Why B.C. Liberals want to push to privatize public education

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Photo: flickr/Tyler Nienhouse

"Privatization does not mean you take a public institution and give it to some nice person. It means you take a public institution and give it to an unaccountable tyranny." -- Noam Chomsky, American philosopher

The B.C. Liberal government can't fail when it comes to further privatizing public education.

That conclusion is clear as B.C. teachers face their summer of discontent on picket lines without strike pay, mediation, negotiations or any movement on class size and composition.

But for the government, it's the summer of privatization love. Look at the evidence:

Premier Christy Clark is thrilled that long-time foe the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) is staggering on the ropes in a ten-round boxing slugfest it can't win.

The government has already saved $100 to $200 million from the teachers' strike.

That money can be spent on anything from promoting liquefied natural gas internationally to self-promoting advertising.

Anything, that is, but education -- unless you mean private schools.

They will actually be in line for even more government financial support -- because come September, thousands of parents frustrated by frequent job action by BCTF members will likely register their children in expensive but non-unionized alternatives.

And those "independent" schools already receive substantial government funding of nearly $300 million a year and teach 12 per cent of B.C. students.

And the BCTF calculates funding has jumped 45.6 per cent for private schools since 2005 while public school funding rose only 16.9 per cent.

Group One private schools -- which include most religion-based institutions -- get 50 per cent of their operating funds from government, while Group Two is composed of private schools charging higher tuition and tougher admission requirement -- they get 35 per cent funding.

What's the big selling point for those private schools besides no labour disputes?

Ironically, it's smaller class sizes and simpler class composition -- the two big issues BCTF members are on picket lines to improve, beyond their wages.

Public schools have to take all students, deal with multiple challenges from special needs kids to English as a second language students to dwindling resources all while managing large classes.

Private schools avoid those problems by picking and choosing who can attend, then charging tuition.

And with yearly fees at exclusive schools like St. George's -- where Clark's son is a student -- running at $18,995 for Grades 1 to 7 and $21,355 for Grades 8 to 12, they can easily outspend public schools per student.

'Choice' for those with money

St. George's Latin motto is simple: sine timore aut favore -- without fear or favour -- but the same can't be said of the B.C. Liberal government.

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton is parliamentary secretary for independent schools -- a new position first created by Christy Clark in 2012 -- and his views on private school are rather blunt.

"I think this position of parliamentary secretary is a reflection of the emphasis the government places on family choice -- choice of education," Dalton said when first appointed.

How many other B.C. Liberal MLAs are sending or have sent their children to private schools while governing the public education system? The Tyee tried to find out with very limited success.

While some B.C. Liberal MLAs did forthrightly respond to a survey along with some NDP MLAs, a whopping 71 out of 85 MLAs did not -- including 43 who mention their children in online biographies.

This premier wins if public education loses

But ultimately the B.C. Liberal record on privatizing public education is about the policies adopted, not personal MLA choices, which may be more complicated.

That record is clear.

Make public education less attractive, hurt your union opponent, promote and fund private schools like your son's and save money the whole time -- that's a perfect score for the premier.

This column first ran in 24 HoursVancouver/The Tyee and is reprinted with permission from the author.

Photo: flickr/Tyler Nienhouse

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