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The Columbia Journal
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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Three    May 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    School Hot Lunch Program Restored, but Details Uncertain

    CPP News Service

    The BC Liberal government has caved to public pressure and restored funding for the hot lunch program for impoverished inner city schools, say school board trustees, although they admit details of the decision are still sketchy.

    The BC Ministry of Children and Family Development announced last week it would give back the back $2.91million, cut from Community LINK program last year, restoring the hot lunch program in schools. Lower mainland school trustees and numerous parents, children’s advocacy and labour and community groups greeted the news with celebration.

    “Inner City school funding cuts were affecting our most vulnerable students," says Adrienne Montani, chairperson of the Vancouver School Board. “Over these past four months, Vancouver parents, students, and education partners, voiced their deep concern over (provincial) Inner City school funding cuts.
    COPE Trustees hope this is a first step in restoring much needed funding for education still hurting from severe cuts.”

    The Community LINK program provides hot lunches for more than ten thousand children daily, counseling, support for at-risk students, community schools and alternative schooling programs. Montani said the decision grants a slight reprieve to the austerity budget the board was forced to bring in earlier this under the strict guidelines of the Liberal government.

    That “compliance budget” for the 2004/2005 fiscal year necessitated a cut of $11million to personnel and resources. This cut was in addition to a $4 million cut the year before and accumulated cuts of $100 million over the previous ten years in the district, she said. The board took $2.4 million from its local capital reserve fund to alleviate negative impacts of the over $40 million in funding cuts from the BC Liberal government to the VSB since it took power in 2001.

    It has also cut back on several counseling programs and English As A Second Language training courses, which is expected to cost about 100 jobs, including up to 40 teaching positions, by September.

    Montani says these sacrifices were made to help save as much as possible the programs and services already hit by provincial funding cuts. "We hope this is a first step in restoring needed funding for education after more than a decade of under-funding," she said.

    Although the decision is being hailed as a victory for school children and the public interest, the details of how and exactly when the funds will be re-introduced into the system is still unknown.

    In coming days, Montani said, the Vancouver School Board will be awaiting further clarification of this funding announcement. “At this time, we do not have full details of what the funding will look like," she said. “However, when we receive detailed information, the district will be giving thoughtful consideration to the use of these funds."

    Despite the lack of details so far, many trustees view the government’s reversal as a significant victory, given the wave of education service cuts, mass layoffs and school closures across the province by the Liberal regime. While assuring voters in the last provincial election that such measures were not necessary, the government has maintained this austerity program in spite of widespread opposition in almost every community in the province.

    The coalition that backed the trustees’ demand that the provincial government restore funding to the hot lunch program is known as the No Cuts to Kids Campaign. Its participants include a variety of public interest organizations. These include Inner City Parents; Northeast Vancouver Community Organizations (NEVCO); Inner City Education Society; BC Association of Social Workers; Save Our Schools; Vancouver Elementary Principals and Vice-Principals Association; Vancouver Secondary Administrators Association; Vancouver School Board; Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association; Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association; Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 15; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 963.

    Campaign organizers hope the recent success in restoring the program will further motivate effort in other communities to reverse the government’s education policies.

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