Teacher Shortages and Institutional Responses

Teacher Shortages and Institutional Responses

IPE/BC Forum, March 7, 2024

We’re very grateful to Dr. Dan Laitsch, Dean, Faculty of Education, SFU, for speaking to our recent forum about the serious teacher shortage and for engaging our many participants online and in person in a discussion of the causes and solutions. Dan stressed the importance of a comprehensive systemic response to each of the hurdles to recruiting and retaining teacher candidates and practising teachers. We’re pleased to report that his presentation inspired IPE/BC to form a working committee to highlight the issues, research the solutions, and advocate for positive changes.

We invite you to take a few minutes to read the report on this forum here. 

The IPE/BC welcomes the Prime Minister’s April 1 National School Meals Program announcement

The IPE/BC welcomes the Prime Minister’s April 1 National School Meals Program announcement

By Patti Bacchus

April 2, 2024

In our submission to the federal government’s 2024 budget consultation, the Institute for Public Education/ BC (IPE) called on the federal government to place an urgent priority on the implementation of a national, universal school food program, and we are pleased government has responded positively with its April 1 announcement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pledging a federal government investment of $1 billion over five years, with a target of expanding school meal programs to 400,000 more kids than are currently receiving school meals. 

The federal government has promised a school food program since 2019, and this is a good step forward, but it falls short of providing a universal food program, as recommended by the IPE. 

As the IPE quoted UNICEF Canada in our brief to the federal budget consultation, “Universal food programs provide the opportunity for all students to learn about food and nutrition literacy, the importance of healthy food choices, the role of food in community and culture, and the positive impact of taking time to share in meals together. 

“By providing school meals only to those students whose families/caregivers are not able to afford sufficient nutritious food, these benefits are lost to the student population as a whole. Additionally, while there may be well-intentioned efforts to eliminate stigma arising from a school food program based on socio-economic factors, the identification of those who ‘qualify’ for such a program ensures stigma is inevitable.”

What we know

As housing and food costs go up, and wages for many stagnate, parents face hard choices when it comes to keeping a roof over their heads, paying high childcare costs, and making sure kids are eating decent meals. Others may have the money, but not the time, to make sure their kids are eating well.

As a school trustee, I was frustrated by the convoluted and time-consuming process we went through to determine which kids and schools would get subsidized or free meals. With limited government funding and a patchwork of donated money, we tried to make sure food was going to those who needed it most, but that’s easier said than done. As staff tried to chase down grants and ensure kitchen equipment was kept up to code and in working order, I was struck by how inefficient a system it was for something that should be much simpler.

Some schools have a high concentration of students from families who live in poverty, but there are kids in every public school whose families struggle to make ends meet and keep food on the table, on a regular basis, or sometimes temporarily. All it can take is a job loss, marriage break up, illness or an eviction notice to create a financial crisis for families who may appear to be doing fine.

The way we allocate the limited number of school meals that school boards can afford also risks creating a stigma for those who get them. Some parents need the support, but don’t want to ask for it, so their kids may go without.

And research also shows that Canadian kids are eating way too much processed food and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables, and other healthy foods. Poor childhood eating habits put kids at risk of a lifetime of expensive health problems. Rushed families spend less time sitting down to home-cooked, nutritious meals together, while kids eat junk in front of screens. It’s bad news.

The good news is there’s a straightforward public-policy solution that’s proven to be effective at countering these problems: universal, quality school food programs. The Prime Minister’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

The benefits of universal school meal programs

Hungry kids don’t learn well. It’s hard to concentrate with a growling stomach. We’re already spending thousands of dollars a year to educate each student, so it makes sense to fill their tummies with good food so they can concentrate and get the most of out of their publicly funded school days.

We also know all food is not created (or manufactured) equally, and that eating processed, high-fat, salty or sugary junk is bad for all of us, including kids. Having access to nutritious, fresh and tasty food at school teaches kids that healthy food can be delicious too.

When schools provide quality, culturally appropriate healthy meals to all kids, it also increases attendance rates and provides social benefits by having kids sit down to enjoy a meal together.

