“VSB cites ‘chronic’ underfunding in rejecting budget cuts…”

As reported by Bethany Lindsay in the Vancouver Sun, April 28, 2016

“Vancouver School Board chairman Mike Lombardi said his fellow Vision trustees have long said they are prepared to face the consequences of voting against the budget, and railed against what they describe as chronic government underfunding.”

“Green trustee Janet Fraser was the deciding vote….”

“The 5-4 ‘No’ vote elicited a noisy standing ovation from the large audience of parents and teachers.”

See link to full article. http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/vsb-cites-chronic-underfunding-in-rejecting-budget-cuts-by-5-4-vote

Jobs Blueprint a bust, students lose out

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Source: http://www.fpse.ca/news/presidents-comment/jobs-blueprint-bust-students-lose-out

by Dr. George A. Davison
President, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C.

Two years after the launch of the “Skills for Jobs Blueprint,” B.C.’s post-secondary educators don’t see much to celebrate.

The Blueprint is about feeding Premier Clark’s fantasy fund. It was designed to support the 100,000 jobs we were told would manifest out of LNG. The jobs aren’t there. The LNG isn’t there. The dream was a bust, and so is the Blueprint.

The Blueprint restricts funding to only specialized, targeted post-secondary programs, which threatens to undermine economic diversity and student success. Since 2014, the B.C. government has been moving to limit post-secondary funding to what they have determined are their top priorities. While those programs deserve support, what about those who want to study in other areas?

Post-secondary education is about more than the jobs the government has chosen for students. Narrowly funding programs that only match what the government believes are up and coming jobs will lead to failure in the long-term. Not only is it completely unfair for the students, limiting choice – forcing public colleges and universities to cut back in other areas – reduces flexibility and doesn’t foster a truly diversified economy.

The list of B.C. Liberal failures in post-secondary education has now extended to an entire generation of students and would fill this page. To summarize, here is the list of the Top 10 BC Liberal failures in post-secondary education:

1. A Blueprint for education designed for industry, not students.

2. “Re-engineering” post-secondary education while ignoring their own “Campus 2020” report.

3. Declining per-student operating grants for BC’s public institutions – by 27 per cent since 2001, when adjusted for inflation.

4. Annual increases in fees for students – and an almost 400 per cent increase in tuition fees since 2001.

5. The elimination of tuition-free Adult Basic Education at public post-secondary institutions.

6. The elimination of tuition-free English as an Additional Language programs at public post-secondary institutions.

7. An Adult Upgrading Grant designed to exclude the vast majority of British Columbians.

8. A 50 per cent increase in the number of senior administrators in public post-secondary institutions, and a 200 per cent increase in executive compensation since 2002.

9. Failing to invest to improve Aboriginal representation in most areas of study (including high school graduation rates).

10. Program or section cuts at community colleges across BC, over 100 individual course sections at one college alone.

The BC 2024 Labour Market Outlook predicts that 78 per cent of the projected one million job openings will require post-secondary education – yet the money isn’t there to enable students to access the education they need to fill those jobs. The vast majority of the projected jobs will require problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate effectively. Yet the programs that teach these skills are the ones that institutions are cutting to save money.

B.C.’s colleges and universities are being squeezed, and BC’s students are paying the price.

Around the province, community colleges are cutting back on university transfer programs, while adult basic education and English language training now come with hefty price tags for all but a few who qualify for the Adult Upgrading Grant. One wonders, of the one million projected jobs, how the 78 per cent requiring post-secondary education will be filled when students who need to upgrade courses, or complete a Dogwood diploma, or take second-year English, can’t access the education they need to pursue their career.

We need trades training in B.C. But we also need a full and diverse post-secondary education system that trains people for the jobs of today, and prepares them for the challenges of tomorrow and beyond.

Note: this piece also appeared in the Vancouver Sun, p. A15, on April 29, 2016

A quick fix by AVED re student AUG/tax issue

The good news: In this instance, the Ministry of Advanced Education (AVED) has been responsive and quick to fix one problem. However, the question remains: How many fixes will it take before AVED responds to the fact that the combined tuition fees and grant application process has been a mistake for ABE students? Perhaps AVED is getting closer to understanding who ABE students really are: not the students they originally thought, but rather low-income adult students who need to be screened in rather than screened out (the income threshold of $23,600 is too low to be effective) – literacy level students, students with disabilities, and other second chance adult learners and workers who are trying to get a basic education so they can improve their chances in life.

The bad news:
1) The fix (see FPSE memo below) just adds another layer to the paper trail around getting low-income students funded.
2) The tax still represents a reduction in benefit to students.

Outstanding:
Clarity and some official communication from Revenue Canada on whether ABE students can claim their tuition fees against their taxes.

—————————————————–
Memo, FPSE-BC, April 13, 2016:

Hi all,

We’ve got some updated information since our news release last week regarding the Adult Upgrading Grant being counted as taxable income.

