By Tracy Humphreys–
On Tuesday, August 31st, I presented to the Select Standing Committee On Finance and Government Services on behalf of the BCEdAccess Society, via Zoom. This Committee meets annually and makes recommendations to government for the next budget, in this case Budget 2022.
Since 2020, the Committee has been bringing in people grouped by subject matter, and I was there with Cindy Dalglish and Cynthia Lockrey, both strong advocates for inclusive education.
This year in addition to the presentation we will be giving a written submission, and I encourage you to submit as well – you can write, send a video or a voice recording, here, as well as fill out their survey:
BC Budget 2022 Consultation Feedback
Submissions are due by September 30th, 2021.
Inclusion BC is on September 2nd agenda and we look forward to their presentation as well!
Here’s the transcript (not the final version) from my presentation, as well as Cindy and Cynthia’s, and the questions and answers that followed. I am also including the excellent presentation from Cathy McMillan of Dyslexia BC at the end, since she presented earlier in the day.
You can see all transcripts from the Committee here:
Transcript (Blues) from the Hansard record:
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 9 – K-12 Education (Inclusion)
T. Humphreys: Thanks for having me here today. I’m Tracy Humphreys, and I’m speaking from the stolen lands of the Lək̓ʷəŋin̓əŋ peoples, specifically, the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. I am a settler with roots in the U.K. and Germany, and I’m a white, middle-aged woman with reddish, shoulder-length hair and glasses wearing an orange shirt and black over-the-ear headphones. Don’t mind my laundry pile behind me, but this is pandemic living sometimes.
I am a disabled mom of three amazing kids with disabilities, two of them still in K to 12, and I am the executive director of BCEdAccess, which was founded in 2014 to connect parents and guardians of children and youth with disabilities and accessibility needs to share information, support one another and to learn about human rights and the education system.
We’re a volunteer-run organization. We serve families all over B.C. with kids in all types of schooling with all types of disabilities, and we have a parent Facebook group community that has grown, at this point, to about 4,000 community members. Because the education system is so complex, we actually hired a researcher and policy analyst through the Canada summer jobs program this year. Using parent concerns that were cited over the years, combined with a quick survey earlier this month, we’re creating a written submission for this committee that will outline the top changes parents are looking for to create a more inclusive education system.
I’m here to ask you today to invest, in a significant way, in K-to-12 education, which is still experiencing budget cuts every year. On the table were approximately $100 million in cuts among the 60 school districts for the 2021-22 school year, many of those targeting inclusive education, and there’s more cuts on the table for next school year.
Limited time means I’ll just give you a couple of examples of what parents are looking for. First, please release the updated inclusive education policy manual. This would be a low-to-no-cost effort, because we — among other groups — were able to meaningfully engage with the Ministry of Education in reviewing the current manual, and we understand the majority of the work is now complete. So school districts currently use a very outdated policy, and we’re interested in seeing stronger rights-based language, and we’d like to see this in place especially when childcare moves to the Ministry of Education to ensure a strong, inclusive framework is already present.
Second, an individual education plan, or an IEP, is a student-centred living document created by the parents, student and school team to identify learning goals; describe the services and adaptations to the environment, teaching methods; and how to achieve those goals. In 2011, the Office of the Auditor General reported on the first phase of an audit of school district accountability for the effectiveness of special education services, and this report said: “Currently the best information on student needs is in individual education plans.”
So the province does a compliance audit, but we need accountability for student outcomes. The only measure of student achievement right now is graduation rates, which have not increased measurably in the last three years for students with disabilities, ranging between 60 to 75 percent, compared to between 81 and 90 percent for non-disabled students. We need to know sooner whether the money and effort being put into inclusive education is helping disabled students be successful. Waiting until graduation is far too late, so we’re asking that you audit IEPs annually for student outcomes.
I also want to talk about mental health, because while our focus is education advocacy, it’s become increasingly necessary for BCEdAccess to participate in discussions locally, provincially and Canada-wide about child and youth mental health, because it has such a huge impact on learning. We need actual mental health services for all, both in schools and out, and in particular, for disabled children and youth.
