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Ministry announces ed funding, predicts Bill 22 pass this week

The ministry of education announced funding levels for the 2012/13 school year today, including an extra $10.7 million for vulnerable students, just before they announced a plan to pass the controversial Bill 22 by Thursday. But the B.C. teachers' union says the money is a pittance compared to what's needed in public education in this province, and vows to continue the fight against the bill.

In a press release issued this morning, the ministry said education operating costs for the province would reach $4.725 billion next year, including $10.7 million for implementing parts of the BC Education Plan , though neither the press release nor an accompanying video of Minister George Abbott provided details on the elements of the plan that would receive funding.

Other funding initiatives highlighted by the government include the $11.2 million Supplement for Vulnerable Students, which will come on top of the $51.1 million CommunityLINK funding that goes towards "meal and snack programs, child and youth workers, community schools, literacy and the healthy schools initiative for vulnerable students." It's unclear if it will be enough, however, to cover these programs and services in all districts that need them, like Vancouver, for example, where all the school meal programs are funded entirely by outside sources.

Also announced was an increase in rural and remote district funding by $21.8 million, including $10 million for a new Student Location Factor, which the ministry says will benefit students in remote areas, though it doesn't provide details on how.

"Despite the need for continuing fiscal prudence, we are protecting and maintaining overall education funding levels for K-to-12 schools next year as enrolment continues to decline," reads a statement from Abbott.

"We recognize that certain school districts will face challenges in the coming year, but funding protection measures will help to minimize the impact of declining enrolment."

The BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) says they are still crunching the government's numbers, but a spokesperson for the BCTF told The Tyee the overall operating budget for education has only increased by $4 million since the 2011/12 budget, but inflation rates call for an increase of $137 million in order to keep up with costs. Education funding will remain frozen at $4.725 billion until at least the 2014/15 school year.

The union is currently trying to figure out where in the operating budget the extra money for the Education Plan came from, but told The Tyee the $11.2 million for the Supplement for Vulnerable Students was announced last December.

The ministry's release also took the opportunity to press on the need for Bill 22: Education Improvement Act.

"The most important thing we can do to ensure we put students first is to maintain our net zero mandate as we work toward a mediated agreement with teachers," reads a statement from Abbott.

The Liberal government announced today that debate in the legislature over Bill 22 would wind down this week, with aims of passing the bill by Thursday.

The BCTF executive committee is meeting today to decide the teachers' next moves regarding the legislation and whether union members will participate in a vote on further job action, in addition to the vote for the BCTF executive, at the union's Annual General Meeting next weekend.

Although given the okay by the B.C. Labour Relations Board to continue to strike one day out of every five school days, if Bill 22 passes all teacher strikes would be subject to fines of up to $425 per day of the offense for every employee who strikes, not less than $1.3 million per day of the offense for the BCTF, and a fine of not less than $2,500 for every "officer of the BCTF or of a local of the BCTF or a representative of the BCTF or of a local of the BCTF" per day of the offense.

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

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