BCEdAccess Presentation to Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services

On October 9, 2018, I presented at the Songhees Wellness Centre in Victoria, BC. What a beautiful facility! We’re fortunate to have this space in our community.

The committee did acknowledge the land on which we were meeting, and I further acknowledged that our members and volunteers live, work, play and advocate all over the province on hundreds of unceded Indigenous territories.

Here’s what I submitted to the committee:
“The advantage of being part of the third to last consultation is so that we can endorse some who spoke before – Inclusion BC, First Call BC, Public Education Network Society, and Speech and Hearing BC in their entirety, as well as all school district, BCPVPA and BCSTA comments on funding for special education. I understand Cynthia Lockrey will also be speaking to SLP services funding today and I am sure we will be in agreement as well.
I am here to represent students with disabilities and their families. BCEdAccess is an organization that provides peer to peer support and connection for over 1500 parents and guardians of kids with special needs around BC. We also provide education and training around school, district and provincial policies in inclusive education, and around the human rights of students with disabilities and special needs. We work to assert the right to equitable access to education for these students on both the individual and the systemic level.
Inclusive education is inadequately funded, in ways that are varied and complex. I am here to make 5 points although I could probably speak to dozens.
Having read through the last 10 years of Committee reports, we’re calling on the government to implement (with some additions) the recommendations of The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services made in 2017:

  1. Ensure that teachers are well supported to implement inclusion, equity, and quality learning opportunities for all students, including diverse learners, by increasing funding to allow schools to hire more trained educational assistants and specialists. [2018: #72]

This recommendation was also made by the Committee in 2016. With limited time I’ll mostly address EAs here as I feel they are most neglected in these conversations. EAs should be paraprofessionals and school districts need to ensure that they and all other professionals have the training and education needed to work with our kids. Currently working EAs need more hours. Your average EA works only 5 hours a day. Last year the average was 6. Some EAs work fewer than 3 hours a day. The MoA, being limited mainly, to teachers, created more classrooms, spreading the EA workforce more thinly while continued budget cuts reduced hours in many districts. There is an urgent need to create full time positions, hire more, and educate more new EAs. The same message of recruitment and retention around teaching, especially but not limited to rural districts, applies equally to EAs. This absolutely critical role must be made more attractive. The majority of EAs work a second or even a third job outside of school hours.

  1. Provide funding to enable early identification of students with special needs, and to provide appropriate support programs, as required. [2018: #73] [2016: # 50]

This recommendation was made and strongly worded in the 2008 Committee report. Current wait time for autism assessment is over 1 year. Dyslexia has no early screening process in schools, despite the need for early interventions as a critical support. Psycho-educational assessments are extremely difficult to access unless you pay privately, ranging from $1500 to $4000, because of the lack of psychologists (hiring and availability). I am hearing several districts are doing only 1 to 2 of these tests per school per year. That is not equitable. We need to educate and hire more psychologists, urgently.
Early identification of students with special needs has proven benefits to the student, and economic benefit to the province, as early intervention lessens the needs of these individuals later in life. Trauma and mental health challenges in students with special needs are often the result of not identifying those needs early, and of not providing adequate support or trained and educated staff.

  1. We request that an audit of the education of students with special needs in the BC public and independent school systems be undertaken as soon as possible, similar to “An Audit of the Education of Aboriginal students in the BC Public School System” completed in 2015.
  2. We request that the government establish a Royal Commission on Education to comprehensively review and produce a vision, guiding principles and action plan for early learning, K-12 and post-secondary schooling, remembering to begin with inclusion of ALL students. The last time this was done was 30 years ago. The information and expertise is out there, with many of the leaders in the field already working in our own province.
  3. Similarly, we request a Royal Commission or some mechanism to examine the delivery of all services in the province for people with disabilities and special needs, from early childhood, to K-12, transitioning to adulthood, and adult supports. Working in silos creates a lot of issues, some of which were highlighted clearly in the Representative for Children and Youth’s report, Room For Improvement.

https://rcybc.ca/roomforimprovement
We need to connect these ministries and have them working together.
I want to note that these recommendations reflect the overall Budget Consultation and priorities of this government.

  1. Lifting people out of poverty – by allowing parents to continue to work because their kids are well supported, and by providing early assessment and intervention so future adults can be more independent.
  2. Delivering the services you count on – until all children are able to equitably access their education, we are failing at inclusion and education.
  3. Strong economy – by supporting EA jobs as attractive career options, increasing available well paid work, and by providing adequate supports so kids can stay at school and their parents (mostly women) can continue to work.
  4. True, lasting reconciliation – Disability rates among Indigenous people are roughly 2 to 3 times higher than for the general population. They also face some of the most challenging barriers to accessibility. Indigenous students with disabilities have the lowest graduation rates in the province. These recommendations would help better support them.

