BCEdAccess presented again to the Select Standing Committee On Finance And Government Services today, an annual opportunity to provide suggestions to the committee to make recommendations to government on budget priorities for the province.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services invites British Columbians to share their ideas and priorities for the next provincial budget! Participate by providing written comments or filling out the online survey via the Consultation Portal by 3:00p.m. (Pacific) on Friday, June 24.
For full details on the consultation and all the ways to participate, please visit the Budget 2023 Consultation website or contact the Parliamentary Committees Office at 250-356-2933 or 1-877-428-8337 (toll-free in BC).
Read the transcript of the session today:
June 7, 2022
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 6 – K-to-12 Education (Inclusion)
T. Humphreys: Thanks for inviting me today. Thanks, Cynthia, also, for coming. I know you’re going to share some really important thoughts and do the storytelling that you’re so excellent at.
My name is Tracy Humphreys. My pronouns are she and her. I’m joining as a settler on the stolen lands of the Lək̓ʷəŋin̓əŋ peoples, the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. I’m the executive director of the BCEdAccess Society. We’re an organization of parents, guardians and caregivers to children and youth with disabilities and complex learning needs in K-to-12 education from all over B.C. We advocate for equitable access to education.
People are coming to the committee with specific dollar amounts, but the needs of the education system are really complex, and we’re a volunteer-run organization. But for 14 years now, your committee has recommended changes that benefit inclusive education, and very little action has been taken by government. This needs to change.
The crisis that families are feeling has worsened through the pandemic in all areas, from education and child care to affordable housing and homelessness to mental health, even climate change, and much of it is tied to the approach to supporting children and youth in this province.
Today I’m just going to really quickly repeat three of our recommendations from past years, because they remain the same.
The first one is to establish education assistant standards of practice. There are currently no standards for education assistants, who are the key supports for students with disabilities in schools. This recommendation was highly detailed in our submission last year. The EA Standards Working Group representative Cindy Dalglish has also come for at least a couple of years and made those recommendations, and these standards would foster greater inclusion for disabled students.
The second piece is to conduct an audit of the education of K-to-12 students with disabilities, and complex learners, in the B.C. public and independent school systems, similar to the audit that was completed in 2015 called An Audit of the Education of Aboriginal Students in the B.C. Public School System. That audit did bring some improvements for Indigenous students and a general trend towards a focus on them as rights holders. We’d like to see the same care and attention for disabled students as rights holders.
This would also tie in well with informing the current work on standards under the Accessible British Columbia Act, and it would give us a place to start to create a plan. How can we recreate successes — pockets of success? How can we do better? Can we address the issue of continued exclusion of disabled students, which is outlined in our
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This would also tie in well with informing the current work on standards under the Accessible B.C. Act, and it would give us a place to start, to create a plan. How can we create successes, pockets of success? How can we do better? Can we address the issue of the continued exclusion of disabled students? That is outlined in our exclusion tracker survey reports, which we’ve run for the past four years to establish data on the exclusion of students with disabilities.
Our current system was built for students who don’t exist. There’s no typical student. In implementing recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we should be following Indigenous ways of teaching and knowing so that we can better include all.
The third piece I wanted to touch on was expanding the mandate of the Representative for Children and Youth to include the Ministries of Education and Child Care and Health. The representative can better support children and youth if she has a mandate over all of the intersecting ministries.
We need this independent oversight. The only accountability right now for disabled students is graduation rates, and that comes far too late. These students are generally excluded from the foundation skills assessment and from parent and student satisfaction surveys, the only other accountability measures that exist in our current education system. We did raise this back in 2017 with the Premier and then Minister of Education Rob Fleming. We haven’t seen any accountability measures added back in.
The Supreme Court of Canada stated that when governments provide benefits such as education to the general population, they have an obligation not just to provide law like the Accessible B.C. Act but to also take positive steps to ensure that members of disadvantaged groups, such as persons with disabilities, can benefit equally from those services.
Funding remains a major issue, a major barrier, in ensuring that education is accessible for students with disabilities. Education spending has generally declined over past years as a percentage of the overall B.C. budget, and it needs to be reprioritized. Education spending is a cost-effective, proactive and preventative use of our tax dollars and will promote inclusion.
I know I talked pretty fast there. I think I squeezed it all in.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Tracy.
