Most vulnerable children to get supports they need to be engaged and successful in school

Rob Fleming

THE Province announced on Friday that for the first time, B.C.’s children and youth in care will be recognized through a new supplement when funding is allocated to school districts next month.

This change will also expand priority funding to more children with mental-health challenges and those living in low-income families.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that years of neglect have left far too many of our most vulnerable children not getting the supports they need to be engaged and successful in school,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education. “Our government is doing things differently by putting the success and well-being of students first, while ensuring equity in the way we fund public education.”

Money allocated for this new supplement will be provided to school boards to deliver services based on local needs. These funds are intended for supports like trauma counselling, school breakfast or lunch programs, additional support in the classroom, recognizing mental-health issues and early intervention, or tutoring. Recognizing these students for priority funding will ensure the more than $6 billion in record operating funding is distributed in a way that better represents the number of vulnerable students in B.C. schools. The amount of money allocated for the supplement will be announced following Budget 2020.

This is part one of a two-phase plan to improve the way education is delivered in B.C., following the completion of a comprehensive review that examined ways to ensure every child has equal and consistent access to a quality education, no matter their circumstances or where they live. The review involved an unprecedented level of consultation, including all 60 school districts and over 350 education stakeholders.

Former youth in care already are benefiting from the post-secondary Tuition Waiver Program, and these changes will pave the way for success beginning at an early age. The move builds on broader government efforts, including the poverty reduction strategy TogetherBC, a Pathway to Hope roadmap for mental health, and prioritizing children and youth in care.

“We want to give every child and youth in care the chance to thrive and overcome challenges they could face,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development. “From an early age, right through school, high school and post-secondary, we’re working to support children and youth, help guide them and make sure they can access the services they need in order to succeed.”

In 2018, the Province appointed an independent review panel to undertake a review of how public education is funded for the first time in almost 30 years. The panel recommended making improvements to ensure greater equity, accountability and financial management, so all students are supported to reach their full potential.

As part of the equity recommendations, Indigenous students will continue to benefit from targeted funding for culturally appropriate support and services. There will also be added accountability through formal processes, so Indigenous parents, communities and governments can provide input into how educational services are delivered to their children. This builds upon ongoing work to prioritize Indigenous students, including a 30% increase in funding since 2016-17.

The Ministry of Education will work collaboratively with school boards and other partners to implement improved public accountability, including ensuring school districts:

* engage parents, caregivers and community members in the development of school districts’ strategic plans, well in advance of setting their budgets, to meet student needs;

* continuously monitor and publicly report on student outcomes, such as numeracy, literacy and graduation rates, so gaps in student achievement are identified and services can be planned based on proven strategies; and

* ensure strategic plans and financial decisions are focused on improving student outcomes and meeting all students’ needs, including inclusive education, Indigenous education, students from low-income families and other vulnerable students.

These new accountability and transparency measures will give parents and caregivers a stronger voice, while making sure students’ needs are put first.

The ministry will continue to work on the remainder of the recommendations with school boards and other partners – including parents, support staff, teachers, Indigenous communities and inclusive-education advocacy groups.

This work will include testing and piloting strategies to improve how inclusive education is delivered so students receive the services and supports they need, when they need them, no matter where they live. Ongoing work will ensure the unique costs of running schools in rural and remote districts throughout the province are recognized and prioritized when funding is allocated.

“The previous government imposed decisions with no consultation, and that’s why we said all along that we will take the time necessary to get this right. We need to make sure all children can benefit from the changes we make,” Fleming said.

“We’re glad that the ministry is taking the initial step in moving forward with the necessary process of improving the funding model,” said Stephanie Higginson, President, BC School Trustees Association. “This process has given us critical information about the student population that was unavailable when the current model was created. We remain committed to working with the ministry toward finding a more student-focused way of distributing education dollars to local boards of education.”

Education funding is a shared priority between government and the BC Green Party caucus, and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.

“The BC Green caucus supports the funding model changes announced today, particularly the emphasis on supporting vulnerable children and youth in care,” said Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley. “Our collective goal must be to ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive. This means continuing to work with our partners in the education system to find the best ways to fund the supports that our students need.”

Quick Facts:

* Government is supporting B.C. students with a record $6.6 billion a year, which is $1 billion more than in 2016-17.

* Since 2016-17, student enrolment has increased by 3.2% while, at the same time, education funding has increased by 17.1%, including a 30% increase to support Indigenous education and a 29% increase to support inclusive education.

* More than 1,100 former youth in care are benefiting from post-secondary or trades training through the Tuition Waver Program program, which was introduced in the 2017-18 school year.

* In early 2019, the Province launched TogetherBC, British Columbia’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy. It aims to reduce the province’s overall poverty rate by 25% and the child poverty rate by 50% over the next five years.

* A Pathway to Hope, launched in June 2019, is a 10-year mental health plan, with an immediate focus for the next three years on improving wellness for children, youth and young adults, supporting Indigenous-led solutions, improving substance use care, and improving access and quality of care throughout B.C.

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