Privatized or Penalized?
My daughter is in her final year of high school, so our family has a stake in the outcome of the dispute between the B.C. Liberals and the teachers. Media in the province mostly lean toward blaming the teachers or suggest that both are at fault for failing to "get along," as if this were some playground spat. Rarely is there an analysis seeking to discover whether or not there is an agenda at work.
In the more than 10 years of Liberal rule, education budgets have been cut; crippling costs have been downloaded onto school boards – $25 million in the case of Vancouver School Board alone – and class size and composition constraints obliterated. From the outset when the Liberals formed government in 2001 they set a collision course with B.C. teachers by reversing raises that had been agreed to with the outgoing NDP government. When Christy Clark was education minister in 2002, they stripped teachers of bargaining rights and took away their say in teaching conditions in bills 27 and 28.
Even though the B.C. Supreme Court ruled – nine years later – that bills 27 and 28 were illegal, the Liberals enacted virtually the same set of measures in Bill 22 on March 15, 2012. Significantly, Premier Christy Clark chose the first day of the teacher's strike, March 6, to visit a school – a private school.
Just as they refused to increase the minimum wage for nearly 10 years, the Liberal government stonewalled educational funding in good times and bad. Now with their "net zero mandate" they claim the financial cupboard is bare. Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives economist, Iglika Ivanova, disputes that. She asserts that the Liberals have underestimated revenues and hidden large contingencies in their budget. It appears they are hoping to pull a balanced budget out of the hat just before the next election.
Meanwhile worried parents are frustrated. Perhaps unaware of the true direction of Liberal educational policy, they tend to blame both teachers and government for a broken educational system. And that is exactly where a government bent on privatization would like things to be. So they can then say: "The system is broken; we'll give you a new one with better teachers, more accountability and parental choice." How many parents would leap at that? Too many, I'm afraid. And if they go down that road they will find at the end a system that serves only the wealthy.
Privatization would mean teachers competing with each other in a race to the bottom of the wage scale. As corporations take over schools they will cut costs and services wherever they can. The losers will be the lower and middle class schools districts. They will get poorly paid, overworked teachers; little or no extracurricular enrichment and poorly maintained facilities. The lucky and well-to-do few will get government support for their schools plus fees from rich parents. They will be able, as they do now, to afford the extras. They will pay their schools' teachers better than their poorer counterparts. But the teachers in elite schools will be trading higher salaries for "net zero" job protection and will have no voice in the students' education. The only bright spot in this scenario for those of us who support public education is that the B.C. Liberals are unlikely to form the next government.