BC Government’s cuts to adult basic education hurt most-marginalized

Photo by Douglas Students' Union
Photo by Douglas Students’ Union

Don’t Close the Doors lobbies New Westminster for support

By Lauren Kelly, News Editor

On June 1, Don’t Close the Doors campaigners Jenelle Davies and Ruab Waraich attended a meeting at New Westminster City Hall and presented with the goal of gaining the city’s support for their campaign. They are responding to Christy Clark’s Liberals and their decision to both cut $6.9-million from Adult Basic Education (ABE) in BC and allow schools to charge tuition fees for it.

Adult Basic Education refers to classes for people who have either not graduated high school and wish to upgrade their high school classes to meet post-secondary requirements, or who are seeking to improve basic literacy and numeracy through developmental and ESL programs.

With the new laws in place since January 1, post-secondary institutions can charge ABE students $1,600 a semester, or $320 a course, for all upgrading courses before ancillary fees. With these fees, each course can cost nearly $500.

“When this cut happened, the ministry assured us that adults would be able to take these classes through the school districts,” said Davies during the presentation. “And then they cut the funding for that as well.”

Since May 1, school districts that offer free upgrading courses for adults no longer receive funding from the government.

Those seeking ABE are people in the most marginalized groups: 58 per cent are women, 18 per cent are aboriginal people, 20 per cent are parents, 55 per cent are employed, and 79 per cent have graduated high school and want to be able to enter post-secondary. Seventy per cent of students continue their studies after ABE. ABE programs are essential for many adults who hope to start careers, but do not have the requirements.

There is an Adult Upgrading Grant that covers costs for schooling. If you are a family of one, you must make less than $11.40 an hour, or about $23,000 a year, to qualify. “We know from talking to folks in the community that making $11.40 an hour doesn’t leave you with so much extra money that you can pay nearly $500 for one course,” countered Davies.

The government had previously instated fees for ABE courses, and this prompted students to lobby. In 2007, they were abolished and for the last seven years, ABE students could attend school without having to worry about not being able to support themselves and attend school.

“We’re asking the government: ‘What’s changed since 2007?’”

The campaign, supported by many teachers’ federations, students’ unions, and poverty coalitions, has now added their first, but likely not last, city to that list: New Westminster.