Saturday, October 20, 2012

The 30 Percent Solution

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?

Of 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.'"

So 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.

This 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.

If 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.

And 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' backs.

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.

Efficiencies 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)

While 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.

Imagine 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.

Investing 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.

Cutting 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.

2 comments:

  1. I have established some very useful info for Student visa application here

    http://studyabroadfree.com/uk-visa-application-online/

    Please, visit and let me know how it goes

    ReplyDelete
  2. Can't cut education budget by 30% without troubling the leeches, and they make all the decisions.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome your comments - I'm really sorry about the moderation, but Google's filters are basically ineffective.