This is my seventh school district budget. Each one has been riddled with dissonance. When I try to explain some part of Education funding to bemused questioners, usually parents, the response is often: “That must be wrong. It doesn’t make sense.”
My answer? “Yes.”
This article, The F-word that defines education funding, by Licia Corbella in the Calgary Herald, is a marvelous tongue-in-cheek – with undertones of anger – framing of key Education funding issues. This, is for me, the crux : “Because the province has, once again, not provided predictable stable funding for education, like it did for health care… Unlike health care, where overstressed emergency wards lead to fatal tragedies and therefore action, overstressed education systems simply lead to unknown children slowly falling through cracks, unable to grow to their full potential. It is no less a tragedy, it’s just not as immediately evident.”
Our political masters have sometimes said: “You know, a government budget is not that different from a household budget…” What a simplistic absurd reduction! A justice system, social services and natural resource management are not found on my Excel spreadsheet. Sure, a deficit budget, whatever the scale, is unsustainable in the long-term. But I can’t mandate taxes from my neighbours and local businesses to pay for my expenses. That being said, I want to use the same premise – hey, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want (see disclaimer).
So here’s how the Alberta Government funds Education… just like any (dysfunctional) household in the province:
Picture a couple with children. Lee is the wage earner while Chris stays at home to manage the household, completely dependent on the dollars brought in by Lee. Lee allocates a weekly allowance to cover the overhead. Chris has provided a comprehensive list of all the expenses to maintain the joint endeavour in… how shall I put it? The style to which the family would like to become accustomed? Feel they deserve? Need to thrive and grow as human beings? Okay, that last one.
Lee then assigns a reasonable sum to carry the freight – sometimes. At others, without warning or reason, the amount is summarily halved, or doubled, or decimated.
Chris is driven to distraction trying to obey the orders of the provider, Lee. The unremitting demands? A constant diet of the finest food, spotless housekeeping, the thermostat set at 21° and the family vehicle fully gassed and tuned up. But the cupboard is often bare because Lee, who has the key to the larder, keeps it locked; dust lies on those bare shelves; the family goes to bed in socks and toques; and the car needs snow tires and an oil change.
Friends and family, seeing these unhappy living conditions, take Lee to task. “Not my fault,” Lee says, “I just furnish the readies, Chris makes the spending decisions. It’s Chris’ fault.”
At what point would the provider’s erratic behaviour require intervention by Family Services? When the roof is falling in and the kids are starving?
P.S. My colleague, School Board Chair Kim Bater, wrote a great post on May 10, 2011 on his (and the Board’s) reaction to the Canadian Rockies Public School District budget. A backgrounder is available on the district website. Kim also urges people “to influence decision-making around education funding” by writing a letter to our MLA, and the Minister of Education as well as other politicians.
Further, the petition filed by CAPSC (Calgary Association of Parents & School Councils – Calgary’s city-wide public school School Council Association) in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta on May 11, nails the problem by asking our legislators to: consider increasing the funding to the Ministry of Education so that sustainable and adequate
funding is provided to address the needs of every student, every day, no exceptions. Hear, hear! I also encourage this kind of advocacy.