The weekly analysis: What mattered most?

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Are online test applications working for students? A computer glitch in Quest A+ means that 800 grade 12 students will be given a partial exemption from their English/social studies diploma exams. (Alberta)
  • Hidden education costs? Collection agency pursues 3,000 Calgary families for failing to pay school, bus fees (Alberta)
  • Cooking the books? Private schools caught boosting student marks (Alberta)
  • Should private school funding be more open? Questionable financial spending in Calgary private school raises questions about transparency, whether system should be supported by taxpayer. (Alberta)
  • Looking for a job? Student employment worse this summer than last: 1 in 7 U.S. teens jobless (Canada)
  • Ready, aim, fire: Cowichan Valley school board expelled for passing deficit budget (British Columbia)
  • Proposed student loan repayment program amendment dismissed by critics. (British Columbia)
  • New contract for Catholic school teachers in Ontario. Key conditions: 2-year wage freeze, 3 unpaid pro-d days (=1.5% pay cut), no more sick days payoff. Deal denounced by other teacher unions. (Ontario)
  • Sticks and stones: Ontario Catholic schools oppose new anti-bullying law that prevents banning of gay-straight alliance clubs. (Ontario)
  • New questions about an old law: Alberta law prevents Catholics from voting in public school board elections. (Alberta)
  • Quebec student federation president calls for student strike to resume August 17, coincide with class recommencement. Media outside Quebec providing virtually no coverage. (Quebec)
  • UdM professors file grievance against Quebec’s unilateral back-to-school legislation, remain in solidarity with student movement (Quebec)
  • Schools introduce Swim to Survive program in response to higher than normal summer drownings (Quebec)
  • UofM projects higher enrollment this year (Manitoba)
  • Teacher cuts looming for PEI teachers (Prince Edward Island)

IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government successful renegotiated a contract with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. The key conditions are a two-year wage freeze, three unpaid professional development days (equating to a 1.5% pay cut), and sick days can no longer be banked and cashed in at retirement.

While not much on its own, this is very interesting within a context of Ontario’s ongoing contract negotiations. The province is in the midst of settling deals with other teacher unions, doctors, and public sector workers. Other teachers’ unions are lambasting the settlement agreed to by their Catholic counterparts. Some are going as far as to threaten strike votes for the fall. Whether this rhetoric amounts to more than the political posturing characteristic of labour negotiations is yet to be seen. Either way, the successful brokering with Catholic teachers is a feather in McGuinty’s cap and strengthens the province’s bargaining position for current contract negotations. We just saw a last-minute deal on teachers’ salaries in British Columbia, and can expect the summer to heat up with union negotiations elsewhere.

Parents in Ontario’s Catholic schools have opposed provincial anti-bullying legislation that expressly prohibits schools from banning Gay-Straight Alliances. Initially, the province said that Catholic Trustees would be able to name the anti-homophobia clubs as they saw fit. The new amendment to this law has to be with club titles: if students want to include the word ‘gay’, they can. The Catholic Board of Trustees and the Archdiocese of Ontario have both come out against the new change to the law, claiming that it amounts to an infringement on, what else? religious freedom. The Archbishop of Toronto has asked members of all faiths to speak out against this attack on religion. As it currently stands in the province, Catholic trustees are not legally bound to implement any policies that are deemed to undermine a school’s religious character.

This new issue about Catholic schools has raised questions about whether it is time to stop funding separate schools. Laurel Broten, Ontario’s Education Minister, says her government has no plans to open up a new debate on whether the province will continue to pay for Catholic schools. Nearly $7 billion dollars each year goes to religious schools. Certain groups, including the Centre for Inquiry Canada, have made their position crystal clear: if schools won’t follow provincial law, they shouldn’t be funded.
An antiquated Alberta law makes it illegal for Catholics to vote in public school board elections. Curiously, the policy is supported by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association (ACSTA). Why, you might ask? Well, it seems that the ACSTA fears that if Catholics are allowed to vote in non-Catholic school board elections, then the reverse would also be true: non-Catholics would be allowed to vote in Catholic school board elections. The feared result? Catholic schools boards controlled by the non-Catholics. As it now stands, the province’s inaugural “Alberta Act” of 1905 protects minority rights by — among other things — barring non-Catholics from voting in the separate Catholic school system. Reforming the system may threaten this safe-guard, thus explaining the ACSTA’s otherwise counterintuitive nonchalance.

Let’s go back to the money: the discussion around public funding for private schools extended as far west as Alberta. Controversial financial spending practices discovered in a Calgary private school are leading some to question whether the system requires more transparency, and whether the private system should be supported by taxpayer money at all. It remains to be seen whether the discussion gains public traction.

Quebec students have been on strike since February. They oppose proposed tuition hikes and the controversial Bill 78, which was introduced mid-May. For most of the Spring, the front page of every newspaper provided ongoing coverage of the Quebec student strikes. Student unrest continues, albeit to a more subdued extent. Nightly protests in the streets of Montreal have continued on a much smaller scale, although protests have disrupted Montreal’s festival season.

Quebec passed back-to-school legislation forcing students (and professors) back to the classroom on August 17, to make up for part of the spring semester. This week, however, professors at the Université de Montréal filed a grievance publicly opposing this government directive. Their issue is not with the student movement — which they officially support —  but rather with the provincial government and its unwillingness to consult beforehand with universities.

The president of Quebec’s student federation (FEUQ) has called for students to take to the streets in protest again on August 17, the same date legislated by the province for universities to open their doors for fall classes. Coincidence? Hardly.

Interestingly enough, the rest of Canada (for the time being) has appeared to check out of this story. The news failed to capture a single headline outside Quebec. We’ll keep watch on whether national interest re-ignites with the pending renewal of the student riots/demonstrations.

The Toronto city council released a controversial report on daycare this week. The proposal? A provincial takeover of the city’s daycare facilities by integrating them into the school system. The council, with the exception of the Chair, flatly rejected the idea. According to the city, the problem with daycare in Toronto boils down to funding. Experts say that simply handing this problem to the province wouldn’t fix the crisis. Because either way, the program would be underfunded and at the end of the day, taxpayers would still be footing the bill. Recommendations the council did make include run of the mill suggestions like finding strategies for long-term funding and creating tax-credits for building day-care facilities. Ultimately, the report called for the Provincial and Federal government to start dumping a lot more cash into the failing system in Toronto. Monthly daycare costs in Canada range from $600 to $2,000.

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