What we’re told is that the Ministry is amending the AUG income policy in anticipation of potential income tax and future AUG eligibility implications. Institutions may deduct the amount of a student’s previous year’s AUG award from their line 150 income solely for the purposes of determining current year AUG eligibility. The student would be required to provide proof of their previous year’s AUG award in the form of their T4A. This policy will be effective immediately and retroactive to the beginning of 2016/17.

Additionally, we’ve been told (second-hand source) that CRA will allow ABE students to claim the Education Amount and tuition credits on their income taxes. A couple of income tax professionals who happen to have a daughter in ABE at VCC contacted CRA directly to ask the question and were told the credits are allowable. We recommend sharing this information with your members and getting the info to students (though they should probably contact CRA to confirm).

Questions remaining:
Does the AUG being taxable affect other income-threshold benefits? What about the child tax credit? MSP premiums? Other?

If you hear anything more about these issues, please keep us in the loop.

In solidarity,

George

Dr. George A. Davison
President, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C.
President, National Union of the Canadian Association of University Teachers

400-550 West 6th Ave.,
Vancouver, B.C. V5Z 1A1
Office phone: 604-873-8988

Warning: Tax Crunch for BC’s ABE Students

With tax season upon us, we are starting to see that ABE students are being charged taxes on the Adult Upgrading Grant (AUG) funds received in 2015. For example, in one case, a student is charged $260 tax on roughly $3,800 received through the AUG.

Even though BC’s ABE students are now being charged tuition fees as high or higher than university level courses, unlike their university counterparts, ABE students can’t claim tuition against their income. In the case of Adult Basic Education students in full-time studies, they are now responsible for tuition of almost $5,000/year for basic reading, writing,  math, computer skills courses and high school level subjects.

Students have started bringing in tax documents downloaded from their student services websites that detailed their grant funding as income. This was new news. Now with more evidence that indicates that the grant is taxable, there are ramifications for low-income ABE students.

  1. Students are being assessed taxes on the AUG after the fact. A deferred charge (tax) raises the barrier to access and deters students from re-applying.
  2. Students have not been communicated to plainly that a tax bill will follow the AUG.
  3. Above all, the tax reduces the overall benefit to low-income students.
  4. Adding grant funding to income has the potential to disqualify students for the AUG. For example, a student making below but close to the low-income threshold, will suddenly be pushed above it. A full-time ABE student will add well over $5,000 (grant funding for tuition, UPass and college fees) to their annual income.

BC Federation of Post-Secondary Educators summed the situation up in their April 7, 2016 press release:

When this government eliminated free tuition for students in developmental programs, the Minister of Advanced Education insisted that low-income students would not be hurt,” says George Davison, FPSE President. “But this government’s so-called fix for adult basic education is no fix at all.”

Revisiting BC’s ABE Conversation

Early in January 2016, Groundwork magazine presented an opportunity to reflect on how a grant funding application process is playing out for Adult Basic Education in the province. Groundwork Editor Michelle Vandepol’s interview with Lynn Horvat is excerpted here. http://issuu.com/abeabcgroundwork/docs/groundwork_winter_2016_issue

1. What has been the response to your published work “Re-Framing the Conversation: Respecting Adult Basic Education in British Columbia”?

Of course, for educators working with students whose lives are impacted by the 2015 ABE funding changes, the document resonates. We see first-hand that the lives of ABE students, the working poor and often the most vulnerable citizens, are getting harder and harder. Otherwise, there is not much in the document that is arguable. The facts are pretty clear. The lives of the poor are not getting any easier, and setting up barriers to education makes absolutely no sense, even to the BC Liberals own Jobs Plan. Most discussions with folks who don’t want to acknowledge this become discussions about ideology. The more removed stakeholders are from students’ real life experiences, the “so-called” bottom line (and I say “so-called” because we are in an artificially created ABE funding crisis in the midst of a BC government budget surplus) – the bottom line – becomes most important and that mentality trickles down: educational funding cuts and shifts, program instability, program closures, class cancellations, diminished access for students who need it most. It puts administrators and educators at cross-purposes. I think that pretty much sums up where we have been in 2015. We’re hopeful that this is shifting for 2016.

2. What surprised you most in your research?

I was most surprised by how strategic governments (the BC Liberals, Federal Conservatives, for example) have been for more than a decade in cutting, reducing and shifting funding and formulating policies that disadvantage the most vulnerable citizens. Multiple areas are implicated: social services, childcare, education, health, employment standards, employment insurance, worker’s compensation, and the criminal justice system. This has been consistent with the neo-liberal/conservative era, and it was shocking to see in detail how cutthroat it has been.

3. What were the main factors contributing to the “erosion of public safeguards that are diminishing the possibility of a second chance for adult learners”?

