Here is a little bit of history. In the 1990s, the Ministry of Education designated six schools across the province as "Special Education" schools. This original six (kind of like the NHL) included Kenneth Gordon, James Cameron School in Pitt Meadows, and Fraser Academy in Vancouver. As a result of that decision, the six schools were given a small grant for every "Q" designated student enrolled. In return, the schools were monitored to ensure that they only accepted students with a psycho-educational assessment and maintained a PTR of no higher than 6 to 1.
Over time, a number of other specialized schools appeared around the province serving very specific high needs populations. Although these schools qualified for the same grants for their high needs populations (or what are termed "students with low incidence designations) that the public system received, they did not receive any general special educational funding. Many of these schools or programmes are community based, charge no tuition, and are dependent upon funding from various Ministries and annual fundraising to deliver their services. Here are a few examples:
Artemis Place (Victoria) which "provides integrated counselling, life-skills and educational programming to high school aged young women, teenage mothers and transgendered youth. Artemis Place supports students who have faced risk factors that may have arisen from systemic, social, and/or familial breakdown. These challenges have negatively impacted their ability to find success in the mainstream educational system."
Honour Secondary School (Surrey/White Rock) which "combines academic programming with recreation, skills development and support services for students working on Grades 10-12 who have been involved in the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The program also features life skills and interest exploration, family support, one to one support, integration with Surrey Youth Resource Centres, lunch and breakfast programs, and support with professional appointments. Honour Secondary School is run by the Pacific Community Resources Society, which provides and coordinates a range of wrap around support services, including employment, housing, addictions counselling, family counselling and prevention programs, in addition to education programs. All students are referred to the school by the Ministry of Children and Family Development ."
Whytecliff Agile Learning Centre which has two campuses, one in Burnaby serving the Lower Mainland and one in Langley serving the Fraser Valley; they are operated by Focus Foundation of BC, a registered charity. "The programs are designed for vulnerable, marginalized youth (aged 13-19) who are not experiencing success or have been excluded in traditional school settings; many have experienced abuse or been bullied. Students tend to suffer from anxiety and/or depression and reflect complex needs and emotional and behavioural challenges."
So, last month the Ministry added these schools and six others to the list of designated Special Education schools. None of them are "new" schools, as has often been misreported in both the mainstream and social media. They are existing programmes delivering valuable services for their students. In order to provide the funding, the Ministry scaled back slightly on the "Q" funding for the original six but increased funding slightly for our designated low incidence students. For KGMS the funding changes are just about revenue neutral given the balance in our current population. These additional schools and programmes are quite small but are doing critically important work in their communities. In fact KGMS is the second largest (after Fraser Academy) of all of the Special Education Schools in the province. Most of these new schools number fewer than 50 students.
Any perceived funding increase to independent and private schools is always a huge political issue. However, the services being provided by these "new" schools as well as those offered by the original six fill a vital need in providing supports for the most vulnerable students in our province. As all of our families know, parents cannot wait for years for the public system to become adequately resourced to provide these programmes and services. They need help today, and the Ministry has acknowledged this fact in their funding decision.