One thing that we’ve learned so far from the pandemic is that more kids are struggling, and for those who were already struggling, it has gotten worse. It’s really highlighted the gaps in services for children and youth, but most especially for those who also have disability diagnosis. There are very few counsellors, psychologists, or psychiatrists who are actually trained to work with disabled children and youth who need mental health support.
Significant funding has come through from the federal government and also committed by the province. But it’s our understanding that none of it will be specifically targeted to address the mental health needs of children and youth with dual diagnoses in schools. We need accountability for these funds and for them to actually support all students, not just some.
The Ministry of Education says the purpose of the B.C. school system is to enable students to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy. In practice, the system, though, creates barriers that disabled students have to overcome to develop their potential.
If the government is committed to a B.C. that includes all, then you need to commit to a significant increase in education funding and make changes recommended by all who are speaking to this topic.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Tracy.
Now we’ll hear from Cindy Dalglish.
C. Dalglish: Hi, everyone. I am presenting this to you from the stolen lands of the Coast Salish, Semiahmoo, Katzie, Tsawwassen, Stó:lō and Kwantlen peoples. My pronouns are she/her.
This is my fourth time speaking to the Select Standing Committee on Finance. I want to start with my concern on the efficacy of the select standing committee and its ability to inform positive change within government. I have yet to see traction on a call to action shared to the committee from myself or other advocates for children with disabilities and their families.
My first ask is that each of you personally champion calls to action that are presented to you by myself, Tracy Humphreys or Cynthia Lockrey or any other advocates who work so hard to advocate for children. I will be reaching out to you individually to follow up.
As always, I’m here in support of education and better funding for the entire K-to-12 system. We have a ministry that seems willing to listen, but they do not have the bandwidth to act with any urgency for what are deemed urgent issues. Our K-to-12 education system includes educators, education assistants, administrators, boards, unions and our government staff that enact programs and policies that support the education system.
At this current pace, little is getting done, and it’s not from a lack of will or desire, but a lack of bandwidth. There are many unfilled positions in the Ministry of Education. And even when filled, the staffing is not adequate to complete the workplans. My first financial ask is to support the Ministry of Education by increasing the resources to complete their workplans, including the work on getting standards of practice for education assistants — so very important — as well as the inclusive education manual that Tracy spoke of earlier.
As your responsibility indicates, you are on this committee to support the financial well-being of our province. When we do not support our children proactively and adequately, we pay dearly both financially and socially when these children become adults. We see it in the numbers around mental health supports, poverty, addiction and incarceration — many because we didn’t support these adults as children, with adequate services during their formative years.
It easily costs our province ten times the amount in social services, if not more, to support these adults than it would if we just supported these students proactively. What does this support look like? Assessments for every student that requires one. We have long wait-lists for assessments within our education system, which impedes a student’s ability to get the support they need in a timely fashion.
When numerous administrators throughout this province state they are told they need to prioritize students needing assessment and max out how many students they have on a wait-list — in other words, they could have 100 students who need an assessment, but they’re told, “Your wait-list can only have ten,” we have a problem. Every student that is showing need for an assessment should be getting one in that same calendar year. It’s not uncommon to hear students are identified as struggling by grade 1 and not receiving assessments until grade 7. This is, no doubt, by design and because of budget constraints.
This is where you come in. These budget constraints need to change. We need to remove the growing inconsistencies district to district. The support needs to be targeted and the responsibility lie with government to ensure our children are receiving their legal right to an accessible and equitable education.
What else does the support look like? We need more resources to support the findings of the assessments, either smaller class sizes or well trained education assistants in every class. We also need more school counsellors to support the mental health of our students, even those without an assessment. We need more speech and language pathologists in the schools. Ten to 15 minutes with a student once a month — not cutting it. We need more specific student resources to meet the students’ specific needs.
I understand COVID has put a wrench in many things, but it cannot become the excuse for not supporting our children. We can’t do the bare minimum. In fact, we already don’t do the bare minimum to ensure each student is receiving their equitable education. If we truly believe that education is supposed to be the great equalizer, regardless of the circumstances in the home, we do a poor job showing it.
I know we have the highest funding ever, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not adequate, and it’s not even close in line with other provinces. But I don’t want to look to other provinces for a benchmark. I want our province to lead and do right by our children. It’s time to invest in our future.
Thank you for your time.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Cindy. And finally, we’ll hear from Cynthia.
C. Lockrey: Hi. I’m Cynthia Lockrey. I’m a mother of two diverse learners in Cowichan Valley on the unceded territory of Cowichan Tribes First Nations. I have one student who is in public education, and I have a second student who I’ve had to pull for her own safety and her mental health out of public education and put her into the private system, not because I won the lottery but because it was necessary due to lack of supports.
I’m also the co-chair of Parents for Inclusive Education. Parents for Inclusive Education is a committee that was formed by parents in school district 79, because we’re struggling. Our kids are experiencing trauma, and families are in crisis. You’ll find out that there are Parents for Inclusive Education that sprung up across B.C. this school year in Surrey, Kelowna and other school districts. So that should tell you something about what’s happening in our schools — that parents are needing to create yet another group when we’re already stretched.
This is my fourth time presenting. Every year we hear about the crisis, and every year when the budget comes out, it’s like the crisis isn’t existing. We’re putting band-aids on it, and the reality is our kids are struggling greatly.
I’ll give you an example of one child. I have a child with an autism designation. It took us almost two years on a wait-list before we had to give up and fork out $3,000 for a private assessment, because without that golden nugget of an autism, he wasn’t getting the support he needs, although all of his needs were obvious.
Last year, we were promised in the B.C. government’s restart plan: “Students with disabilities, diverse abilities and those who require additional supports will have access to and receive the same supports and services they had prior to the pandemic.” That was a promise by the province of B.C. that I guarantee you did not happen in any school, anywhere in B.C. We all saw cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts. Our school of 450 kids went from three EAs to two, for 450 kids, with three kids in grade 3 alone who required one-on-one support. Forget about all the other kids with supports.
Last year, my son had meltdowns every day of the week because he had no support. He was left to try to navigate all these new restrictions and was in crisis. It was only through a month of doing nothing but advocating, bringing in provincial organizations — I’m a strong advocate — that we were able to get one more educational assistant back.
But here is what happens. We have to wait till a child is in trauma to get help. They have to be in severe trauma, and even then, they don’t always get help. Then we make these announcements about mental health funding, but we allow the trauma to be created. We wait until the trauma results in mental health issues, and then we address it at the end, which as Cindy mentioned, is much more expensive than if we could just support these diverse learners at the beginning so that the trauma is not inflicted.
And that trauma — it has a ripple effect. Teachers, administrators, the other children are being inflicted upon with what’s happening, and families across B.C. are in crisis.
Through my Parents for Inclusive Education Committee, every week I get phone calls and messages from parents who are in crisis, whose kids are not getting supports. We’ve had numerous meetings with our school district — very open — and they’ve said: “Our hands are tied. We only have so much money, and the needs are here, and the funding is here. We want to help your kids, but there’s nothing more we can do.”
So we talked to the Ministry of Education, and they said: “That’s all the money we have. Go back to your school district.” So parents are in this loop and loop. Meanwhile, kids are spiralling out of control. We’re having trauma. Families are going into crisis, and no one is there to help us.
So my ask to this committee is simple. Please listen to what we’re saying. This is our fourth year saying it. I’ll be back next year, but I’m hoping that my son doesn’t have to have another year of trauma and that I have to pull my kid out of public education to ensure their safety.
Also, I ask you to really look at how funding is earmarked for kids with disabilities. Right now, school districts have funding earmarked for Indigenous students and Indigenous learning, and it’s safeguarded. That is not the case with our kids’ funding. It goes into a big pot of money and can be used if we need to buy more hand sanitizer.
