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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 6, April 2007

Legislation for privatization

by Peter Owens

March 26–30, 2007, was Education Week and the provincial government used the opportunity to introduce three Bills—20, 21, and 22—aimed at public schools and public school teachers. The common theme is centralizing power in the ministry, increasing the education bureaucracy, treating education as a commodity to be purchased, and targeting teachers.

The government announced the creation of a whole new level of bureaucracy to enforce its will. Provincial superintendents of achievement, appointed by and responsible to the minister, have the power to direct the activities of school boards. Government directives must be obeyed and the minister has the power to remove boards or trustees who do not fall in line.

Boards can offer "specialty academies" and charge fees if the school planning council wants it. Students may be reimbursed for other educational services that the minister approves. Previous changes to the School Act made it possible for students to sign up for courses online or in private institutions without their parents or teachers being informed.

Teachers will have their name and current status with the BC College of Teachers published on a web site for public viewing. College members will be expected to pay for the costs of the online registry. District superintendents are now obligated "to report conduct that breaches college standards, if it is in the public interest to do so."

There were no announcements about funding to improve learning conditions for our students. There were no announcements about improvements to Bill 33 to make it effective. There are still almost 10,000 classes with four or more students with special needs in them. There are still over 3,100 classes with 31 or more students. Our students are still waiting for support.

Bill 22

Code of Conduct
Every school must have a ministry-approved code of conduct for students.

Government access to teachers
One provision in Bill 22 allows the government to use the teachers’ college to send its message directly to teachers. It states, "The college must distribute information requested by the minister to the members at the time and in the manner requested by the minister." The government (taxpayers) must reimburse the college for costs.

We are not aware of any other professional college that can be used this way.

Introducing vouchers
In what appears to be a semi-voucher system, the legislation has provisions for the minister to reimburse students for expenses incurred for educational activities "if the student or child demonstrates a standard of achievement, satisfactory to the minister."

On the face of it, students may be able to pay to participate in activities that cost money in the hope that the government will reimburse them for all or some of the costs.

School district business companies
The government is still tinkering with the rules for the school district business companies. These are companies the government encouraged school boards to establish for raising funds.

One district, so short of funding that its local schools only open four days a week, operates a pre-school in Poland five days a week. Another district has opened private schools in China where students can get a BC Dogwood certificate.

None of the school district business companies have made a profit.

Bill 21

Targets teachers
The BC Liberal government, on March 27, 2007, introduced legislative amendments to the School Act and the Teaching Profession Act (Bill 21) to pave the way for a discipline registry and an employment registry.

The BC College of Teachers is required to create an online registry accessible to the public. That registry must include:

  • the member’s name.
  • the current status of the member’s certificate (practicing, non-practicing, etc.).
  • a record of any suspensions or cancellations of the certificate.
  • a record of college discipline including the reasons why discipline was taken.

Reprimands may be removed from the registry after five years. There are no provisions for the removal of suspensions or cancellations.

The college is required to publish the names of disciplined members along with the reasons they were disciplined.

The college is also required to create an employers’ registry with a list identifying members and their employers. The information in this registry is available to all school boards.

Bill 20

Centralizes power in the ministry
March 26, 2007, the provincial government tabled Bill 20, the School (Student Achievement Enabling) Amendment Act, 2007. This is an omnibus bill acting on many aspects of the Throne Speech aimed at public education.

Bill 20 includes the following amendments to the School Act:

  • Creates superintendents of achievement who may inspect board records, enter schools, and interview employees and students.
  • Establishes boards of education and mandates that boards prepare an achievement contract with respect to student performance, plans for improving student achievement, early learning programs, and literacy.
  • Provides for the appointment of a special trustee if a board does not comply with an administrative directive to meet its obligations under an achievement contract.
  • Requires boards to establish district literacy plans for the community.
  • Adds an appeal level.
  • The legislation provides the ability for parents who are "dissatisfied with a board ruling, such as the suspension of a student," to appeal to the superintendents of achievement.

Private public schools
The legislation defines special academies and allows for students to be charged fees to attend the academy. The school planning council has the power to approve charging fees, meaning that possibly as few as three parents and the principal can make the decision. It also allows for fees to be charged for some courses and materials. This not only infringes on the autonomy and responsibility of school boards, but paves the way for publicly funded schools to be operated as private schools with fees.

The legislation broadens the minister’s capacity to create provincial schools.

The three bills together provide for the gradual dismantling of public education. The legislation encourages privatization by allowing the establishment of academies that can charge fees and the possibility that parents who pay for educational services can be reimbursed. The increasing bureaucracy and loss of direct services to students will drive more parents to seek other alternatives. Parents will be able to shop for educational services from private sources and shop for teachers through the online registry. There is an increase in the monitoring and control of school boards and teachers.

Public schools worth protecting
Public education in BC has been at the forefront of education in the world. It achieved that level by teachers, school boards, parents, and the Ministry of Education, working together to provide the best education for our children. Teachers in BC have not been asked for, nor have they had, any input to these proposed changes. On April 2, 2007, the minister of education issued a bulletin pointing out that BC students performed among the best in the world in 2003 but expressed concern that student performance since has "levelled off and, in some cases, even declined." She then goes on the say, "It is clear we cannot continue to do things the way we have always done them and expect to get different results." There is no acknowledgement that what put us at the top were the services we offered before her government removed protections for students from our collective agreement. The turn for the worse has come about since this government came to power, stripped our collective agreement, cut services, and increased its bureaucratic fixation on accountability. The minister is right however, that the government cannot continue along its path of undermining public education and expect the results to improve. It is time to work with teachers, parents, and school boards, not threaten them with more superintendents and administrative directives.

Peter Owens is assistant director and editor of Teacher newsmagazine, BCTF Communications and Campaigns Division.

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