Right in the centre - Education review long overdue


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

The Province of Manitoba has received, and now released, a K-12 education report with 75 recommendations and Education Minister Cliff Cullen said the province has accepted all of them in spirit and principle. Some, but not all, are incorporated into Bill 64.

Bill 64 is before the legislature now, but will not likely pass this spring, as the opposition has the right to delay up to five bills until fall. They will likely delay Bill 64.

The K-12 report and Bill 64 are long overdue. Whether the 75 recommendations are the right ones remains to be seen. The public has only seen the contents for less than 24 hours at the time this column is being written on Tuesday morning. Rather than say each and every detail is the right direction or if all this planning will work out or not, it’s important to examine them. Minister Cullen said they had to do something and he’s correct. With admin costs appearing to be high compared to other provinces and with education results appearing to be low compared to other provinces, the need for action is evident. That said, many of the premises for Bill 64 are long overdue.

Supporting education with land taxes is totally out of date. That change should have come about 40 years ago. Set up in the early part of the last century, education taxes on land was the way to go. Nearly every quarter section of land had a family with kids living on it, it was assumed that most houses and businesses had kids living on the property. With that largely being the case, it somewhat made sense to tax land to fund education. Over the decades, the province has taken over some of the funding. Education serves all people, not just property owners. Education is a service to people so should be funded by all people. Land taxes need to go towards services to land such as roads, water, sewer and numerous other land based service needs. If the government can switch education funding off property and onto general revenue, it will be a good thing. Land owners can then invest their tax dollars in improving, or in some cases, even just keeping their land. Farmers and commercial building owners have been unfairly burdened with education taxes and it needs to end. It is among the changes that are 40 years overdue. We need to remember that the last major change to the education system was in 1966, which, by the way, is 55 years ago. That was when school divisions were enlarged and wide spread school bussing started.

The school boards and school trustees are almost all mad about Bill 64 and that’s understandable. Also understandable is the government’s statement that school boards have spent most of their time agonizing over local tax rates and bargaining with teachers over wages. Bill 64 claims to place teacher salary bargaining under a province wide authority. It may make a lot of sense and on the surface, it does make sense.

It will seem harsh, but newspapers basically stopped covering school board meetings years ago. For the two nights a month it took to cover school board meetings, it seemed like there was lot of rubber stamping going on. Board members hands were tied by the province and as so much of the funding was coming from the province, is that a surprise. In recent years, it has been tough to get people to run for school boards.

The third thing that jumps out is educational results. It’s reported that Manitoba is low on the Canadian charts by many measures. Defenders of the current education system say that those results are due to poverty. Could be, to some extent. However, if poverty were the criteria for a lack of success, it didn’t hold back my oldest brother, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 15 years and had a long career in business and transportation. It didn’t stop my second brother from obtaining two university degrees and serving for many decades in the Ag industry. It didn’t stop me from obtaining a University degree and a reasonably successful career in business, politics and journalism. Poverty can sometimes be an incentive to succeed.

The teachers union will be upset, because that is what they are paid to do. The school trustees will be upset, because their role is being re-assigned. The support workers union will be upset, but I am not sure why, as they will likely all have jobs and there may be more jobs in teaching and support services as money is shifted.

I think everyone’s big concern is that governments of all political stripes have a huge propensity to screw things up. It’s our job as journalists, and as citizens, to make sure they don’t. If we aren’t up that task, then we are all in big trouble.