The BC Liberals track record since they took power in 2001 demonstrates plainly an erosion of public safeguards for second-chance learners. Broadly, funding cuts and shifts have contributed to increasing the gap between rich and poor: BC has the second highest child poverty rate in Canada and highest cost of living. More specifically, ABE students juggle paid or unpaid work with attending school. They are low wage earners in precarious employment. They are at-risk youth, the working poor and heads of families. They often face multiple barriers to education and employment. For all these reasons, they may need additional time to complete their basic education. A compassionate government would be making it easier for adult students to go to school, not setting up barriers. A government concerned about the future of jobs and employment would do likewise.

4. Do you see the conversation reframing around literacy and adult basic education in BC?

There were so many losses in 2014/15 (lack of provincial support for ESL education, loss of the GED, funding cuts to national literacy organizations, loss of core funding for ABE in the public post-secondary system (Ministry of Advanced Education), loss of the Education Guarantee in the K-12 system (Ministry of Education). The hits were huge and happened without consultation. Educators spent 2015 reeling from these hits. It is incomprehensible to ABE educators why the government would put in place an unwieldy grant application process to weed out high-income learners, when almost all ABE learners are low-income earners. It’s a lot of extra work for everyone involved, a lot of unnecessary scrutiny. It’s tight-fisted giving that makes it harder for students to get to classes, and distracts institutions and educators from their educational purpose. We’ve worked tirelessly throughout 2015 to communicate all this, and now we do have a conversation going and a measure of consultation. We are working very hard to ensure access to ABE courses for all levels of adult learners from fundamental reading, writing, math and computer literacy levels through to graduation.

5. Have you received any responses from government to “Re-framing the Conversation”?

There has been no direct response, but positions are well documented in press releases and from debates in the Legislature.

With respect to the change in the ABE funding mechanism, the BC Liberals can claim college boards asked for tuition fees. Colleges can claim they are at the mercy of government power and control. Students and educators are caught in this mess.

At the end of 2014, the government announced its ABE funding changes. News came through the Ministry of Education (K-12) camp: It viewed parents as having the means to afford, and who should pay for, any courses their graduated children found themselves lacking or in need of upgrading. In addition to being a very narrow view of who adult learners are, it eliminated the “Education Guarantee” and judged learners as undeserving of a second chance.

At the same time, ABE learners in the college system (Ministry of Advanced Education) were implicated, but the rules played out differently by replacing a sizeable portion of core funding with a funding mechanism that combines tuition fees and amplified grant funding. Minister Wilkinson has stated that the BC Liberals’ intention is to put ABE funding in the hands of students. Yes, more students are accessing grant funding, but that is only because more students can’t afford the steep tuition fees. The ABE students, who used to pay for UPass fees, student union fees, and other smaller college fees, cannot afford the high tuition fees (equivalent to and higher than some university level courses). Furthermore, previously when a student could afford a portion of their overall fees, it was often a source of pride for students; so even that is gone.

Yes, the BC Liberals can claim they are funding more grants, but this is only because more students need grants in order to cover steep tuition fees. Previously, with full core funding, students who could pay their smaller fees did; all students were covered and the barriers were lower.

Additionally, once you bring in an application process for basic education learners, issues around navigating bureaucracy, document literacy and financial literacy come to the fore. It raises barriers, denies access and reduces enrolment.

The government continues to respond to all this complexity by erroneously stating that non-graduated adults can still access classes for free in the K-12 system. Technically, yes; but opportunities for access are narrow. The misleading part here is that most school boards around the province do not have adult education programs, so it’s not really a viable option across the province. Furthermore, in the populated Metro Vancouver area, students in school board adult education programs have suffered through budget cuts and learning centre closures. In a K-12 system that isn’t mandated to provide for adults, adult programs are vulnerable to funding cuts and shifting priorities.

On days when I’m feeling generous, I convince myself that this has come about due to a huge oversight. On more skeptical days, it feels strategic. Either way, it implicates lives and society, and it is tragic. It doesn’t even support the BC Liberals own Jobs Plan. It defies logic why the BC Liberals would try to make it harder for adult upgrading students and second chance learners. Of course, all of this could have been averted with up front consultation.

6. Anything else you want Groundwork readers to know?

I can’t underscore enough how important it is to understand and respond to what is behind the shifting of ABE funding from full core funding to a tuition-based-grant-funding model. It is government setting rules and maintaining strict control while removing itself from the responsibility to provide access for students. It is a structure that is a private education model that threatens access to a basic education for BC’s most vulnerable adult learners and citizens. If we have a lesson to learn, it comes from our students whose lives correlate with deep courage, dedication and resiliency. We must continue in that spirit and advocate for what is right.

Lynn Horvat – January 9, 2016
Author of Re-Framing the Conversation – Respecting Adult Basic Education in BC (Dec 2014)

 

Internet affordability day of action

ACORN Canada has launched a campaign for an affordable and accessible Internet for all Canadians. Access to the Internet is central to learning, employment and community participation, yet an increasing number of Canadians either do not have an Internet connection or must take money from their food or rent budget to stay online.

Read more about ACORN’s campaign and their report on Internet affordability here.