C. Lockrey: I’m Cynthia Lockrey. I’m speaking to you as a mom, a mother in the Cowichan Valley of two diverse learners and a child with autism and complex medical needs.
I speak on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people.
Every year I come. I present to the Finance Committee about the lack of funding and supports in our public education system. These are supports for kids with autism, anxiety, mental health challenges, dyslexia, Down syndrome. The list goes on.
The first years I presented, I have to tell you, I had hope. I really did. Hope that this committee would see the sad state of affairs of what’s happening in education in B.C. Hope that the provincial government would, each budget, look at how they could help kids. But I don’t have any hope any more. It’s my kid who is struggling.
The lack of funding from the Ministry of Education has a horrible trickle-down effect — to the school districts, to the schools and, ultimately, to the kids and families. The education system, quite frankly, is in crisis, and it just seems like our government does not care about the most vulnerable children.
Here are some great stats from school district 79 in Cowichan. The reading proficiency rate in grade 7 overall is 60 percent. It comes down to 40 percent for our diverse learners. The five-year graduation rate overall is 86 percent. For diverse learners, 56 percent. Children in care have a 25 percent chance of graduating. These are your most vulnerable kids.
The Ministry of Health, B.C. ministry, in June 2020, did a survey of parents and found 70 percent of respondents reported impaired learning. A journal article by the University of Ottawa found vulnerable children were most impacted, with a stark increase in disengagement, chronic attendance problems, a decline in academic achievement. It’s not getting any better because there are no supports to help build them back up to where they should be.
My son is going into grade 5. He’s reading at a grade 1 reading level. I’ve had so many meetings with the school. They say: “We know he needs more supports. We don’t have the resources.” My kid goes to school five days a week, and nobody can teach him to read. He’s not in the assessment phase he’s talking about because he can’t read the grade 4 paperwork to do the assessment.
We have the privilege of driving half an hour, once a week, paying thousands of dollars out of pocket, to hire a tutor to teach him to read
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My kid goes to school five days a week, and nobody can teach him to read. He’s not in the assessments Tracy is talking about because he can’t read the grade 4 paperwork to do the assessments. So we have the privilege of driving half an hour once a week and paying thousands of dollars out of pocket to hire a tutor to teach him to read because nobody in the school has the time to teach him.
In September, we threw the towel in with our oldest child and pulled her, for her own mental health, out of public education when she transferred to grade 8. We did not win the lottery, but the only option for our child, at a 56 percent graduation rate, was putting her in private education. It has been remarkable to see the difference when a child has support and resources, when she has access to an educational assistant, when she has an individualized education plan that we asked for, for years, in public education and that she should have gotten from her diagnosis.
When she was in public education, she was bullied almost every day. She came home with welts and bruises over her body. She had bruises to her soul. When she started in private school, she said to me: “This is the first time I’ve ever felt safe in school.” It’s not because the teachers don’t care, but there aren’t enough resources to help these kids that fall through the cracks.
Her last report card was straight As. She is seen as a leader at her new school. She arranged a Ukrainian day yesterday to raise money for the Ukraine. They can’t believe what an amazing kid she is and where she was last year versus this year. The difference is support. I’m on day-by-day pulling my youngest out of public education. I tell you, if I had the money, he would be gone, because he isn’t getting supports.
What happens to all those kids whose parents can’t pull them out of education, that can’t drive them to tutoring? There aren’t enough resources — speech therapists, occupational therapists, counsellors, EAs — to help these kids go from surviving to thriving. And you should care, because for every dollar you spend on prevention, you save $10 in treatment. So if you could help these kids today, you would save in unemployment, underachievement, housing instability down the line.
I just hope that one year our government will actually realize we have a massive crisis in B.C., and we’re not doing anything about it.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Cynthia. Thank you to both of you. I will now invite members of the committee to ask you questions.
K. Kirkpatrick: Thank you very much for what you’ve said to us today. It is heartbreaking. Tracy, we’ve spoken a little bit in the last little while. I’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half in terms of inclusion and exclusion in education. There really needs to be something done.
I will, Tracy, just say to you that in terms of expanding the mandate for the representative, that’s a recommendation that has been made since, I believe, 2018 and has not been acted upon. I’m hoping that that recommendation, as they’ve opened the legislation again this year — that they’re going to be able to actually make that happen.
I see, over and over again, that intersection between a young person who is not being supported in MCFD and is also not being supported in education. Or they’re being excluded from education because their child is too difficult for the teacher, and so that child is then sent home, and that child is not having access to education.
