Ian Cunliffe is not just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk.
In fact, the North Vancouver teacher librarian is completing a marathon a day for 22 days from the Alberta border to Vancouver, in order to bring public attention to the province’s Bill 22. He believes the legislation is harming British Columbia’s public education system.
“Bill 22 is caustic for learning. You can’t take $250 million a year out of public education without problems,” he said on Tuesday as he made his way through Abbotsford.
While it’s the administrators who have to cut their districts’ programs in order to stay within their provincially-dispensed budgets, Cunliffe blames the government and its Bill 22 for putting the school superintendents in “impossible situations.”
Along the way, he’s heard lots of stories from parents and teachers frustrated by the financial restraints on education.
“One teacher in the Boundary School District who ran with me for 15 miles said (the district) took away all his library books and turned the library into a weight room,” said Cunliffe. To save dollars, library hours were cut in half in another district in the Kootenays, he said.
A parent from Chilliwack reported her son in Grade 10 was taking physical education online.
Cunliffe said it was “insanity” to him to close libraries and have children taking PE through distance learning when at the same time the province purports to encourage literacy and physical activity.
“We know from studies that libraries and library teachers increase literacy. Not all kids come from literate families, and sometimes the library is the only place where they may get that exposure. But more and more, kids are coming to libraries and finding a closed sign and the doors locked,” said Cunliffe.
In addition, teachers are asked to take on more special needs students and to deal with the more complex social problems students bring into the classrooms, issues like cyber-bullying that didn’t exist a few years ago, but without accompanying financial and personnel support, he said.
For example, Cunliffe said under Bill 22 there are no class size limits from Grade 4 classes and up, and no limits on special needs students, but also no minimum guaranteed funding for those special needs students (for support such as teachers’ assistants).
The stresses are demoralizing for teachers who aren’t able to teach what they should be teaching, said Katharin Midzain, past president of the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association and Cunliffe’s support crew as he traveled through Abbotsford.
Under the guise of 21st century modernity, students from kindergarten to high school are encouraged to adopt online learning, all to save the government money in the short term, she said.
Although the effects of financial constraint may not be readily apparent, in the long term, she feels the children are being shortchanged.
“We have kids graduating this year who have spent almost their entire school career in an underfunded system, and that’s atrocious. They don’t feel they’ve had the opportunities they could have had,” she said. “We’re lowering the bar for everything.”
While the lifespan of Bill 22 is supposed to be over next June, whatever government is in place has to refund public education, they said.
Cunliffe said it’s gone to the point “where public education is held together with goodwill and duct tape.”
“[Bill 22] has cannibalized essential services in order to keep the system going. In the end, it will be fatal,” he said.
Cunliffe is on the final leg of his odyssey this week.
On Aug. 28, he is scheduled to stop at the Dublin Crossing Pub
188th Street & Fraser Highway, Surrey, from 5 – 7 p.m. for an informal get-together with fellow teachers.
He’s winding his way through Langley and Surrey on Wednesday and Thursday, along 16th Avenue, then along 152nd Street, and over to the Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam to connect to Broadway. His final destination is Canada Place at about 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/22MarathonsAgainstBill22.