Fall 2017 Our Voice – Interview with Minister FlemingOctober 8, 2017
Minister of Education Rob Fleming generously took time out of a busy day to be interviewed by Susan Wilson.
BC’s new Minister of Education, Rob Fleming was first elected to the legislature 2005, and was re-elected four more times. He has been the NDP Education Critic since 2013 and on July 18, 2017 was sworn in as Education Minister. Minister Fleming was quick to jump in with both feet, meeting with school districts and superintendents across the province to get a feel for the issues plaguing public education in BC.
Minister Fleming’s mandate letter from Premier Horgan provides direction to and highlights the expectations of the Ministry of Education. One area that the ministry will be working on is developing a stable and sustainable model for the K-12 education system. In early August, the ministry restored funding to Adult Basic Education and English Language Learner programs in BC. Minister Fleming confirmed special needs funding will be part of a comprehensive funding review and the ministry will be releasing details soon on how that consultation will take place. It’s been almost 30 years since the last review of education took place with Barry Sullivan’s “A Legacy for Learners: Report of the Royal Commission on Education” (aka the Sullivan Report) published in 1988. This comprehensive funding review will look at how well the current model is working and where the gaps are. Minister Fleming is looking forward to working with education partners in close collaboration and in a climate of respect to determine what a fair, strong and well resourced school funding model looks like.
A much anticipated item from the mandate letter instructs Minister Fleming to create an ongoing capital fund for school playgrounds. A 2013 BCCPAC Member Resolution urges the government, in part, to “…increase the annual facilities grant sufficiently to provide for the ongoing replacement of playgrounds as required.” The ministry will be looking at options on how to set up this program such as a stand-alone program or perhaps new funding attached to an existing capital program. Minister Fleming is planning to make an announcement sometime this Fall regarding a pro-rated fund with a further announcement in the next school budget cycle in the Spring of 2018.
Premier Horgan and the government are committed to this program because they have heard from people across the province that parent fundraising capacity has been pushed to the maximum. Parents are consistently being asked to fund raise for all kinds of basic capital items that are integral to a school. “We talk about play-based learning, how can we do that without a playground?” expresses Minister Fleming.
Parents will be very pleased with the expected announcement of new funding for capital projects including seismic upgrading. Minister Fleming’s goal is to expend the money already budgeted for and look ahead to the 2018 budget and a three-year capital budget that will start to reduce the seismic upgrade wait-list. The ministry will also start to work with school districts with school replacement projects that stalled under the former government. This anticipated announcement falls in line with a 2015 BCCPAC Member Resolution insisting the government’s commitment to an immediate significant increase in grants to school districts including “…adequate capital funding to school districts for facility improvements, seismic upgrades, and additional schools in rapidly growing communities.”
With around 3000 new teaching positions being filled this Fall, Minister Fleming reached out to every school district over the summer to make sure what was probably the largest hiring of teachers in several generations proceeded as smoothly as possible. The first hurdle was to guarantee the ministry would resolve any disputes school districts had over the financial obligations under the restored language on class size and composition. Some school districts were reluctant to hire teachers as there were fears that the additional costs associated with meeting the restored language wouldn’t be fully funded by the previous government. Ministry Fleming feels school districts have done a great job recruiting teachers from across Canada and internationally while welcoming newly certified teachers.
Minister Fleming has every confidence in the quality of teachers that were hired and is looking forward to students and school staff experiencing smaller class sizes in Kindergarten and the early learning years and having access to more specialist teachers. More specialist teachers will give those students with different learning needs additional support, through the restored class size and composition language. Both of Minister Fleming’s children attend public schools in the Victoria area and their local elementary school, where his son will be attending this Fall, will have an extra teacher/librarian which has been a long time coming.
Despite the negative chatter about the BC public education system, students continue to thrive and succeed due, in part, to the great professional teachers who are a critical part of the education team. Recent international reports identify BC students as some of the best in the world and Minister Fleming agrees, “We have a very good school system today in BC and our goal is to make it better.