Finally, please keep your commitment to support kids with special needs, because last year’s promise was broken, and none of us have the bandwidth to go through another school year like we went through last year, because of the trauma that was inflicted upon our children.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Cynthia.
We now have roughly 15 minutes for questions from the committee.
L. Doerkson: I’ll give it a go. I think I can certainly sense the frustration. I am currently working with one of my constituents who is having a child assessed for autism. So, Cynthia, I think I can appreciate what you’re saying.
It seems to me that the problem is throughout a couple of different ministries, because with the situation that I’m working with, it’s Interior Health. The number that you quoted is $3,000. They want the child assessed by their doctor, who obviously is not the doctor that the child was originally assessed by in the community. And the $3,000 is exactly what I was told by the constituent. So I can appreciate the cost and the frustration.
But I think there are certainly multi ministries that we need to convey this message to. It’s not really a question. It’s more of a statement. But I can appreciate your frustration and, certainly, I’ll do my best to be part of that message.
M. Starchuk: Cindy, with your comments about assessment and the lag of time that’s there, have you done the kind of legwork, maybe, to find out what other districts have as benchmarks that are there? Like, is it rampant everywhere? Or is it just Surrey-centric or Metro Vancouver-centric or whatever the case may be?
C. Dalglish: This is a provincial issue, not a Surrey issue. Pretty much everything I’ve stated today is around the province and not just specific to Surrey.
Surrey, of course, does have its own issues because of the general size of it. But I know, just in doing some of the research in talking to different districts, that this is not uncommon throughout the province.
M. Starchuk: Okay. So just a follow up. There’s not a school district that’s out there that does it in 30 days and another one that does it in 45 days?
Okay. Very good. Thank you.
C. Dalglish: No.
M. Starchuk: I got the head nods. I got that one.
C. Dalglish: The head negative nods.
T. Humphreys: Yeah. I was wondering if I could jump in on that, because I think I could provide you a little more information there. Actually, the province does kind of keep track of wait times a little bit provincially, and how that’s going. It looks to be nine months to almost two years right now for most people. In the bigger districts, they actually have potentially more capacity because they’re more funded, generally, just because they have so many students. Rurally, it can be really, really challenging to get an assessment because there just isn’t even anyone working in that area who can provide it. So, on balance, it’s pretty bad everywhere.
C. Lockrey: I will also add that our child…. We’ve been told in our district that our child will never get an assessment even though we have, every year, letters from developmental pediatricians for needing a psych-ed assessment. Going back to the money, that’s now another $3,600 to get a private assessment that every doctor has told us we needed, but the school district said, in Cowichan, “We only do 100 a year,” and they have to do anybody in grade 12 first who has already had it done. So it really minimizes how many they can get done. It means kids can go through their whole school career needing a psych-ed assessment, and unless you can fork out lots of money, you kid is not getting it, which means we wait until graduation, as Tracy said earlier, to find out why they didn’t graduate.
T. Humphreys: Just to add to that…. It might be helpful for you if you’re interested in looking at this as a committee further. The select standing committee on — I was trying to remember the name — children and youth with special needs, I think it was called, a couple of years ago did a big inquiry around services for children and youth with disabilities. Lots and lots of people came and testified, and there’s a ton of information there about assessment if you’re interested in looking further.
**here’s the link to their report including 16 recommendations: https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/41st-parliament/4th-session/cay/Report_SSC-CY_41-4-1_Neuro-Diverse-Special-Needs.pdf
L. Doerkson: Just a follow-up question I guess to you, Cynthia, only because I’m a little bit familiar with your situation. What is the holdup with the assessments? Is it too many kids? Is it lack of staff? I mean, I guess it would be easy to say yes to that. I think one of you mentioned that there are many positions open, but these assessments, obviously, are coming from doctors. It appears to me that perhaps there’s a list of doctors that can approve these assessments. I guess I’m wondering what is the specific issue there, in getting these assessments. In my case, it’s two years minimum to get the assessment done on a child who is roughly 14 years old, I think. Obviously, by the time we get this kid assessed, it’s going to be 16. What is the holdup there?
