other parents out there feeling like I do?

I'm a stay-at-home mother of four, three of whom are in public school this year. I am the spouse of a B.C. public school teacher. I have been active in my kids' schools for the past eight years, serving as a Parents' Advisory Council (PAC) executive or otherwise volunteering my time to the PAC and individual classrooms.

I want my children to get the highest quality, most comprehensive, and best funded education possible.

Last night, I was sent a message from a high school friend whose kids have both graduated. In past years, she has been active with our district PAC, but I'm unsure of her level of involvement now. She was drumming up support for a fundraiser at an elementary school that my children don't attend. She asked me to advertise their fundraiser to my own kids' school, to benefit a reading program and playground.

I read the hope and enthusiasm in her words, and it got me thinking.

Didn't teachers just finish fighting for better funding?

As a teacher's wife, I know the answer to that question: yes, they did. And the government brought very little to the table for properly funding necessary programs in public schools. What they have promised is not enough -- not by a long shot.

My gut reaction was to respond that they shouldn't have to raise funds for a reading program; the government should fund that! This is an inner-city school with a large low-income demographic, and high First Nations population. This school has historically been in desperate need of programs like these.

Funding for a reading program in a school with a large population of struggling readers is essential. The government knows this; their own research bears it out. A playground may seem like an extra to most people, but just ask any educator about the value of a play structure at an elementary school and they will set you straight.

Reading my friend's message filled me with unfamiliar, conflicting emotions; I was torn between actively supporting this worthy effort and railing against a government that won't adequately fund the programs schools need.

In the end, I told her that this latest labour dispute really got me thinking about what we raise money for and why, and that given my feelings on the government's failure to properly fund public education, perhaps I was not the best channel through whom to request fundraising support. I directed her to our school's administrator and wished her every success.

As for me, my heart has gone completely out of fundraising for schools. I think back to just three years ago, when I was PAC treasurer; I was instrumental in achieving our $30,000 fundraising goal to augment our own playground.

I was full of drive; we increased our hot lunch program to once every three weeks, and looked for innovative new ways to squeeze funds out of the pocketbooks of school families -- families who couldn't always afford it.

But we weren't thinking about that; we were solely concerned with achieving our goal. At the end of it, we did indeed reach that goal, and we got a great addition to our playground. But I felt burned out, and I can only imagine how thoroughly wrung out the wallets of our school's community members were.

I find that the inadequacies of public education funding have ignited a fire in me. I understand and respect that teachers feel a strong pull to go the extra mile for their students, to fill their classrooms with materials that inspire and engage, challenge and nurture. I also understand that a significant portion of those materials are paid for out of the teachers' pockets.

Those expenditures take food out of their families' mouths, and further diminish their spending power in an economy that can't afford such fiscal restraint. The gains to their salary in this most recent settlement don't even let them catch up to the cost of living from seven years ago. Teachers are making less every year.

Mine is one of those teaching families that this affects. We are more fortunate than some; as a secondary teacher, it is not expected that my husband cover every wall with bright artwork or have individual folders with each student's name on them. Rather, he can get away with a few artfully displayed posters.

But he has still invested a respectable amount in resources for his class, such as movies to flesh out novel studies, renditions of Shakespeare's plays to increase his students' understanding of the Bard, and documentaries for Socials classes -- not to mention the hand-sewn 10th Century Danish clothing he is already in possession of, courtesy of our participation in a medieval re-creation group.

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B.C. Public School Classrooms

His students are in for a real treat this year, and it's all at his own cost. These are the extras that I don't necessarily expect the government to foot the bill for. But I do expect them to foot the bill for copy paper, and reading programs, and toilet paper, and facial tissue, and the basic materials that teachers need to follow the curriculum and that schools need to operate.

So is anyone else feeling like we should stop fundraising for the things that should be funded by the government? Should we submit invoices to the Ministry of Education and demand proper funding? Do we continue to pay out of pocket for things that used to be funded? How do we increase government funding of public education? Are we asking too much?

I think the solution lies in knowledge.

So please, go to your school's PAC meeting and ask questions. Ask what they are fundraising for. If it's for the extras that we would not normally expect to be funded, I know that I could donate in good conscience.

But if it is for basic materials fundamental to the curriculum, it's time to pose some hard questions to the executive, and ask them why they are not applying pressure to the government and enlisting the support of the B.C. Coalition of PACs and the local school board to step up and speak out for proper funding of public education.

Our children's futures depend on it.

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