Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Community Schools: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Jeff Niederhoffer is a Winnipeg lawyer and political activist. Below is an article he wrote that deals with the issue of public school funding by Gary Doer's socialist NDP government.

It took a little under six years, but the Doer government has finally seen fit to extend its philosophy of governance - dividing and ruling Manitobans on the basis of their income and socioeconomic status – to the financing of schools.

The Doerites call it the 'community-schools' program. The government press release announcing the initiative bubbles over with enthusiasm.

"By offering a community-based approach to education and neighborhood development," the release proclaims, "community schools create partnerships, build relationships and pool resources to solve common issues."

That's the rhetoric. To understand what the community-schools program is, however, you have to understand what it does. The dirty little secret is that community schools have almost nothing to do with education. In the hands of our Premier and Education Minister, a potentially innovative approach to education has become an exercise in social engineering. The community-schools program reflects a preoccupation with wealth redistribution that is typical of the Doer government. The community-schools program allocates new funding to schools, but only if they are "located in communities with low socio-economic status". The subsidies have nothing to do with measurable educational criteria such as performance or demonstrated skills. While the program was announced amidst new-age buzzwords - ‘creating partnerships’, 'pooling resources', etc. - the truth is that the community-schools initiative is a social-welfare program. The cheques given to schools under the program come with no strings attached, at least in terms of traditional educational standards. The community-schools subsidy is fundamentally without concrete standards to define success or failure, and it arguably represents a fundamental misunderstanding by the Doer government of its role in establishing province-wide education policy.

What is indisputable is that the community-schools plan takes provincial money away from other education funding priorities. While funding under the community-schools program is channeled to 'communities with low socio-economic status', the Doer government is simultaneously ignoring legitimate educational needs in other parts of the province. Tory MLA Jack Reimer has noted that, even as the province churns out subsidies to community schools, there is a marked shortage of schools in his own constituency of Southdale. Because the Southdale area is rapidly developing, and more families are moving into the area, there is a demonstrated need for more schools. In Jack Reimer's Southdale riding, as in numerous other areas of Manitoba, the Doer government turns a deaf ear. There have been no offers of subsidies or support. And why not?

The short answer is that these areas do not have 'low socio-economic status', and thus do not warrant community schools. With not enough schools to go around, children in these areas frequently have no choice but to attend schools that are infeasibly far away from where they live. Reimer rightfully laments the social dislocations caused by this situation: "This NDP government does not recognize the importance of community stability by having children bused out of the area and not having them interact in their own neighborhood."

Thus, we have the community-schools program. As now structured, it is a program that subsidizes education in 'communities with low socio-economic status', but only by defunding education in other communities. Bluntly speaking, it robs Peter to pay Paul. In a way that may perhaps never have been intended, community schools can truly be said to provide a revealing insight into the educational priorities of the Doer government.


At 3:41 p.m., Anonymous The Fog is Clearing said...

Of course, the term "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" has a slighly different meaning in Canada.

At 1:12 a.m., Blogger Rink Rat said...

Regardless of the political party in place, too often we leave the responsibility of educating our kids up to the government and our school system. We make excuses for why we do little to help our children. Education may start in school but we can't let it end there. If we can't spend the time to help our own kids, how can we feel justified to blame the system regarless of the party? I believe that no matter how bad the school system, if we are active in our childrens education, they will overcome its short comings. That being said, the NDP pattern of throwing money at problems with little regard for delivering results is well documented in other provinces across the country. But I guess if the education system doesn't measure the results, how can it fail?


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