C. Lockrey: It’s interesting, because you have the public funded system and you’re right, it’s a bottleneck of all of these kids coming through and the under six require a more lengthy assessment than the over six, and different practitioners involved. Then, because the bottleneck has gotten so bad, there is now a charity that is funding private assessments. Tracy, I can’t remember the name of the charity right now. This charity is now funding private assessment, which is a new thing. So now that has taken some of the people out of the public into the private, and now that’s clogged. Now it’s over a year for a private. From what I understand, it’s just there’s not enough funding to hire more practitioners to do this, and also to expand who can do these assessments.
T. Humphreys: And we’re not training enough people to do them. The people who know how are retiring and we are not replacing them. That’s the key piece of information.
C. Dalglish: And, as you stated earlier, that this could be across different ministries. Right there, not having enough in the labor workforce would need to fall under the Ministry of Labor, just like education assistants should also have a tie-in with the ministry of labor, but they’re not at the table and that left arm is not talking to the right arm about these different things. Of course, the Ministry of Advanced Ed. should also be part and parcel of these conversations and they’re not. They’re just not at the table at all. The charity I believe Cynthia was speaking about is Variety.
L. Doerkson: Yup, that certainly is consistent with my situation as well. The Variety Club, hopefully, will help this family. But, again — and somebody pointed out just now — it’s a matter of who can do these assessments, because this family actually has an assessment, but it’s not acceptable to the ministry.
You’re back to either waiting for — I believe it’s called INAC or IMAC, I’m not sure, but that would be the interior agency. Then, of course, they have a list of people that can provide that assessment. It would seem to me that any physician should be able to do that, perhaps, in the province.
Now, I’m a complete layman, but I do appreciate the conversation. It’s certainly important. Thank you.
C. Lockrey: And I will add that without that assessment, without that diagnosis, now you get into the issue of schools, where they don’t get the support. Because a lot of times, the support is based on the assessment, but not needs. A child can have clear needs, but without the assessment, which comes with, for autism, $20,000 for a school district.
They don’t get the support, so you can see how that…. We call it the golden nugget for a reason, because we need that for our kids to get support, and when you’re 16 years old, before you get that diagnosis, that means you’re 16 before you get the support you need in the education system, and the amount of educational assistance and supports that school districts are budgeted for is based on those dollars that those kids bring in, based on their assessments.
So it really does go all the way down the line, impacting these children. They don’t have a chance.
H. Sandhu: I really appreciate all of you shedding the light and importance of how important it is to invest early on, which can save us a lot more money, and it shouldn’t be about money, when it’s about our children.
From my knowledge, I know the government gives money to school districts, and every school district — they manage their funds differently. I think one of you highlighted how they have the money…. There is a safeguard for Indigenous education. Would it be the change in mandate — certain type of mandate — would help? This much money should be saved, in addition to what three of you suggested — that there needs to be more funding.
Have you heard about any school district that has been the champion, or are trying to move into that direction, to take the lead to save a designated amount of money to support these children? I know I saw head nods earlier, but I wonder if there’s any school district who is talking about it, or are thinking to take this action. Would a mandate change help, or what can we advocate for?
T. Humphreys: I don’t want to jump ahead of other people. I’m sure other people have lots of ideas.
It’s a very complicated question you ask, because the direction of the Ministry of Education through the funding model review which happened a couple of years ago, and which we were involved in — really happy to be involved in — was more in the direction of needs-based funding, and so less in the direction of individualized funding.
But what we’re really talking about is accountability, right? I don’t mean to denigrate school districts in any way. I know they work very hard and they do the best that they can with what they have available. I think it’s really challenging for them, because there’s less and less every year, but no one that I can think of is doing what you’re suggesting.
