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Independent MLA Simpson slams NDP education plan

Independent MLA Bob Simpson has slammed the B.C. New Democrats' recent education funding announcement, saying it "falls far short of outlining the 'practical steps' the NDP will take to enable school districts and their boards to add additional resources to B.C.'s classrooms."

The NDP promised $372 million in new education operational funding over the next three years, on top of the education money already budgeted by the Liberal government, the Canadian Press reported yesterday. At Thursday's Comox Valley press conference, NDP Leader Adrian Dix said $265 million of that money could help schools pay for up to 1,000 new teachers or education assistants.

But in a press release issued this morning, Simpson, the MLA for Cariboo-North, said how the money is spent is up to the school boards, not government. Simpson was an NDP MLA until 2010, when he was kicked out of caucus for criticizing then-leader Carole James.

In the release, Simpson questioned the NDP's education plan in its yet-to-be-released election platform.

"Here are a few questions the NDP failed to answer yesterday:

"Will the NDP change the school funding formula that currently causes more school closures in rural BC than are necessary or appropriate?

"How will a BC NDP government change the bargaining process to end the cycle of strikes and legislated contracts?

"Will the NDP restore full collective bargaining rights to teachers?

"Will they fully fund school boards for the increased costs of collective agreements, increased costs imposed by changes in the provincial budget (e.g., MSP increases), and real inflation?

"Will they put an end to the Pacific Carbon Trust and the need for school boards to buy carbon offsets?

"Will they commit to fully fund reduced class sizes and fully funded and legislated (or policy-mandated) student support ratios (counsellors, librarians, and special needs support workers)?

"How will an NDP government undertake a collaborative and inclusive process to meet 21st century students' learning needs?"

He added that the lack of an education agenda from the NDP means the public will have to "vote based on the hope that the NDP will manage the system better than the Liberals did."

Simpson did not comment on the NDP's early childhood education strategy, also announced yesterday, which included promises to reduce licensed childcare fees by up to 20 per cent by 2014/15. The NDP will invest $100 million over three years to pay for the cost reductions.

He outlined his own education platform in the release, including returning class size and composition to the teachers' bargaining tables, replacing the province's standardized testing system, the Foundation Skills Assessment, with "student-centred assessment," encouraging school trustees to find cooperative gains by working with teachers, administrators to reduce spending outside of collective bargaining, prioritizing rural school renovations and construction over seismic upgrading in the Lower Mainland, and changing the education funding formula.

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

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