We can’t leave 20 per cent of students behind

Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder notes that almost 20 per cent of students in this school district live in poverty.

The report from Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for the Central Island region, was stark — almost 20 per cent of students in this school district are living in poverty.

This means those students are less ready for school and their chances of doing well in the classroom are greatly reduced.

Canadians said they wanted to end child poverty in 1989 when the House of Commons passed Ed Broadbent’s motion in 1989 calling on Canada to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.

The sad truth is we didn’t manage to eliminate child poverty, and it has actually increased, especially here in British Columbia, which has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada.

There are solutions to child poverty, and the federal government can help by making targeted investments where the evidence proves they actually help families.

A significant number of children living in poverty come from single-parent families. It seems obvious that having access to secure, affordable, convenient child care would help these families.

The group “Living Wage for Families” has said that a publicly-funded child care system in B.C. that offered subsidies similar to that of Quebec would reduce monthly costs to $280 for the average family.

Right now, families who pay for child care spend nearly 20 per cent of their budget on fees. With a publicly-funded system, that percentage would drop to less than seven per cent.

When Quebec introduced its (then) $7-a-day child care system, many people worried it would be a burden on taxpayers.

But research has shown that labour productivity increased, mainly from the numbers of women who could enter or re-enter the workforce and start earning taxable income.

That could be a strong incentive to work.

Of course, not every parent can or is able to work, so targeted assistance can also help.

Increasing the main federal transfer to help young families, the Canada Child Tax Benefit, is another option. First Call: the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition recommends the benefit be raised to $5,500 and be universal, so all families with children receive it regardless of whether their income is from earnings or government transfers.

Like the baby bonus of previous decades, this would help young families with expenses. And with universality, it costs less to administer the program.

Helping families pay for expenses with a mix of incentives and assistance is a proven way to lift more children out of poverty and help them prepare for school.

Ensuring students are ready to learn is smart public policy.

Those students are more likely to do well in school and potentially go to post-secondary studies.

With looming labour shortages as our population ages, we cannot leave 20 per cent of students behind.