For my first blog post, I listened carefully to Ed's address last night, to hear what he would say about public education.
Here's what I heard:
"These are challenging times for our province, and I want to share what your government is doing to address those challenges...
...and to achieve the goals we share as Albertans: A world-class quality of life, opportunities for the future, and core public services — like education, health and seniors’ benefits — things that we can all be proud of.".....
"That's why in the Budget earlier this year, we launched a solid plan to return our province to sustained growth and balanced budgets. It's a practical response to the recession that tightens spending while at the same time continues to build for the future. We will meet the commitments we've made—when we're able to afford it. In the meantime, we'll balance the province's operating budget—the dollars we spend on public services. And we'll focus on helping the vulnerable … supporting the programs and services Albertans need most, like health care, education and support for seniors. Albertans are optimistic about the province's future - and with good reason."....
" Education and science will lie at the heart of our future prosperity."
So you would think us public education advocates would be celebrating, right? Education is a core public service, but we need to balance our budget. And education will lie at the heart of our future prosperity. All encouraging stuff. However, how do you reconcile this with the fact that the government is planning to cut out $340 million of the education budget?
If it is a core public service, and it is the heart of our future prosperity, why would you make a cut in the short term of that magnitude?
As the president of the ASBA said, a cut of that size means less teachers and less aides. There is no other way to cut that much out of school board budgets without affecting the level of support kids receive in classrooms. Yet teaching (and learning) is a very human process. It is a complex process in our classrooms currently with a widely diverse set of student needs, individual learning styles and challenges. That's why Albertans value small class sizes - because it increases the chances of every child successfully acquiring the basic skills and knowledge that will see them through to a productive future in the workplace and be able to participate in the global economy.
So that's why the "Stop the Cuts" campaign was started. But according to the Education Minister, the campaign is negative and suggests it is "creating undue concern and conflict."
Actually, what really causes REAL concern and conflict is what Ed said and what he is actually doing. If you want to preserve core public services that lead to future prosperity, continuity in funding levels is a heck of a way to achieve that.
Perhaps the Education Minister thought there should be dialogue. For example, the dialogue forming part of "Inspiring Education". Sure, let's look at some of the things that Albertans said, according to the Community Forum theme report I received by email yesterday.
-"Create smaller class sizes".
-"Don't teach to the test".
-"Multiple skill sets will be required by students in order to become global citizens."
Nowhere did people say "Increase class sizes". "Get rid of some teachers and teacher aides". In fact, most people thought education needed to meet greater challenges and achieve more than in the past.
So balancing the provincial budget by cutting the education budget doesn't look like a winning or popular plan. And while there are probably some changes that could be made to make the system more efficient, these are long term and will require some careful thought and planning, not a "slash and burn" approach.
So Ed and Dave, keep it real. Cuts to education are not the answer. Look again at the government budget and make some hard decisions on where you can nip and tuck and avoid the easy answers of big cuts to core public services. Why? Because it ain't going to get us where we need to go.
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