Tax breaks for children’s sport programs, why not arts as well?

The Steven Harper government has introduced tax credits for parents who shell out money to enable their kids to play sports. Some parents have started an on-line petition asking that similar recognition be given parents whose children participate in the arts.

To: Government of Canada

The decision by the Government of Canada in its most recent budget to give a tax credit to the parents of children taking part in organized sports (the so-called “soccer mom” credit) is fundamentally unfair. It provides a subsidy to one group of citizens by making a value judgement about the activities in which they choose to involve their children.

The implicit assumption is that involvement in traditional sports has a higher value than taking piano or dance lessons, taking classes in the visual and dramatic arts, singing in a youth choir or taking part in debating or chess clubs. This is unsupportable in fact and undemocratic in its effects. Parents who choose to spend their money on developing the aesthetic, cultural and artistic gifts of their children should not be discriminated against in favour of parents who choose to support their childrens’ athletic abilities.

Therefore, the undersigned petition the government to reconsider its announced policy and to extend the tax credit to all children and to any activity in which parents enroll their children for their mental, artistic or physical well-being.


Sign petition here!Media discussions of the tac credit issue

CBC Reality Check

CBC Coverage of the election promise

CTV Budget coverage

CUPE budget analysis

Sports Matter Blog

CMAJ Canada’s Health Journal on the budget on the budget and the alternative budget

Open Letter on Bill 33: Problematic but necessary.

Dear Minister Bond,

It’s time to get to work on improving and maintaining our provincial education system Let’s pass Bill 33.

Bill 33 is not a perfect piece of legislation. Upon close examination there are a number of serious flaws. (For comments click here and here.) However, Bill 33 is a place to start. It is also the fulfillment of a promise that Premier Campbell and Minister Bond made to the people of BC as part of the deal to end the October teachers’ strike.

Bill 33 recognizes the important issue of class size and composition. Well documented and internationally recognized research makes it clear that the combination of large classes and diverse learners undermines the education of all students. Reducing the size of classes and balancing diverse learning needs within the classrooms an important first step toward an effective education for all. However, if this is to work the government must ensure that full and appropriate resources are in place. To fail to do so will create the potential for pitting parents against parents, teachers against teachers, programmes against programmes as boards struggle to meet the legislative requirements in the absence of full and adequate funding.

At a minimum we would hope that the fixed cap on students with IEPs would be replaced with a double counting rule where each student with an IEP counts as two students thereby reducing the overall class size without placing any restrictions on individual students with IEPs.

Ideally this Bill would include funding provisions to ensure:

  • sufficient classroom space
  • educational aids and assistants for all students who need them
  • additional non-enrolling resource teachers to support the classroom
  • additional in-service and professional development to facilitate life-long learning for teachers upon who’s backs we heap growing expectations

Debate discussion and additional consultation can proceed, but for now we need to act. Let’s get Bill 33 into law now.

Online Petition to Keep BC’s Provincial School Completion Certificate!

Further to my (Dawn Steele’s) earlier note about the Ministry’s plans to stop issuing school completion certificates for students with special needs who meet their Individual Education Plan goals, an online petition has now been set up by Web-savvy mom Tamara Hurtado at:

Please take a moment to sign the petition and pass this along, urging relatives, friends and ordinary citizens to help us reverse the Ministry’s decision.

The attached position paper addresses a serious concern re the Ministry of Education’s new policy re graduation of students with special needs. Since the paper is rather long, the essense of the issue is summarized below:

Former Policy:
Students who successfully complete all of their graduation requirements receive a certificate (known as the Dogwood) from the Ministry of Education. For students whose curriculum is modified, and who complete all of the goals outlined in their Individual Education Plan, the Ministry issues a school completion certificate.

New Policy:
The Dogwood certificate will continue to be issued by the Ministry of Education for those students who successfully complete the graduation requirements. However, the Ministry will no longer issue a school completion certificate for those who follow modified curriculum and successfully complete all of the goals in their IEPs. Instead, the Ministry is leaving up to the districts to decide if they will issue a school completion certificate locally.

The Issue:
The message sent is that some kids’ efforts count and are “worthy” of recognition by the Ministry and others are not. The Ministry claims, in its policy documents, to “value the contributions of all students.” This policy change devalues those students efforts. The new policy also seems to fly in the face of the Ministry’s policies on inclusion by excluding these students from their credentialing process and leaving up to districts to decide if it is worth the paper to photo copy a certificate.

