Horgan government should protect low-income students from ideological school boards

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Appeared in the Vancouver Province, July 5, 2021
Horgan government should protect low-income students from ideological school boards

In the pursuit of a one-size-fits all school system, the Vancouver School Board (VSB) is eliminating honours courses in math and science. This decision, based purely on ideology, will disproportionately affect lower-income teens.

First, consider this. The VSB cites “equity” as the reason for the decision. Of course, all students should have equal opportunity to learn and to thrive. But every student is unique, and no ideology can change that.

When the VSB ignores reality—that is, that different students thrive in different subjects at different academic levels—it actually eliminates the diversity it should embrace and prevents students from pursuing their interests in a welcoming environment of peers. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to prepare students for our increasingly globalized and competitive world.

Moreover, the policy does not stand the test of logic. Would the VSB eliminate French classes because not all students excel in languages? Or gym class, because every student isn’t athletically inclined? Of course not.

And again, this new policy will disproportionately hurt lower-income students who can’t afford to leave the public school system for another type of school. Indeed, families have already noted this policy has affectively shut them out of enriched academics.


Because the B.C. government only provides up to 50 per cent of the operating costs for independent schools, which emphasize subjects such science, math, the arts and even athletics. That’s better than some other provinces, but still effectively excludes B.C. families who can’t afford the other 50 per cent of the tuition cost. So when the VSB eliminates honours classes, many lower-income kids won’t have the option to take honours courses—at a public school or independent school.

The Horgan government can change that.

In Australia and Sweden, the government provides funding for students attending independent schools, but unlike B.C., their programs better assist low-income families. For example, in Australia’s scaled funding system, independent schools in lower-income neighbourhoods receive more direct funding from the government. In Sweden, the government fully funds the vast majority of independent schools and charges parents no tuition.

If B.C. increased funding for independent schools to increase affordability for lower-income families, students would have access to more opportunities (and a safe harbour from exclusionary school board policies such as the VSB’s latest move). B.C. could equitably fund independent schools like they do public schools or offer “vouchers” like Australia, which helps lower-income kids. And by aligning school funding with the pace of enrolment, the province would keep this policy change affordable for taxpayers.

This isn’t the Vancouver School Board’s first ideological policy whim, and it won’t be the last. The VSB would rather prevent students from reaching their potential than see a gap in student performance. This does nothing to improve the experience of all students—it simply hurts students who want to pursue advanced academics. The board should reverse this perverse decision. But crucially, the B.C. government should empower lower-income students by giving all families the ability to choose other schools.