Will the Liberals ensure schools get proper funding?

By Robert Green | Published Aug 27, 2014 by The Montreal Gazette

Along with just about every teacher in the province, I was left speechless by Liberal Education Minister Yves Bolduc’s statement last week that “no child is going to die from (budget cuts) or stop reading because there are already books” in school libraries.

That such words would be uttered by a minister of education is just baffling. Either Bolduc is unaware of the very serious impact of denying Quebec’s schools the resources they need to get kids excited about reading, or he simply doesn’t care about the quality of education in Quebec’s public schools.

That this statement happened to also have been made by a man who saw no problem double-dipping into Quebec’s public coffers for over $200,000 in personal gain is downright infuriating.

Thus far, the government’s attempts at damage control have done little to restore confidence. While Bolduc has apologized for his statement and both he and Premier Philippe Couillard have affirmed that it’s important for school libraries to be able to purchase new books, neither has provided an alternative that won’t affect the province’s most needy students in other ways. Both have made vague suggestions that school boards should choose to cut elsewhere.

This of course raises the question of where exactly school boards should cut.

Many are the politicians and media commentators who like to talk about bureaucratic waste in the school boards, but few are those willing to name a specific position or program to be cut. While I wish certain people working for my school board did a better job, I can’t think of a single position I would eliminate outright.

The reality is that school boards already incurred deep budget cuts under the previous PQ government. If there were still significant amounts of bureaucratic fat left to cut, school boards would not have resorted to running deficits and increasing school taxes following the PQ cuts. Any claim that further cuts can be made without affecting services to students is simply not credible, particularly in the absence of any concrete plan.

It’s also worth noting how quickly Couillard’s statements on this issue have evolved. During the election campaign, Couillard spoke of redirecting spending on bureaucracy toward schools. After the election, savings from the elimination of bureaucracy were to be directed not to schools, but back to government for deficit reduction. Now, with the recent statements by Bolduc and Couillard, it appears that the Liberals are willing to allow our province’s most needy students to shoulder the burden of the government’s deficit. After all, it is they who are most affected by cuts to things like libraries and support staff.

In a few short months, we’ve gone from reinvesting in public schools to de-funding them. Meanwhile, the generous subsidies and tax measures that make elite private schools less expensive for wealthy families remain untouched.

By the way, does Bolduc remember the Action Plan on Reading in School that the Quebec Liberal Party launched with great fanfare in 2005? Its aim was, among other things, to redress Quebec’s long-standing under-funding of school libraries. As recently as 2003, Quebec spent just $3.75 per student on school libraries. The Liberal action plan brought this up to $16 per student.

As a teacher in a public high school, I have witnessed directly the fruits of this investment. I’ve seen students who enter our school as the most reluctant of readers get hooked on reading by the many contemporary books and graphic novels that our school library has been able to purchase as a result of this funding. Many of these books are written specifically for teens and deal with themes they find particularly interesting. These books get talked about by students and a kind of peer pressure develops. Kids who haven’t read the book everyone is talking about suddenly want to spend time reading. If we stop the flow of new, interesting books into Quebec’s public schools, we are halting the development of this sort of spontaneous literary culture among students.

So the thought of any school-library-funding cut is disconcerting, but even more disturbing is that Bolduc’s original statement seemed to be symptomatic of a broader lack of vision on the part of this government with respect to the responsible management of Quebec’s education system.

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