The best things that I have seen them doing recently is starting to have conversations that are specific to students with disabilities. Some districts have committees now where they talk about inclusive education and they’re looking long-term at how to move forward.
The best thing that the province can do is set accountability standards for students with disabilities. There’s really nothing right now, like I said. Just graduation rates. That’s the only thing that tells us how our students are doing. Anything in addition to that that looks along the way would be really, really helpful.
H. Sandhu: Thank you. I appreciate the answer. Often we hear this very common phrase when we’re investing. It’s taken as spending, and I always see investing in children or youth or other social programs is the best investment, where you see the returns later, and you save a lot more money. I really appreciate the work all three of you are doing. I appreciate the presentation, giving us this broader knowledge of the issue and the bottlenecks that are being faced.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): I think, actually, I got the answer. Tracy, you mentioned you needed greater accountability by audit to improve outcomes. You just said that setting the standards for students with disabilities…. I guess when I see this, and in my own riding over the years, obviously, early diagnosis, before kids are in school, especially autistic children…. I guess I’m really wondering if it’s more of a health issue, in the sense of the early assessment, because school is maybe too late, and it’s not necessarily equipped to deal with it. I wonder if it’s sitting in the right bucket.
T. Humphreys: Yeah. We often talk about that assessment. It’s kind of strange that most assessments are health, except a few particular ones. Psychoeducational assessments are not within the Ministry of Health, and those are really important assessments for our teachers to understand how to best educate and support disabled students.
There are even some really simple screens that can be done, actually, regarding grade 1 — for, let’s say, dyslexia for example. Really easy and just like an eye screen or hearing screening. We can do a screening for a number of things that would help a student pick things up in their early years that maybe don’t require that bigger assessment yet.
M. Dykeman: Thank you to all of the presenters today. I know I had the privilege in my role on a school board to meet with many of you and hear many fantastic presentations and submissions that you made over time in our school district. I’d like to thank you for your work.
The question that I have is just moving off the conversation with health. What sort of reception has there been to that type of conversation, looking at more integration within the ministries and moving psychoeducational and other assessments. Have you had the opportunity to really dig into that?
T. Humphreys: I haven’t actually ever engaged on that with Health. I know that there’s significant siloing between ministries. Education is like a hub. All the child-serving ministries, in one way or another, intersect with Education. There are inter-ministerial protocols that are set up with Education and all of the other ministries so that that kind of service is defined. Actually, it’s another area that needs updating, because they’re, I think, seven years out of date right now — most of them. That would be another thing to talk about.
Mostly, it’s having those engagements inter-ministerially — actual conversations and talking about how to best serve kids and not talking about “This my bucket of money; this your bucket of money.” Let’s just figure out the best way to do this that cuts through the timeline.
I’m sorry, Cynthia and Cindy. I don’t mean to do all the talking here.
C. Lockrey: Well, I was going to add that there are two other pieces. There’s one…. A pediatrician’s diagnosis is not always a Ministry of Education diagnosis. Parents are really struggling with this piece. The pediatrician may say that the child has this, this and this and needs these supports, but the ministry — this is the siloing — has a totally different type of designation that needs to be done. So parents are left with this great sense of relief because of what the pediatrician says only to hit a wall with the Ministry of Education.
In my work, I was at the community conversations the Ministry of Health had just days before COVID hit. I had this conversation with Ministry of Health staff, and they laughed and said, “Oh, we do not speak to each other, and do not expect us to speak to each other” — because that’s a whole silo that will take years to be broken down.
You can see where parents are frustrated, when your pediatrician tells you something, and it doesn’t actually mean anything to just the health world. But it doesn’t cross into the education world. Yet it’s the same child.
M. Dykeman: Wonderful. Thank you so much.
J. Routledge (Chair): I think with that, we have some more presentations this afternoon, and we have to wrap it up for now. We’ve certainly heard your frustration and your commitment to your children. There’s a number of things that I think we would want to pursue as a committee and beyond as a committee. I think this is the beginning of a much bigger conversation about silos and about the health of our children and making sure that our children get the best education possible.