A further concern is the loss of accountability for these students, since the Ministry will no longer require that districts submit data regarding the graduation of such students to the Ministry.

Thanks to Cathie Camley of LDA – BC Tri Cities for bringing this to our attention. I urge parents, PACs, DPACs and other organizations that are offended by this mean-spirited attack on students with special needs to make their views known to the Ministry, MLAs and local media.

Dawn Steele

Download position paper

School Planning Councils and Democracy

In 2002 the provincial government introduced legislation to place a School Planning Council (SPC) in every public school in British Columbia. Membership in each SPC was to include 3 parents elected from the parents advisory council, 1 teacher elected from school-based staff, and the principal of the school. Any parent who was employed by any school district was banned from being elected as a parent rep and, initially, students were excluded. Later a single student rep, appointed by principals in consultation with students, from amongst grade 10, 11, or 12 students was added. The publicly stated reason for legislating SPCs revolved around ideologies of parent involvement in education and was promulgated as an effective mechanism for placing the education of children at the front of our provincial agenda.

I have sat as an elected parent rep on a SPC since the councils were first established; first as a parent rep in an elementary school and, for the last two years, as a parent rep on a Secondary SPC. Through out this process I have been able to see first hand the ways in which the SPC functions. I will of course caution readers that I am drawing here from my particular experience as a parent who, like many, was less than enthused about the prospects but recognizing that they were in place and would not be withdrawn jumped in to try and play some role in the way in which these councils function.SPCs are thus charged with the responsibility of drafting a school growth plan. The Ministry of Education guidelines, regulations, and the enabling provincial legislation describe a clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities, even anticipating the possibility that partner groups might boycott the proceedings or that the plan may not conform to expectations at the school board or ministry levels. The legal authority to appoint members to the council, to require the principal to draft a plan if the SPC’s plan deviates from the Ministry’s terms of reference, or for the school board to step in itself and write the plan is clearly inscribed in the legislation.

The school growth plan strikes me as a rather strange document that is explicitly based upon an ideology of constant improvement and steady increases in achievement (typically measured narrowly). Drawing upon an array of statistical data that summarizes standardized test scores (provincial course exams and Foundation Skills Assessment ), measures of social responsibility, safety , and satisfaction , and assorted other pieces of information that lend themselves toward quantification the school growth plans are supposed to set goals, objectives, and ways to evaluate them that will lead to constant improvement in all areas of the school. Qualitative data could be incorporated but few SPC members, School Board or Ministry staff appear fully aware of the possibilities and ways to move from anecdote to effective use of qualitative data. The end result can end up being plans that identify ‘trends’ emerging from statistically insignificant changes in descriptive data: i.e. test scores increase by 1% over a period of two years. This is not, of course to say, that useful and important dialouge does not occure -it does-. Rather, it is to suggest that a vision of education that is focussed simply on increasing student achievement is a narrow and bereft approach to learning and teaching.

So, how does a SPC contribute to democratizing our schools? Unfortunately I would suggest not at all. Under the previous system school based Parent Advisory Councils combined with district confederations had in many areas of the province established a reasonably effective network and process of consultation and inclusion of parents at school and district levels. This is not to say that there were no problems or that everything worked well as some magical point in the pre-SPC past: far from it.

A number of features mitigate against SPCs being agents of democratic reform. First, there are restrictions that prohibit any parent who works for a school district to participate. Second, the is a mix between legislatively appointed members (principals) and administrator appointed members (senior grade students). I should make very clear before anyone I know feels offended by pointing to the democratic deficit of appointed SPC members. This should in no way be taken to imply or suggest that appointed members do any less of a job than do elected reps. However, if we are focused on democratic participation than membership on a democratic body should –I would argue- be based on a democratic as opposed to a delegation of authority process. Third, there is a complete exclusion of other school-based staff (educational support workers, clerical, and physical plant) and no effective mechanism to include wider community involvement (aside from tri-annual trustee elections). Finally, there remain a large number of professional educators who remain unconvinced that SPCs are anything more than an attempt to undermine their teaching and working conditions through a backdoor process that proclaims to advance parental involvement.

