In the upcoming provincial election, we are likely to hear a great deal from all political parties about the economy and jobs.
There is no doubt this is a real and present challenge for voters.
With the campaign focusing on the economy, we are unlikely to hear a great deal of debate about public education.
Unlike some other political issues, the benefits from investing in our K-12 public education system will not be realized before our provincial politicians seek office yet again in 2017. But it is the time to talk about our philosophical and political commitment to public education and to discuss why public education - an essential foundation of the economy - should be one of the most important dialogues of this election.
As a school trustee, I believe we need to recognize that public education is the foundation of democracy and the institutions that protect and preserve our rights and privileges as Canadians.
I also believe governments, teachers and parents are not enemies.
We need a respectful dialogue in the interests of our students that acknowledges respective contributions, expertise and responsibilities.
We also need a candid discussion about what's happening in the classroom.
We have experienced a transfer of responsibilities from other public institutions and parents to schools. Teachers are addressing health, social/emotional and economic issues in and outside of the classroom that are often best addressed by families and other professionals with expertise to help bring resolution to these challenges.
While funding per student has increased, overall costs to sustain our education system have increased at a greater rate.
The purchasing power of school budgets has diminished, accountability and outcome measures have escalated, and the demands of students with special needs have significantly changed the landscape of classrooms.
Landmark legal decisions have ensured that students with significant learning, intellectual and physical disabilities are taught in our classrooms, unlike in previous decades.
At the same time, high-performing and high-achieving students have an entirely different array of special learning needs.
The education and skills teachers require to meet the diverse needs of these students to reach their potential and to develop the skills needed to be contributing members of society have intensified.
Creating an inclusive classroom that engages students with special needs, aboriginal students and international students as part of the general student population places even more importance on the professionalism and capacity of our teachers.
Our governments have attended to the complexities and bureaucratic challenges facing business in their efforts to succeed. This is important and valuable work, no doubt.
In a parallel discussion, we need to bring these same sentiments to public education. We need to examine our bureaucratic processes and reporting to allow teachers to teach, administrators to lead, and governments to focus on policy.
In the face of limited resources, which is our reality, we need to examine whether there are opportunities to do things differently and to move beyond tinkering along the edges.
Renewed financial investment in public education will generate dividends for individuals and society as a whole - education sets the bar for health, social services, personal responsibility and community building.
But, most of all, we must recognize that governments have legitimate financial constraints, teachers have legitimate teaching pressures, and parents have legitimate concerns about the future for their children.
Education is a long-term investment, while politics is a short-term enterprise - it will take courage and conviction from any government to meet the challenges of investing their political reputations and capital for returns that will be realized long after they have left the political stage.
After all, education is the ultimate renewable resource. Let's treat it that way.
School trustee Chris Gorman is a
member of the Central Okanagan Board
Email: Christopher.Gorman@sd23.bc.ca. Twitter: @Chris_Gorman