Province quietly releases
Liberal rural education report

The provincial government has quietly released a draft of a rural education report completed during the tenure of the former Liberal government.

The 58-page report, British Columbia Rural Education Report: Results and Recommendations Developed Through Citizen Engagement, was authored by Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, at the time the government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Education.

It followed a “broad engagement” that took place between November 2016 and April 2017 that involved online discussion, school district technical surveys, stakeholder submissions and regional open houses in nine communities.

Ms. Larson describes the report as “inclusive,” with a “diverse array of input from rural families, parents from rural and urban locations, First Nations, Boards of Education, school district staff, K-12 public sector associations, local government and community organizations.”

The report in its draft form is available here.

The NDP government is currently conducting its own K-12 public education funding review, announcing a seven-member review panel.

The panel is expected to consult with stakeholders and “undertake further research and analysis on a new funding model for public education in the province.”

Nevertheless, the new government says it sees value in the rural education report.

“We are using that valuable public input and stakeholder feedback as part of our review the public school funding model,” Rob Fleming, the provincial Minister of Education, wrote in a letter delivered to OsoyoosToday on March 9. “We are spearheading this review with the BC School Trustees Association which has hundreds of members from rural communities — ensuring rural voices will be heard and well represented.

“We will continue to work to ensure equal access to educational programs and services for students throughout the province.”

[ Read the Education Minister’s letter here ]

The report speaks to rural schools being “the heart of the community,” institutions that support jobs and local economies.

Local residents, the report says, “voiced a strong sense of pride in their local schools.”

But residents, school officials and others also express concerns about the loss of school facilities.

Almost 80 percent of respondents approximated that between one and five schools have closed within their school district over the past five years.

“Many respondents noted that areas that lose schools become less desirable to live in and result in falling property values,” the report reads. “Because schools are often hubs of other activities, these communities are further impacted by a decreased ability to bring residents together.”

The report also notes that “worry about school closure was pervasive throughout the online discussion.”

It defines seven key concerns:

  • Access to quality education programs;
  • the state of existing school facilities;
  • community use of school facilities;
  • staffing;
  • funding opportunities and school closures;
  • engagement opportunities;  and,
  • shared services.

The report notes a strong working relationship between school districts and local government with that relationship described as strong or very strong by 39% of respondents and adequate by 45%.

Included statistical achievement data confirms there is a gap between the educational outcomes of rural and urban students. The gap is even larger for rural Aboriginal students.

That gap appears to be growing. In 2011/12, the rural/urban gap stood at 4.7%. In 2015/16, it had widened to 8.2%.

The report concludes with 17 recommendations and further identifies two high-priority areas of concern: staff recruitment and retention and trades programming.

The report was never officially tabled, the 2017 provincial election putting an end to the Christy Clark government. John Horgan’s incoming NDP government later declared the report “policy advice or recommendations” and cabinet and local public body confidential and withheld its release, even as several sources made efforts under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) for public publication.

Last week, both the Okanagan Similkameen School District and Town of Osoyoos delivered letters to the premier requesting the report be publicly released.

In British Columbia, approximately 32% of the students in the K-12 education system attend schools located outside of the greater Victoria, Lower Mainland and Kelowna areas – many in very small communities that use school facilities as a hub for community activities.

One of those communities is Osoyoos, which waged a months-long battle in 2016 to keep its secondary school open after it was targeted for closing as a cost-cutting measure by the school district.

The rural education report was a product of the community’s success in keeping the school open.


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