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Should we cut band and strings to fund inclusive education? (Spoiler alert – the answer is no!) – Questions to ask at school board budget consultations

We’re learning that catchy headlines bring more readers. Getting right to it, no we should not cut band and strings to fund inclusive education! At BCEdAccess we don’t want to see cuts to funding for the expressive arts, or any other enriching programming. We know from research that expressive arts actually improve mental health, and can support improvements for those with learning and developmental disabilities. Disabled students share varied interests and passions, including the expressive arts, with all learners. We want school districts to fund band and strings, AND drama, AND inclusive education!

The reason we raise the question is to ask – are school districts fulfilling their obligations to disabled students?

The only condition allowing school districts to not accommodate a student with disabilities/complex learning needs is that the district has reached the point where providing it would create an undue hardship. Otherwise, they must.

Undue hardship is when a service provider can prove to a court that the cost of providing a service they are legally obliged to provide would place too great a financial burden on the system, so they are excused from providing that service. The court has found in past cases that the service provider, while they were indeed able to show they were financially struggling, still could find the money to pay for the service within their budgets. It’s a very difficult test to meet for districts.

Most districts offer programs that are not mandated by the Ministry to provide, such as Montessori, French Immersion, International Baccalaureate – all wonderful programs, often more expensive to run, and not required by law.

Districts do, by law, have to meet the identified needs of students with special needs. So if courts were to look at undue hardship cases they would presumably look to see if there are bonus programs like Montessori being funded, where that money could be used to meet the needs of disabled students. If the district has paid for staff to travel to international conferences, the court would say that students with disabilities needed to be funded first before travel expenses were paid. Catering expenses above services for students with disabilities would be another example.

Much like online recipe blogs, it’s taken us a while to get to the point! Here are some questions to ask at your school district budget consultations. Ask them in meetings, surveys, letters – in any way that you can!

1. Educational Assistants

How many hours do EAs need to work to count as ‘full-time’ in your district?

Is your district going to raise that to 35 to 40 hours a week?

Currently ‘full-time’ for EAs ranges from about 26 to 30 hours per week around the province. With summers and two 2-week breaks throughout the year, this does not amount to very great pay. 

We have a shortage of EAs in this province, and true full time hours would go a long way towards making the job more attractive. It would also help to retain the ones we have and allow them to hold only one job instead of having to take 2 or 3 jobs on to be able to make a living. This burns people out. We need to treat EAs as the important part of the team that they are.

How many unfilled EA positions are there currently?

How long have they been unfilled?

How many positions a day do not get filled from the spare board when folks are away?

What are you doing to recruit for EAs for both permanent and spareboard positions?

What happens to the money saved when these permanent positions and daily failures to fill happen?

2. Specialist Teachers

What are the specialist to student ratios in your district?

Some specialists include:

Speech and Language Pathologists

Educational Psychologists

Occupational Therapists

Counsellors

Learning Support Teachers

Trained teachers for dyslexic students

Trained teachers for gifted students

Ratios of specialist to student directly relate to how much support students with disabilities are receiving, how many assessments are being performed in a district, and so on. The same issues with burnout noted above also apply.

Are there any current vacancies for these specialist positions? 

How long have these jobs been vacant?

What are you doing to recruit for these positions?

What happens to the money saved because the position has not been filled?

3. Some other questions our community has raised:

Does your district have pull out programs for remedial learning support and for gifted students?

Does your district still have adequate flexible learning spaces for students who need to take a break, for students to do work in small groups or one on one work as needed, etc?

What is your district spending on training to support students with disabilities and complex learners? Are they training principals, teachers, EAs and other school staff, or only some of these positions? Are they spending more this year? What are the specifics of the training?

In the end, a budget is a finite sum of money and school districts must make difficult decisions about where to allocate funds. An exception being the fixed requirement from the province in terms of Indigenous funding, all other funds are pooled and decisions made at the district level..

School districts may truly believe they are unable to create equity of access for all students with the money the province will provide. This doesn’t remove their legal obligation to do so. Many school boards advocate at the provincial level in regards to inadequate funding, and you can support them in this advocacy. Write letters to the province, too!

Speaking up about budgets is something many people feel intimidated by. There is no expectation by the school boards that you be an expert in their budgeting processes. It’s okay to ask questions. Approach your board from a place of curiosity, and seek to work collaboratively. We’re all seeking better outcomes for all students.

 

One Comment

  1. meredith gardner
    meredith gardner February 26, 2020

    With lots of support through his childhood my child with autism has grown to have the skills to succeed mostly independently in High School. He has access to education. The broader rich high school school life – sports, drama, clubs – remains inaccessible. Its an acceptable culture in BC schools that enriched programs in languages, sports, arts,and culture remain elitist and not set up for inclusion. These programs are important for all students – but the public school system should not allow any non-inclusive enriched programs. When we cross that bridge we will truly move to a diverse and inclusive school system. BUT parents (and activity leaders) will fight tooth and nail to protect the status quo and their kids access to special programs that currently are perceived to create a developmental advantage. EVERY activity sanctioned by and affiliated with BC schools needs to be put under this lens.

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