Let me be clear. If there is a way to reduce the cost of education by 30 percent while keeping the quality the same, I'm all for it. Who wouldn't be? Why would we pay 30 percent more than we have to for the same result?
course, everybody - even the minister - knows that you can't cut
education by 30 percent and maintain the same quality. And the minister
is quick to argue that some, maybe even all, of the funding will be
restored. So why go though this exercise?
Here's the logic.
The presumption is that the current funding structure is inefficient and
needs to be changed. We can hear Carr say this explicitly. "The department is trying to improve its budget process, which the minister described as 'archaic.'"
the method - and I've seen this elsewhere - is to cut back budgets
dramatically, keeping a pool of money in reserve, and then have people
(or departments, or schools) compete for the remaining money. It may be
the full 30 percent. It may only be 25 percent. We don't know.
mechanism delivers a psychological blow as well as an financial one.
Staff in different schools or departments at once must write a budget
they know they cannot sustain, and then fight against each other while
trying to appease the minister to bring their finds back to level.
they're lucky, there will be some guidelines for this competition. But
probably, there won't be. Because the exercise isn't about saving money.
It's about asserting power. It's about reallocating finds in a manner that would be politically unacceptable. It's about not having to have a plan, about having people who would normally be your opponents craft your policy for you.
that's the worst of it. Carr is adopting this mechanism because, even
if the current system of funding education is archaic, he has no idea what to do about it. At least, no idea that would be politically acceptable. He can't just cut salaries 30 percent. People have contracts. But if the schools cut staff, and then contract out to private suppliers, he can argue "it was their choice!"
If someone has a plan, he doesn't announce six weeks into the school year that the current year's funding cannot be guaranteed. That's not management. That's panic.
It may well be that New Brunswick is spending too much on education, but the way to address that isn't to create a winner-take-30-percent donnybrook.
The minister may actually believe competition produces the best results,
but even he must know that it doesn't when the game is rigged and when
people who should be working together are scheming behind each others'
The education system should be based on trust, not chicanery.
There are ways to improve efficiencies in education, but they are precisely the opposite of what the current minister is doing.
can be found by decentralizing management, so people can exercise local
knowledge to serve needs and priorities, ranther than centralizing
control in the ministry. Imagine what could be done with the $110 million that is currently spent on centralized facilities planning and administration (Provincial Budget, p. 53)
funding should be collected and distributed provincially (that's how we
maintain equity across regions) the funding should be managed locally,
by elected school boards (it would probably surprise the minister to
learn that this is how it's done in high-achieving provinces like
Ontario and Alberta).
Efficiencies can be found by providing centralized services that may (or may not) be adopted by these school boards. For example, Alberta's Supernet provides high-speed access to students throughout the province (and also to municipalities, libraries and hospitals). B.C. Campus provides educational technology and learning resources to students in that province.
the good Carr could do by setting up a system to provide free online
textbooks to all schools in the province, permanently removing the
amounts these schools must spend on learning resources in the future.
in early childhood education is essential and the province is saving
millions when it extends learning opportunities to four-year-olds. But
imagine how much more it could be doing to make these opportunities and
resources available for free into New Brunswickers homes, at any age.
education funding panders to the interests that would like to see low
taxes and a dull, compliant workforce unable to do much more than farm,
cut trees and maybe build ships (we know who they are). But the people
of this province deserve better. They deserve an education department
that is willing to take the time to think about what it wants to achieve and how best to get there.