The DeKlein of Public Education

It’s been just over a month since the McKinnon report was released and the echoes of history are still ringing. While it will still be a few weeks until its full impact is felt in the fall budget, the implications are dire. From teacher’s associations to public advocacy groups to healthcare and universities, all around the province the words on people’s lips are cuts: cuts to schools and universities, cuts to nurses and healthcare workers wages. The UCP aim to trim the fat off the public and it will be going right to the bone.

We went through this before under Klein and those cuts crippled the province. Thousands of trained professionals – doctors, nurses, teachers and researchers – left and never came back. We were left with crumbling infrastructure, hospitals that flood yearly and healthcare premiums. While “King Ralph” taught us much about the promises of politicians, it seems we still haven’t learned that lesson.

In 1995, it took a massive strike started by hospital laundry workers to put an end to Ralphie’s public health cuts. Their courage inspired many healthcare workers to not only join what became a large wildcat strike but also to become the backbone of many more strikes throughout that decade. Homelessness had already increased by 740% and many who lived through that era remember the thousands of mental health patients who were tossed out into the streets by an indifferent government. Klein added indignity to indifference as he drunkenly berated and humiliated clients at the Herb Jamieson Centre. This was the man who promised to fix Alberta and he damn near destroyed it.

Kenney is already off to an even worse start with policies based on methods employed down south such as tying funding to performance. In the US, this particular policy was called “No Child Left Behind,” a well-meaning sounding phrase that is everything but. What this would mean is that if a school was under-performing according to government metrics, the amounts that they would receive would shrink. That would leave boards trying to fill budget holes by cutting back on enrichment programs, cutting positions and cramming even more kids into classrooms.

Supporters of this method often say that this will encourage schools to improve their performance and that community fundraising could cover any shortfall. How much money parents already hit by increasing school fees and rising busing costs can contribute will be up for debate. There are many reasons why schools may not perform to certain standards: kids could be from lower-income or troubled families, making it hard for students to achieve their best; hell, rural schools often don’t compete to the same level as their urban, higher incomes counterparts—those most likely to have higher community support and less likely to be as affected by this policy. Not to mention the impact it would have on teachers.

What happens when public school costs rise and quality diminishes is that those that can afford it will become more likely to put their kids in costly private schools (which will be receiving larger funding from this government) or moving out of those communities for greener pastures. Consequently even more funding will be lost from schools. One only needs to look at the American education system to see the impact. Over a few short years of these policies, we will end up with a two-tier education system: one for the rich and one for the rest of us.

Our children will be the worse for it. Imagine how much harder it will be to go on to a trade or university when our schools can only be open 3 days a week or the textbooks are 30 years out of date. It’s horrifying to imagine that any government could be incompetent enough to allow this to happen but the truth that this is what they want is worse.

A populace that is struggling is less likely to have the resources to stand up when overtime rates are cut; they are less likely to have the ability to leave workplaces that underpay and overwork them; they are more likely to accept temporary or contract work that gives them little to no benefits and grinds them slowly, further into poverty. Schools are more than just where our kids learn their ABC’s, they are centres for the community. They are where many learning disabilities are discovered and children receive the support they need. They prepare following generations to receive the rights and responsibilities that have been shouldered by those who went before. This is being done deliberately.

The money the government would have been sending to schools will instead go into the pockets of those who run private schools, it will pay for an MLA’s expenses-paid vacation, it will go towards breaking teacher’s associations and other unions. It’s a strategy of de-funding and destroying that will have future generations paying.

That’s what we have to look forward to. And that’s only one of the reports recommendations. I’m worried – are you?