This isn’t a question. This is just saying that I understand that requirement, and I know that the representative does as well. I’m hoping that that can be a change to the legislation.
I also had a question. You had talked about exclusion tracker reports. I’m not sure what those are, and I’m wondering if I can have access or where we might be able to find those.
T. Humphreys: They’re all on our website. We’ve been tracking the exclusion of students with disabilities for the past four years. We allow families to report any type of exclusion of their child, and then we write reports at the end of each year. So they’re all on the website, but I can send them to you directly if you’d like.
K. Kirkpatrick: Tracy, I can go to the website. That’s great.
I just wanted to say to Cynthia that I’m glad your daughter is doing well now. That’s super exciting. I’m sorry about the challenges that it took to kind of get to that place. Thank you so much for sharing the story.
C. Lockrey: Thank you. Tracy can tell you. They’ve done a report on how many kids are exiting the public school system right now in B.C. There’s a mass exodus for all the reasons my kid is. It’s not because we all won the lottery over the summer or over the year. It’s just the reality if we want our kids to even survive.
T. Humphreys: Yeah, and I will
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are exiting the public school system right now in B.C. There’s a mass exodus for all the reasons my kid is, and it’s not because we all won the lottery over the summer or over the year. It’s just the reality if we want our kids to even survive.
T. Humphreys: Thank you, Cynthia, for mentioning that, because that’s also a report that we did, gosh, six years ago now. Then we redid it again this year, because we were curious to see what the trends were after the pandemic. The numbers are really big, and the numbers go into the independent system. I think we have…. So 12 percent of all students are in an independent school, but a significant percentage of that are students with disabilities. Then some are leaving the system altogether to home school.
Just recently, the trend I’m seeing is people leaving the province, which is something I’d like to collect some data on, because that’s been a really heightened thing just in the last few months.
J. Routledge (Chair): Other questions?
K. Kirkpatrick (Deputy Chair): Me again. Hi.
I’m wondering. You talked about an audit, Tracy, of education of children with disabilities in school. I’m not saying that the same way that you said that, but can you explain what that is — what you’re actually asking for in terms of an audit? What are we looking for? Are we trying to figure out what kind of measures we should be setting, other than those graduation rates?
T. Humphreys: Yeah. The audit of the Aboriginal students back in 2015…. There’s a report that government has from that. From that, they took recommendations, and they started implementing them in the system. As you can see, it has been, what, seven years now, and there has been a lot of measures taken to specifically address the outcomes for Indigenous students.
That’s what I’m interested in. It’s looking at the outcomes for students with disabilities, because they do, do an annual audit of IEPs. But it’s basically a financial audit to make sure that they actually should be getting supplemental funding, if they do. That’s not helpful to looking at what the challenges are in the system and how we can fix them.
M. Starchuk: Thank you to both of you for your presentations. Cynthia, I, as well, am glad that your child is getting some help.
Mine goes back to the beginning, Tracy, when you were talking about the standards for EAs. I mean, we see an awful lot of presentations, and I don’t have the specific knowledge from the 347 presentations I listened to last year. You said that it’s been presented three or four years ago, but what standard was it based on? Or was it a created standard?
T. Humphreys: To create standards, I mean, there are lots of…. Early childhood educators, for example, have a set of standards of practice, so there are basics around the education that they need to have and ethics and different pieces that make them a professional in the education system. Education assistants do not have standards of practice. I mean, even nail technicians have standards of practice, right? But education assistants who are responsible for the most vulnerable children in our education system do not have standards of practice.
You can have an education assistant program at Douglas College which is two years long and quite thorough, and you can have a program in the Victoria school district — and forgive me, Victoria school district, because I know you’re working hard to improve things — but it’s only three weeks long. You can’t possibly tell me that those two programs are teaching people the same thing, so we have people with wildly varying degrees of experience and skills working in the system.
Yeah. We need standards.
J. Routledge (Chair): I’m not seeing any additional questions, so with that, I’d like to, on behalf of the committee, thank you for persisting. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. Thank you for reminding us that we have made these recommendations before.
We do hear your frustration, and the stark difference that you’re seeing in one school system compared to another is quite affecting. So thank you for your bravery.
T. Humphreys: Thank you so much for listening and taking the time.
This was our 5th such presentation and you can read about some of the others as well as last year’s detailed written submission at the links below: