Students from Vancouver's adult education programs will soon walk across the stage at John Oliver secondary to collect their diplomas. But school board trustees are worried that if the provincial government doesn't change course, next year's graduating class may be much smaller.
The Vancouver School Board, which faces a $4.6 million budget shortfall, approved a motion at its Tuesday evening meeting that asked the Ministry of Education to rescind cuts to its "education guarantee."
The guarantee offers free upgrading and continuing education courses to graduated adults, as well as the standard secondary curriculum for non-graduated students and those under 19 years of age. Part of the program's aim is to make education accessible for low-income people and recent immigrants.
At the beginning of May, the Ministry of Education said it would continue to fund only academic upgrading and literacy courses for graduated adults. The province's focus would be on "vital" subject areas like English, math, and science. Students who have not graduated from high school would not be affected, Education Minister George Abbott told the legislature on May 9.
Upper year programs like chemistry, physics, geography, precalculus and calculus would be affected by the cuts, according to school district associate superintendent Maureen Ciarniello.
Programs in digital media, fine arts and business education would also no longer receive provincial funding. Adult students would have to pay for the courses to take them. But whether these programs will be offered in the next school year is contingent on enrollment, Ciarniello said, and with an estimated price tag of $425 per course, they may be out of reach for low income students.
The ministry has argued that such courses are not within its mandate. A spokesperson for the ministry said the cost of these programs has ballooned to $15 million since they were implemented in 2007, when they cost $1.5 million to run. Increases in the number of elective courses offered has driven costs up, he said.
Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said the program's popularity is no reason for cuts.
"Its been a very popular program, which I think speaks to its success," she said. "And relative to the provincial budget, it's a small amount."
Last year, close to 2,500 full time students were enrolled in the school board's six adult education centres. Of those, 23 per cent were students 19 and under, 55 per cent were non-graduated students over 19 and 22 per cent were graduated adults. The last group will most likely have to pay for courses not covered by the education guarantee, said Ciarniello.
The ministry has said that completion rates for some courses have been as low as 35 per cent, and argue that part of funding will be contingent on a student finishing the course.
Bacchus said this puts an unfair amount of pressure on students and staff at the centres.
"Sometimes [completion] takes a few times, especially if you're new to the language and culture," she said. "Some people need to try a course more than once to be successful, but the key is allowing them to be successful."