We also know that over half of high school students don’t eat a healthy breakfast before heading to school, which puts them at risk of everything from learning problems, health issues and poor behaviour.

Research confirms that quality school-food programs lead to improved child and youth mental health and may contribute to reduced risk of things like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers, due to improved eating habits.

A national, universal school food program would check off a lot of important boxes in terms of good public policy, including reducing poverty’s effects on children and giving kids from low-income families a better chance to succeed, improved physical and mental health for kids, and instilling positive eating habits that could last their lifetimes.

Having good food available at school would reduce busy families’ financial and time pressures, expose kids to a wide range of healthy foods, remove the stigma of current food programs that are targeted only to kids from poor families and support local food production.

That’s a lot of bang for the bucks it would take to fund the program, and could save taxpayers’ money in the long run.

The Prime Minister can only keep this funding promise if he gets re-elected, and the IPE will be working to keep funding for universal school food programs on the agenda and platforms for all political parties as we head into the next federal election.

Patti Bacchus is a public education advocate, commentator, and IPE/BC Board member, who was also the Vancouver School Board’s longest-serving chair, from 2008-2014. She has also served on the Board of the Broadbent Institute. Patti has written extensively about public education issues in the Georgia Straight. She believes that a strong and well-resourced public education system is key to a healthy and just society.


BC Budget 2024: What is in store for public schools and the K-12 system as a whole?

The budgetary approach favoured by the current government centres on an explicit targeting of new monies to a small set of defined needs like contract costs and monies for more students. Yet our schools are complex and expansive institutions that face inflationary pressure affecting not just wages and salaries but benefit costs, and those related to learning materials, utilities, specialized services, professional development, recruitment, transportation, IT and a host of other factors. While the annual Funding Allocation System is intended to capture these demands when budgetary allocations are set, there has not been a clear or consistent recognition of budgetary pressures in these areas and how they impinge upon school system mandates in the instructional arena.

Read our analysis of the education funding in Budget 2024 here.

IPE/BC brief to federal budget consultations calls for action on universal school food program

The Institute for Public Education/ BC has called on the federal government to place an urgent priority on the implementation of a national, universal school food program in the upcoming budget. In a brief submitted to the federal pre-budget consultation, we speak to the importance of such a program in helping to address food insecurity and poverty throughout the country. Additionally, we explain the positive impact of a universal program on student learning, well-being, health and development, and the educational opportunities it would provide for all school-aged children and youth. Read the full brief submitted to the 2024 budget consultation here. 

CCPA Policy Note focused on Hopes and Dreams for BC’s Public Schools

Thank you very much to the CCPA for  the January 11th Policy Note on  IPE/BC’s Hopes and Dreams project and for inviting readers to participate. We know there are many significant problems that need addressing in our public schools- teacher shortage, inadequate support for students with diverse learning needs, and underfunding, to name a few. At the same time, we think that it’s important to talk about our aspirations for our education system, students and learning in BC and to help inform policy through the voices of British Columbians. What are your hopes and dreams for public education in BC?  Check out the links in this article to join in the conversation.

Hopes and Dreams Project Featured on Radio CFRO

IPE/BC’s community engagement project, Hopes and Dreams for Public Education in BC, was featured on Radio CFRO, Vancouver’s Cooperative Radio, on December 16th. Bárbara Silva, IPE/BC Board member, spoke with Jane Williams on Redeye about the project and the ways that IPE/BC is reaching out to British Columbians and inviting them to share their perspectives. Thank you very much to Coop Radio for this interview and for inviting listeners to participate.
We hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to the segment (scroll down to December 16th) and, of course, we also hope you’ll join with others in BC and participate by sending in your thoughts. 

On September 30 and throughout the year

On September 30th and throughout the year, we commit to learning, reflecting, and teaching about the genocidal treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and to taking meaningful steps to reconciliation. We know that the education is key to exposing the brutal inhumane treatment of Indigenous children, families, and peoples across the country and to ensuring every child is treated with respect and given the support and encouragement they deserve. Indigenous children need to see their culture, history, and ways of knowing embraced in our public school system, and to know that they are truly welcomed, and their strengths are celebrated. It is up to all of us in the education community to ensure this is the case.