There is a body of academic and popular writing that juxtaposes parental involvement in decision making against teacher unionism. Writers such as Mark Holmes and Edward Wynne are explicit in being “unsympathetic to strong union structures in schools” (Making the School an Effective Community. New York: Falmer Press, 1989:135). Members of this school of thought conceive of unions as using collective agreements “to advance a barrage of complaints, grievances and even personal attacts” (Holmes and Wynne 1989:134). Writers like Holmes are clear that their goal is to weaken unions and that one of the best ways to do it is through “the growth of private schools, particularly in combination with some form of state aid or voucher system” (Holmes and Wynne 1989:135). The same school of writers also advance the ide that increased parental control over school-based governance can also be used as step toward weakening teacher unionism. In this way SPCs can potentially be understood as part of a wider processes that involves drawing parents into the administrative stream of control in a school and thereby is one attempt to transfer control over local level managerial decisions from school administrators and staff committees to parent dominated school-based management boards.

Many parents do want to be involved. Many of us argue strongly for an effective and democratic role for us in the decision making processes. But at the same time most of us do not wish to displace the role of teachers as professionals in the pedagogy of teaching nor are we really interested in micro-managing the technical side of school-based administration. SPCs have in fact pulled us away from democratizing schools through the limited focus and relative absence of authority and power to make meaningful decisions. Whereas PACs have the capacity to include all parents, the limited membership of the SPCs (both in terms of who may participate and the number of people who are allowed to) works to undermine broad participation. When one takes into account the mandated focus on a school growth plans and the attendant problem inherent in any plan focused completely on constant growth one might be excused for thinking that the SPCs are part of a large scale training programme to get parents and school communities ready for taking over more types of narrowly defined management measures and that our capacity to engage the wider issues involved in educating citizens will ultimately be undermined through a corporatist agenda that places more value on training workers than in educating citizens.

At the end of the day I would argue strongly for parent/teacher/student(where age and maturity allow it) councils based in schools that engage in real learning issues and approaches that place the process of education understood broadly at the center of deliberation.

A Selection of BC online resources related to School Planning Councils

BC Government School Planning Councils web page

Summary of School Act that pertains to School Planning Council

BCCPAC web resources related to School Planning Councils

BCTF web resources on SPCs

Hot topics bulletin from the BCTF web site

BCTF Jan 2004 survey results regarding SPCs

BC School Superintends Association web resources related to School Planning Councils.

Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Eduation SPC web resources

News Articles
COPE opts to leave school planning seats vacant (Van Courier, August 2004)

Trustee fears loss of control (Georgia Straight, November 2005)

Government Education Plan Threatens Democracy, say Trustees (Columbia Journal, November 2005)

New Year’s Resolutions for Public Education

In a few short days our schools will be back in session and, accross BC plans will be rushed through to spend thousands of dollars taken from teachers as a result of the October Strike. Here’s a few resolutions for public education that we might keep in mind while the spending frenzy is upon us.

1. We resolve to fund public educaiton with ongoing funds that will allow us to meet the educational needs of every child.

2. We resolve to treat teachers, suport staff, and school-based administrators with the respect that they desrve and, while we are at it, we resolve to respect the rights of teachers to fair, free, and effective collective bargaining.

3. We resolve to place the needs of all children at the forefront of our consideration of public education (please note, this doesn’t mean that children are an excuse to bash teachers or to winge).

4. Finaly, we resolve to put our words into real actions and to make public education a real learning opportunity for every child.

Happy New Year!

Extend the school year!

Whether or not teachers’ accept the terms of the Ready Report we need to consider what will happen with the school year. As it stands, the government has won a windfall savings of close to $15 million a day. Let’s put that money to good use. Let’s extend the school year. If education is as essential as Mr. Campbell and Ms Bond say; if there has been such a crisis as Ms. Howland and the BCCPAC have claimed, then let’s do something about. Extend the school year. This way no student misses a precious day of school. Parents won’t mind about cutting into holiday time because we want our children to have the benefit of the maximum possible number of days at school. And, teachers won’t lose any pay in the long run.

Why not?

Kitsilano Secondary Parents Demonstrate Support for Teachers

Students, parents and teachers are all hoping for a swift and and satisfactory outcome to the current labour dispute. Our support for the long-term working relationships in our school community is needed now more than ever.

Members of the Kitsilano school community–past and present– came out this morning to show their respect for the men and women who teach our children. Parents, grandparents, friends, teachers and even a handful of family pets joined a festive gathering on the picket line this morning.

