Fraser Institute gets defensive

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“Many of these schools don’t have to take students with disabilities. They don’t have to take the students that they don’t want. They end up being selective. The charter school can take the students who are easier to educate and leave the more difficult students to the public schools.”

 “The argument is that neoliberalism is more accountable to the public. But at charter schools they don’t have to report on salaries. Their board meetings are not open.” The end result of the shift in policy is that “corporations will be running schools.”

Since taking office, the Obama administration has been promoting charter schools and instituting policies “that the Bush administration only dreamed of” but could not pass because of the Democrat's majority in Congress.  

Vancouver's Fight Over Public Education

“I felt like we were bullied,” Vancouver School Board (VSB) chairwoman Patti Bacchus told The Vancouver Observer of her experience with the Ministry of Education during the prolonged, bitter struggle over funding. “They were trying to create fear. They were making an example of us. I think they thought that we’d just be quiet. It has outraged our parents, our employees, our students. They used public money to do this.”

 Margaret MacDiarmid BC’s Minister of Education would obviously disagree.  It's easy to surmise she doesn't consider herself a bully or her tactics intimidation.  For months now, MacDiarmid and the Ministry have warned that extreme cutbacks would be necessary to balance the VSB budget.

But Bacchus, a 48 year old Vancouver mother of two school-aged children and MacDiarmid, a childless doctor with roots in a small town in rural B.C. have each become the respective faces for divergent ways of regarding public education.  Bacchus's roots are deeply embedded in the Vision Vancouver's civic party and its populist tendencies, while MacDiarmid is the public face of  Premier Campbell's Liberal Party with its propensity to privatize.

MacDiarmid was elected MLA for Vancouver-Fairview on May 12, 2009. She ascended to the position of Minister of Education, bringing with her 23 years experience as a family physician and 12 years as president of the Board of the BC Medical association but, as various parents pointed out in interviews, zero years experience with the public schools and/or parenting.

Bacchus was born and raised in Vancouver. She served on several parental advisory committees before being elected to the Vancouver School Board. She has a grown step child as well as two children of her own.  She has been involved in pushing for seismic upgrades in schools and in her campaign for school trustee, she vowed to press the provincial government for more money.  In these last weeks, she's made good on that promise.  She's been called a grandstander by critics, for her passion in defending the schools.

Raymond Masleck of The Trail Daily Times had harsh words for MacDiarmid.    “If former Rossland physician Margaret MacDiarmid was still president of the BC Medical Association instead of Minister of Education, she would hate the kind of cabinet minister she has become," he wrote in his article, “The Two Faces of Margaret MacDiarmid.”

“‘A simple “no” in response to the Vancouver school district’s incessant demands would have sufficed. But MacDiarmid had to send in her home-team accountant to tell trustees how to run their board meetings.”  He chides her for putting a financial bottom line in front of the interests of children.

MacDiarmid would not make herself available to The Vancouver Observer for an interview, but Scott Sutherland, a communications manager for the Ministry of Education, spoke on her behalf. He described the doctor as capable, dedicated, and engaged, particularly when it comes to early childhood education.

And while Bacchus claims that the Vancouver public school system is severely underfunded Sutherland said,  “What has actually happened is that every single year, funding for the education system has increased, even in school districts where they have seen a dramatic decline in enrolment. The government funds education on a per people basis.”

When questioned about the confrontational tone between the education minister and VSB chair, Sutherland said,  “You’ve mentioned the public perception that there’s a lot of politics that’s being done. You’ve hit the nail on the head.”

Bacchus said she agrees that the VSB budget blow out between the city and province is political.  It is part of the Liberal government's larger agenda, she said, and this is "a battle for the public services. There is a privatization agenda.” 

Privatization.  There's that word again.  And when privatization in the British Columbia school system comes up in conversation, so does the name of the Fraser Institute.

 "The Fraser Institute's philosophy around the need to marketize education is really a driving force in what's going on in B.C.,"  Catherine Evans, of the B.C. Society for Education, said.

“There’s always going to be finger pointing," Michael Thomas, Associate Director of School Performance Studies for the Fraser Institute, said.  "It’s important to remember that everyone wants the system to succeed."

Click here for most interesting related story reported elsewhere.

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