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Budget 2013 'not very good for young people': advocates

Educators, unions, and groups representing vulnerable families are questioning just how much Budget 2013 "invests in families."

The balanced budget offers three new programs aimed at investing in families, including a Early Childhood Tax Benefit of $55 per month for every child under six for families making less than $100,000, starting in 2015; a Training and Education Savings Grant offering $1,200 to families with children over six; and an investment of $76 million into creating new childcare spaces and improving the quality of existing spaces.

In a press release issued earlier this afternoon, provincial Finance Minister Mike de Jong said difficult cuts were made to balance the budget, but government made efforts to spare supports for families and children.

"We are also creating a great incentive to encourage families to start saving for their children’s higher education sooner with the new B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant," he said.

But government also increased Medical Service Premiums (MSP) by four per cent, cut post-secondary funding from $1.965 to $1.962 billion despite increasing enrollment, and kept school operational funding frozen at $4.67 billion for three years.

"We need a plan to start moving B.C. back up to the national average in terms of education funding," said Glen Hansman, BCTF second vice-president, in a press release from the union.

Despite the freeze, the Ministry of Education's Learning Improvement Fund (LIF), introduced last year under Bill 22 and designed to provide additional support for students with special needs, will increase to $60 million from $30 million last year.

Hansman, whose union is currently negotiating for a new collective agreement with their employer, the BC Public School Employers Association, says the $60 million is insufficient to correct funding cuts from Bills 27 and 28 introduced in 2002 under then-Education Minister Christy Clark.

"Children who began Kindergarten that year now have gone through their entire school careers in larger classes, with less support for special needs, and with fewer counsellors, librarians, and other specialist teachers to help them along the way," he said.

"Despite all the government hype about education reform, there is no money in the budget for any new initiatives, such as much-needed enhancements to Aboriginal education, or trades and technology in schools."

The Canadian Union of Public Employees BC (CUPE) slammed the budget for decreasing education and health funding while increasing MSP and raising post-secondary tuition.

"The real cost of balancing the budget-even if we accept this thoroughly discredited government's assumptions-is being paid out of the pockets of working families, students and those least able to afford higher fees and service charges," said CUPE BC secretary-treasurer Mark Hancock in a press release, noting last year's deficit was underestimated by $1 billion.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance told The Tyee that unlike the previous B.C. child tax benefit, the Early Childhood Tax Benefit would not be clawed back from families on welfare. However, Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator for First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, said the maximum benefit of $660 per year wouldn't even cover one month of childcare in B.C.

"It's very reflective of the federal failed policy, the Universal Child Care Benefit that puts a little bit of money in the pockets of families, but doesn't do anything to create more spaces, improve quality…or lower fees for families," she said.

She's wary of the $76 million for more and improved childcare spaces, noting funds for early childhood development and childcare spaces will only increase by $6 million in the coming fiscal year. Other concerns Montani has include insufficient funding for child and youth mental health services, children in care, and children with special needs.

"This is not a very good budget for young people," she told The Tyee.

"I don't see any investment in children's education at the K-12, at the post-secondary level, and I don't see investments in the early years when it would really matter, other than to find out what these early childhood funds are to be spent on, and whether childcare spaces are actually increased."

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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