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VSB holding public forum on adult ed cuts

Last week educators and administrators claimed victory when the provincial government backed away from some proposed funding cuts to adult education. But the Vancouver School Board still isn't satisfied and is inviting the public and politicians to air their grievances over the proposed changes at a public forum tonight.

The Adult Education Forum, the brainchild of Allan Wong, the sole Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) trustee on the Vancouver School Board (VSB), will feature presentations from all six of the district's adult education centres. The VSB invited all elected politicians in Vancouver, from members of parliament to park board representatives, as well as Education Minister George Abbott, to attend.

But Wong says the politicians haven't been invited to talk. Instead they're there to listen to teachers, students, administrators and members of public talk about their concerns over adult education cuts.

"I just want people to come out and really listen to what are these courses and all the courses will be presented and shown. We want to know the real impacts, and how the courses have improved our students," Wong told The Tyee.

So far only NDP MLAs Shane Simpson and Mable Elmore have confirmed they will attend. Both Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister George Abbott declined the invitation.

Wong says the evening may culminate in recommending the board make a motion, although the board has already requested the government rescind its course cuts.

In late April the Ministry of Education announced it was cutting some adult education courses offered tuition-free to students already graduated from high school under the province's Education Guarantee. The Ministry cited an increase in costs to $15 million from $1.4 million since 2008, and a high dropout rate. Starting this fall, students are expected to pay $425 per course not funded by government or take them online for free.

After much public outcry, the Ministry restored funding to Communications 11 and 12, Calculus 12, Physics 12, Chemistry 12, and First Peoples' English 12 last week. A committee is also supposed to be established to consider additions and deletions to the list of courses funded under the Education Guarantee.

But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education told The Tyee the funding formula for students already graduated will change in the fall. Although not yet to finalized, the new formula will likely see half of the funding released right away, with the other half coming after students complete the majority of the course. The spokesperson said it would act as an incentive for teachers to convince students to stick with the course instead of dropping out.

Wong dismisses the idea that adult education costs need to be cut, saying in the long run it is money well-spent.

"If you start eating away at adult education, a large sector of society will have more of a challenge to basically improve themselves and upgrade," he says.

"You fund social assistance, you want people to improve themselves, you want the marginalized, those who can least afford it, to improve, and they want to (improve). So we should help."

But the VSB is looking at making some adult education cuts of it's own. Wong says the district has already reduced four positions in the self-paced section for the coming year.

"The school board, prior to the provincial government's announcement, were looking at a review to see the big picture of adult education: what is our vision for adult education, to make it sustainable in the long run, to improve adult ed," he says, adding that will be part of tonight’s discussions, too.

The Adult Education Forum starts at 7 p.m. at the VSB’s Education Centre in their main building at 1580 West Broadway.

Katie Hyslop writes about education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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