While were were there a representative of the VSTA came to speak with striking teachers. She reported on the BCTF press conference. It was evident that the teachers on the line are very supportive of the actions of the union and their comments brought home to the rest of us the seriousness of this struggle.

One can’t help but feel that our government really has no interest in working with our teachers. Nor is one left with any idea that the government cares about public education in any fundamental way. What the government does seem to care about is winning at all cost.

But, a win at all cost approach is going to cost us the working people of this province. Political leaders and their behind the scenes backers can take joy rides in foreign countries but back home they act the school yard bully. We need to increase the pressure on this government and their backers. We need to keep the support on the line. If we are to keep our public education intact we will need to expand our support networks and stand beside our teachers on the line!


Green Ribbon Campaign

Kamloops teachers call for Green Ribbon Campaign (click for details).

From Kamloops teachers: “A group of our teachers has taken upon themselves to start a green ribbon campaign. They are giving out pieces of green flagging tape to anyone that wants it and people are displaying these on their vehicles. This is to symbolize support for the teachers and opposition to Bill 12”

The use of the green ribbon has a long history. Before it was used by teachers during the 2005 strike, the Levellers, a progressive faction in the English revolution, used a green ribbon as their badge. The green ribbon is used here in recognition of the recent and distant past.

Join this letter of support for BC Teachers

Dear All,

BC public school teachers have voted to back up their democratic rights to fair and free collective bargaining with a full scale strike Friday, October 7, 2005. As a parent in BC with children in our public schools I am very concerned about the situation. The teachers are standing up for our public education system and need our support. Please read the following letter and send me an email (or add a comment to this site) indicating your support. My email is

In solidarity with our teachers,


For letter addressed to government officials read extended entry:

Dear Mr. Campbell, Ms. Bond, and Mr. De Jong,

We are parents, students, and community members who share a strong sense of respect and admiration for the hard work and dedication that our teachers in the public school system demonstrate on a daily basis. We are writing to you to express our disappointment in the actions of your government with respect to teachers. We appreciate that you believe you are putting children first in education. But, as parents and others concerned about the welfare of children who have seen the direct effects of your actions in our public schools we would respectfully disagree. Under your administration the situation in schools has gotten worse, not better. Class sizes have increased, support for learning disabilities has declined, and many schools have inadequate resources. Parent Advisory Councils have been compelled to pay for funding gaps while teachers spend more and more of their personal income on needed school resources.

Your government has placed the burden of these problems onto the backs of our teachers. Not surprisingly they have voted overwhelmingly to say No More. We are writing to express our support of the actions being taken by our public school teachers. We also ask that Bill 12 be withdrawn and that the government enter into direct talks to reach a fair, free, and democratic collective agreement with the teachers of BC.