Thank you. It was hard to hear. But it was important to hear.
C. McMillan: Thank you, committee members, for having me here today and presenting at the Budget 2022 consultation process. I am here today representing Dyslexia B.C., which is parent-led, grassroots movement concerned with limited access to interventions for dyslexia in B.C.
We are advocating for a universal definition of dyslexia, mandatory teacher training on dyslexia, mandatory early screening, mandatory remediation programs and access to appropriate assistive technologies.
Did you know that one in five people in B.C. have a learning disability? And 80 percent of all learning disabilities are dyslexia? That means there’s a lot of people in B.C. with dyslexia.
We’ve advocated all the way to the ministry level and asked for early screening for struggling readers. Also, did you know that it takes four times longer to remediate dyslexia if you wait until grade 3 or 4 to start remediation? We’ve previously asked for increased access to accessible material, including audiobooks. We’ve asked for legislation for dyslexia. In the U.S., 48 states have made dyslexia-specific legislation, and in Canada, they have made no dyslexia legislation to date.
We have also asked to bring back the funded category J, which was reserved for severe learning disabilities when it was taken away in 2002.
Our request from Dyslexia B.C. today from the budget committee are: to bring back the funded category for LD, include some psychology services as part of MSP for diagnosis, remove learning disability diagnosis from the education system, implement universal dyslexia screening in kindergarten, access to structured literacy within legislation in all classrooms and add screening centres for adults.
To bring back the J category, it would cost about $4,000 per student. Once the remediation process is done, you could probably lower it to about $2,000. If MSP covered psychological services, which would include diagnosis for dyslexia and other learning disabilities, it would take about 12 hours every five years for a diagnosis, and a diagnosis would probably be needed only for students that continue in education. After that, you could screen for dyslexia, which would only take about an hour.
Early literacy screening should cost between zero dollars and $10 and can be done right in the classroom, which is pretty cost effective.
We looked on the ministry website, including the B.C. Children’s Hospital website, to find information on resources for learning disabilities. We pretty much found nothing. So this is the Children’s Hospital website. This is the Ministry of Children and Family Development website. Lots about autism. Lots about intellectual disabilities and other complex needs, but nothing about dyslexia.
We asked families and individuals with dyslexia. A total of 356 people responded. We asked them if they felt included in government initiatives towards disability, and 89 percent of them said no.
What does dyslexia and learning disability do to a person? It affects their self-esteem, gives them depression, unemployment, underemployment, and they are overrepresented in the incarcerated population. And that only gets worse without a diagnosis.
What does the Ministry of Education say? The funding levels are one, two and three. We are not included. They say: “If you aren’t included in a funding category, the answer is no.” You often get no service, and the student is told they are not funded and, therefore, receives no support.
Even if you move to a prevalence model, which the Ministry of Education is pushing towards, it won’t be any different. We’re going to get a no. We’re going to get pushed into the system. We won’t get a diagnosis, which isn’t good for anyone.
Here are the funded categories: one, two and three. Learning disabilities is an afterthought in the paragraph after. This is right out of the Ministry of Education funding model.
What happens to kids and adults that aren’t diagnosed? They get pushed up into the mental health. Mental health should actually only be about 5 percent of disabilities represented in B.C.
So my key asks for the funding budget committee this year would be to bring back the J category, include some psychology services as part of MSP, remove learning disability diagnosis from the education system, implement universal dyslexia screening in kindergarten and access to structured literacy, with legislation, in all classrooms, and screening centres for adults. What will that do? The positive impact of funding people with learning disabilities like dyslexia will have equitable access, because they will have early prevention, less mental health issues, higher literacy rates, and overall access will be improved.
Thanks for listening today.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you so much, Cathy, and we have some questions for you.