We applaud the steps taken to date in our public schools and, at the same time, know that there is much more to do. As Justice Sinclair so aptly said, “Education got us into this mess and education will get us out.”

National Truth and Reconciliation Day is an opportune time to re-read the TRC Calls to Action, and to individually and collectively make plans to ensure they are implemented.  Decolonizing our work, our daily lives and our education system is a critical imperative- one which we all owe to the children and youth in our schools and communities. The message, “Every child matters” calls upon us to ensure this is truly the case for Indigenous children. Fortunately, there are many excellent resources to help us do the necessary learning and to act on our commitments. Just a few of the many available are included below. We know there are many more excellent resources for acting on reconciliation in our schools and communities and would welcome you sharing those with us.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation -Truth and Reconciliation Week

4 Canoes – Indigenous Created Resources for the Classroom

Spirit Bear’s Guide to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action

Featured Resources in Aboriginal Education

Never Stop Learning- Truth and Reconciliation and Education Resources

Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation Resources

IPE/BC Submission to the Budget 2024 Consultation

The IPE/BC submission to the Budget 2024 Consultation process is titled, Building Capacity for BC’s Future, and is focused on the following three priorities:

  • addressing the serious teacher shortage that is putting the quality of public education at risk,
  • acting on the need to revise the system for capital planning and building in order to ensure a forward-looking approach, and
  • meeting the need for increased funding for post-secondary education.

You can read the full submission including our recommendations and rationale here.


Survey Results Very Worrisome

June 8, 2023

We know that a high quality, accessible and inclusive public education system is essential to a strong democracy. We also know that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. A recent report shines a light on the serious issues that need to be addressed so that our valuable public education system can continue to live up to the important role it plays in our society.

As you’ll see from this report on the BCTF’s recent member survey, the pressures on teachers are becoming untenable. We can only expect that  BC’s critical teacher shortage will get worse if the conditions are not improved. Increasing workload, inability to secure the support their students need, staffing shortages, and oversized classes are among the top factors having a worrying impact on the physical and mental health of teachers. Teachers considering leaving the profession within the next two years pointed to  inadequate working conditions, lack of support for students with diverse needs, stress, and burnout as key reasons. They identified not being able to get the necessary support for students who need it as the key impact of the staffing shortages.

It’s well worth taking the time to read the full report.  As you’ll see, the situation calls for immediate, concerted government attention.

2023 BCTF Member Survey Summary Report

New School Monies Mostly to Cover Current Cost Pressures

New School Monies Mostly to Cover Current Cost Pressures

By John Malcolmson, Institute for Public Education/BC

March 1, 2023

Tuesday’s budget announces a significant increase in funding for K-12 schools. On the operating side of the ledger, there appears to be in excess of $625 million in additional money, according to the Education Ministry’s Service Plan document.

Before the champagne corks start popping, it is worthwhile to keep a few salient (and sobering) thoughts in mind.

➢ Current year funding for public schools is in the order of $6,330 million, so the above scale of increase is clearly sizeable and in the vicinity of 10 per cent.

➢ Our schools are highly labour intensive. In 2022/23, about $4,528 million was spent on wages and salaries for teachers, support staff, and administrative staff. Benefit costs that vary directly with wage spending are likely to add in another $830 million in costs, so the cost of maintaining the staff that run our schools comes to about $5,362 million. These workers are in line to receive a 6.75% increase in April, so that will absorb a full $362 million in new funding.

➢ School enrolments are slated to rise by 1.4%. If one assumes a direct scaling in system costs to meet the needs of these new students, that will take up another $89 million.

➢ Expected inflation on non-wage costs in our schools – close to a $1 billion annually – will absorb another $58 million.

➢ The newly-enhanced school food program is projected to cost an additional $59 million in 2023/24.

If you tally up the underlined amounts above, you get about $568 million already committed. That leaves just $60 odd million to deal with costs associated with new initiatives or the Classroom Enhancement Fund to hire new teachers, or the Learning Improvement Funding dedicated to building up Education Assistant time with students with special needs. Not insubstantial of course but a far cry less than what the headlines alone suggest.