Charles Menzies (U. Hill PAC exec and Member at Large, UBC Faculty Association Exec)
Annie Ehman
Charlene Morton
Nancy Langdon
E. Wayne Ross (Professor Department of Curriculum Studies)
Mike Feeley and Linda Quamme
David Green
Teresa Dobson and Thomas Mayson
Sandra Mathison (Professor & Head, Educational and Counselling Psychology & Special Education)
Valerie Pollock
Mari Pighini, MA (The CHILD Project)
Daniel Vokey (Associate Professor Department of Educational Studies)
Danielle M. Law (Developmental Change and Technology Lab)
Rosanne Hood
Kate Trafford, BSc (GIS Technician Human Early Learning Partnership)
Dr. Elizabeth Fendley (Faculty of Medicine UBC, Past Chair, Kitsilano Secondary School Parent Advisory Council)
Laura Neucott
Lynda Prince
Lindsay DuBois (Associate Professor & Undergraduate Coordinator
Sociology and Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University)
Allison McDonald
Gillian Creese
Emily Marshall
Michele Jayasinha
Graham E. Johnson (Professor of Sociology, Department of Anthropology and Sociology University of British Columbia)
Julianne Doctor (Vancouver DPAC Exec rep)
Alannah Young
Jonathan Hanvelt
Elizabeth Johnson (Curator of Ethnology and Associate of the Department of Anthropology UBC Museum of Anthropology)
Amy Hanser (Assistant Professor of Sociology Department of Anthropology and Sociology University of British Columbia)
Marnie Fukushima-Flores
Jennifer Peterson (PhD Candidate UBC Faculty of Education)
Charles Yates
Wendy Nielsen (Department of Curriculum Studies UBC)
Marg Osterreicher
James Hughes
James J. Feng, (Associate Professor Dept. Chemical & Biological Engineering, UBC)
Lianne Britten
Brenda Penton
Sharon Biwer
Steve Baker
Elliott Brunell (Pres. UBC Faculty Association)
Stephen Petrina
Mary MacAulay (David Livingstone Elementary School Parent)
Kathy Whittam
Heather Burpee
Janet McPhee (cochair Jules Quesnel PAC)
Margaret F. Choinski (Clinical Instructor School of Audiology and Speech Sciences Faculty of Medicine, UBC)
Kevin J. Benoy
Rosalind M. Irving
Lisa Agius
Brian Green
Hansen Chou (M.A. Student University of British Columbia)
Susanne Osmond and Glen Hollingshead (parents of Oliver, grade 3, Nootka Elementary, Vancouver)
Cathi Shaw (PhD Student Instructor, Centre for Educational Technology, SFU)
Steve Spencer
Juanita Skinner Nelson BC SD#8
Anna Coffin (parent of Upper Lynn Elementary School)
Laurel Tien (PhD Student University Of British Columbia)
Shauna Halcrow
Jo-Anne Dillabough (Associate Professor, Department of Educational Studies, UBC)
Shelagh Penty (Department Secretary Department of Curriculum Studies)
Jo-Anne Naslund (Instructional Programs Librarian Education Library, UBC)
Rick Archambault (President, Strathcona Community Centre Association)
Heidi Verburg
Rosamel Millaman Reinao
Robin O’Day (PhD Student in Anthropology, UBC)
Sam Heppell (UBC Student)
Wendy Poole (Faculty Member, UBC)
Beatrice Scott
Shelley Hymel, Professor, Faculty of Education, UBC
Anita Schuller
Lena Lew
Jill Lewis UBC Student/Future Teacher
Sharon P. Fraser
Deborah Barton, B. Ed
Thomas Gauthier
Ben Paré
Kit Grauer (Department of Curriculum Studies, University of British Columbia)
Dawn Steele
Lisa Floe
Dr. J. Olivia Scalzo (parent of a special needs child, and former PAC chair in an inner city school).
Lisa Lindal
Linda Riches (Prince George)
Liz Hamel
Aimee Pollard
Leonard Durante
Patti Baccus
Heidi Gonzalez
Marv Westwood
Margaret Giacomello (Library Technician: Interlibrary Loans – Borrowing Kwantlen University College Library )
Dawn Currie (UBC)
Brandy Wiebe (PhD Student Sociology, UBC)
Tanya Stevenson (Parent and Special Education Teacher Mackenzie, BC)
Lorraine Gibson (GIS Technician/EDI-Coordinator Human Early Learning Partnership UBC )
Lisa Johnson (Manager, Community and Strategic Initiatives UBC Campus & Community Planning)
Amanda Marques – UBC Grad Student
Madeleine Macivor (UBC FNHL)
Barbara Wood (CoDevelopment Canada)
Patricia Fahrni
Felice S. Wyndham (Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of British Columbia)
Susan Jaeggle
Hazita Harun
Carolye Kuchta
Mar-y-paz Rivera (IT Coordinator UBC First Nations House of Learning)
Ulrike Radermacher (Co-Chair U. Hill Sec. PAC)
Daryl Sturdy
David Wu
Beverley Gartrell (SFU Sociology/Anthropology, retired)
Soowook Kim (Ph.D Candidate, Dept. of Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education, UBC)
Louise Lamphere (Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico)
Scott Gray, Salmon Arm, B.C.
Tracey Rabone, Salmon Arm, B.C.
Louise Craig, Lillooet, B.C.
Keith Craig, Lillooet, B.C.
Shannon Craig, Prince George, B.C.
Colleen Craig, Salmon Arm, B.C., who is a public education teacher
Ann Doyle (UBC)
William Narvey (Kistilano PAC exec and SPC member)
Mike Dowler (MA Music Education Student, UBC)
Marilee Roome
Jacqueline Solway, Associate Professor Trent University
Petra Ganzenmueller (Chair, Sessional Faculty Committee, UBC Faculty
Jill Warland, (Argyle Secondary School, North Vancouver, BC, Teacher and Parent)
Sowgol Torani
Wes Pue, South Delta
Linc Kesler (Associate Professor & Director, First Nations Studies Program UBC)
Sharon Roseman (Memorial University)