C. McMillan: Okay, perfect.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much, Cathy.
I just wanted to find out…. You mentioned about having psychologists in doing some of this, if we return to that. Have you given any thought to how many psychologists are in British Columbia, and what would the numbers be to actually implement this? Or is the timeline quite a bit longer? I’m just wondering, what’s the gap today in terms of the people that could do a proper assessment?
C. McMillan: I think there are enough psychologists in B.C. currently. Right now what’s happened is there is a two-tier system, so the people that can afford to pay for assessments are doing that. The psychologists are there. They are getting paid privately or by extended medical. But if we decide to screen, starting in kindergarten, the need for assessments later on will be reduced.
It’s a matter of prioritizing things differently more than actual, more money. But the number one budget ask for you guys today is to bring back that funding category, because without a funding category for LD kids…. Like, the Ministry of Education even admits that school districts tell these kids and families that there’s no funding and you don’t get services.
G. Kyllo: Cathy, thank you for bringing this to our attention. It sounds like the ounce of prevention versus the pound of cure. Has the Ministry of Education provided any statistics on what the actual gross cost would be or annual cost would be to provide that early intervention or, I guess, detection of those that might have dyslexia in the school system?
C. McMillan: I honestly don’t think it would cost that much, and like I mentioned, the screening in kindergarten costs zero to $10 per child. They already purchase materials that are similar, so like I keep saying, its just a matter of reshuffling and reorganizing.
P. Alexis: Why was the J category removed in 2002?
C. McMillan: Apparently Christy Clark said it was so that they could include all kids with learning disabilities. Just like eyesight or autism or any other disability, there are varying degrees of learning disabilities. You know, it could be mild to very severe. One of my family members has severe dyslexia, and she’s still reading at the grade 2 level. And we’ve had no government help at all from that. Christy Clark outright said that there were two categories. There was the mild-to-moderate category, and then the J category. What they did was amalgamate the two categories into one and said that all kids would be able get help now, because there was one category, because the kids with the mild to moderate were getting left out.
That’s the only thing I’ve heard of, and I’ve asked several people why it was removed. Maybe you could help me answer that question.
P. Alexis: I can’t, actually. That’s why I’m stumped here. Okay, so there were two categories. So they were merged into one to include that range of disability under the dyslexia category. Is that correct?
C. McMillan: Well, yeah, learning disability category.
P. Alexis: Under learning disability, okay. I’m trying to understand. So it was too much of a definition, then? It was too specific, and that’s why they wanted to make it broader? I’m still struggling with understanding.
C. McMillan: No. When they changed the funding category, they had what they called directed funding — back before 2002. So autism, let’s say…. I don’t know the exact numbers, but autism was probably $10,000. So if a child was diagnosed with autism, they go to the school. They bring their diagnosis, and then what would happen is the principal would designate that student with the ministry as a child with special needs, and he has autism.
Then the ministry would give that school the funding for that child, that $10,000, to help with SEAs or whatever he needs help with. And kids with severe learning disabilities would get designated. Then I think it was around $3,000 a school would get for that specific child.
Then what they did in 2002 is…. The principal applies for all his funding and designations, and he gets a lump sum. So that money isn’t targeted toward any individual student. They raised autism to close to $19,000 — and other medical issues, $19,000. They made a behavioural category, which is $10,000, and a few other…. Those boxes I showed in there had funded categories, and they start at $5,000 to $10,000 and then go to $19,000 and then go up to $40,000.
Then learning disability was pushed all in together and was supposed to be included in base funding. I know that my one child with severe dyslexia has gone to remedial centres three, four months at a time, where she’s been sent in a cab and that sort of thing. I don’t know where the district gets the money for it, because she doesn’t come with funding. She’s designated as a child with special needs, but she does not come with supplemental funding.
P. Alexis: Thank you for further explaining that. Thank you so much.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay, thank you very much, Cathy. I see no other questions. You’ve actually educated us.
C. McMillan: Oh, thank you. I’m so sorry for being late. It was a bit of a kerfuffle.
J. Routledge (Chair): No, that was just fine. No problem. Thank you for your leadership on this, and thank you for your time.
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