Additionally, the Ministerial Mandate Letter from Premier John Horgan to the Minister of Education, Rob Fleming, has some points that are specifically connected:

  1. Quality public education
  2. Addressing overcrowded and under-supported classrooms
  3. Reducing health care wait times
  4. Ensuring people from every background have the opportunity to reach their full potential

As such, implementing these recommendations would be a true step forward in achieving these goals.
In the 10 years of reports I have read, the Committee has recommended action again and again on inclusive education. Precious few recommendations have been implemented. Haven’t these students waited long enough?
Education spending is a cost-effective, proactive, and preventative use of our tax dollars.
Thank you,
Tracy Humphreys, founder, BCEdAccess”

Appendix A:

SSC Report recommendations on special needs, 2008 to 2018

2018: “Special Needs The Committee heard that there is a need to train and recruit more educational assistant specialists to ensure adequate supports for children and youth with special needs and their teachers. While a significant number of new teachers were hired in September 2017, this recruitment did not include special needs and educational support staff. As a result, the gap in resources in this critical area has become even more pronounced.”

“Committee Members emphasized the importance of equity and fairness within the K-12 system in order to ensure that the diverse needs of communities across the province are met, and that all students, including those with special needs, receive a high-quality public education. Government should review the overall per pupil funding formula to ensure it reflects the real costs of providing education in each school district. Supports for special needs and other vulnerable students, including early identification, designation and programming for these learners was discussed by the Committee who acknowledged a current gap in these resources. Committee Members supported calls for increased funding to ensure that all children in the public education system receive the supports they need to be successful.”

2017: 50. Increase funding to provide services and supports for vulnerable students and students with special needs and develop a more equitable distribution process of this funding.

2016: Special Needs A large number of individuals wrote to the Committee with requests to consider prioritizing learning support in K-12 schools. Recommendations were made to maintain or increase funding for: Education Assistants, school counsellors, Learning Assistance teachers, English as a Second Language (ESL) staff, childcare workers, speech and language pathologists, integration support workers and school psychologists. The Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee (CYFAC), representing 21 members in Vancouver, wrote to the Committee outlining the importance of adequate support for students with special needs. Other submissions expanded on the additional supports required for these students, such as the possibility of reviewing the supplementary funding grants for students with special needs, with a view to increasing funds and targeting much needed support. Written submissions included requests to re-stabilize critical early childhood development programs, decrease wait times for support and assessment services, as well as to consider mandated training in behavioral supports for teachers, support staff, principals and all district administrators.

2013: 11. Commission research on the number of children entering kindergarten with developmental and learning challenges and take action on the results.

2012: 34. Support the establishment of regional stakeholder tables to work with the Ministry of Education to identify priorities within school districts to deal with special needs students.

2011: 24. Improve resourcing to address any delays for early intervention therapy and autism services in order to facilitate the transition of children with special needs into the K-12 system. 25. Facilitate a seamless transfer of services and for youth with special needs transitioning into adulthood, and ensure sufficient resources are available to provide supports for adults with developmental disabilities and their families.

2010: 28. Eliminate inefficiency across ministries and improve resourcing to address delays for services and programs for children with special needs.

2009:“We hear that support for students with special needs is the number one issue for teachers in this province, and it has been for a long, long time. I hear from teachers everywhere in the province that this is a critical issue requiring more funding and support from the province.” (Irene Lanzinger, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, Sept. 29 Vancouver hearing) “I am beseeching you on behalf of all special needs children in the province of B.C. that when you’re planning the budget for 2009, and for many years to come, please do not forget these kids with special needs, who always seem to be forgotten.” (Janice Brulotte, Cranbrook hearing)

2008: EARLY ASSESSMENT FUNDING Last year, the Finance Committee made a strong recommendation for the government to “immediately allocate necessary resources to eliminate the waitlists for assessments of children and youth with special needs.” However, this fall, we heard from both the Nanaimo Child Development Centre Society and the B.C. Association of Child Development and Intervention that while the government did increase funding for services for children with special needs, there remains a waitlist of approximately 6,000 children and youth requiring access to early intervention and school-based therapy; infant development; and the supported child program. Here is what they had to say“We were delighted last year, when we received the report of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, that they had adopted two of our recommendations. The Committee actually recommended that the government immediately allocate necessary resources to eliminate the wait-lists for assessments of children and youth with special needs and, furthermore, that the government should provide funding for a comprehensive prescreening program for all children. The government chose not to follow the recommendation of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in the allocation of funding for early intervention services in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the year we’re in now.” (British Columbia Association of Child Development and Intervention). “In Nanaimo we serve about 2,000 kids a year, and right now we’ve got 400 children on the wait-list. For us to be able to reduce that wait-list to zero by 2010, we need about a million dollars a year. Across the province it would be a mere $25 million to $30 million to eradicate from the wait-list the 6,000 children who are on it today. We’ve been very patient and very polite so far — meeting with the minister and MLAs — but we’ll have to do something else. We can’t wait for the kids any longer. We’ll have to step up the pressure in order to make sure those children are helped.” (Nanaimo Child Development Centre Society). The Committee believes that reducing waitlists for early childhood interventions will provide significant savings in the future with respect to health, educational, social services, and correctional costs. We again urge the government to provide the resources necessary to eliminate this backlog. RECOMMENDATION The Committee recommends that the government: 35. allocate necessary resources to eliminate the waitlists for assessments of children and youth with special needs.