Crime · Economy · Education · Halifax · Nova Scotia · Politics · Poverty · Sustainable Development

Educating Us All on Governance Priorities

After a career of  studying things like crime, health and poverty, you would think I had an understanding about good governance and policy priorities…  But the current policy and budget decisions about education in Nova Scotia has proven to me that in fact, I don’t know a thing about such things… and here I thought I was a good little lefty.

First a timeline:

In February 2011 the Provincial Government announced a 2% funding cut to education.  They asked school boards across the province to trim the administrative fat off their budgets, and decide what schools to close in their communities.

Public consultations began and, in the case of HRSB the largest school board in the province, 5 schools were put on the chopping block.  (Well actually 6 as the integration of 1 junior high into a mixed elementary/junior high school will displace the elementary students into neighboring schools)

Then in February 2012, deja vu, the Provincial Government asked boards to reduce their budgets, again, by yet another 1.3%.  (Well actually one school board got an increase).

Then a huge announcement… One lucky high school in HRM is getting a $10 million dollar investment for the development of a “state of the art skills training centre”.  The lucky high school was Cole Harbour High (my alma mater) which happens to be in the riding of Premier Darrell Dexter.  Directly linked to the shipbuilding contracts, I like to refer to this new centre as the “Irving Employee Training Centre”.

That same day another announcement… One lucky community (Eastern Passage) was getting their own high school.  So while students in 5 communities in HRM will have to go further away from their home communities to attend school, students in this community will be able to get their education closer to home.  The new high school was directly tied to the earlier announcement for Cole Harbour, as currently Eastern Passage students attend school there.  But, in order to accommodate the skills training centre, those students had to be vacated from Cole Harbour High.

Interesting that on day before the announcement, the Amherst Daily News reported that an adult high school in the area was closing and, not even a week later, one school board announces that it will have to cut school librarians out of the picture, to deal with cuts to their budget.

Now, let’s take a look at the money:

Looking at the Department of Education Statement of Mandate, we see the amount of money being invested in public schools drop from a forecast $1,129, 523,000 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, to a  budgeted $1,112,830,000 in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.  Looking at the details of the budget, what do we see? Administrative costs down?  Well no… actually we see Senior Management in the department getting an increase!  From a forecast $665,000 in 2011-2012 to a budgeted $884,000 for 2012-2013.  What else do we see?  Well we also see an increase on the Corporate Policy line (which as far as I can tell is also administrative services) from a forecast $15,943,000 for 2011-2012 to a budgeted $17,737,000 for 2012-2013.

So, while the Department of Education is asking School Boards to trim administrative fat… it looks like they require more money for Senior Administrators and Corporate Policy.

Let’s leave money aside for a second and have a little discussion about the importance of education for the development of healthy individuals in healthy communities.

Empirical evidence shows us that education has a negative correlation with crime (as education goes down, crime goes up), has direct effects on poverty (“poor people are often unable to obtain access to an adequate education, and without an adequate education people are often constrained to a life of poverty”),  has positive effects on the economy (“the strong positive relationship between education and earnings is one of the most well established relationships in social science”) and on health (Better educated people have lower morbidity rates from the most common acute and chronic diseases, independent of basic demographic and labor market factors).

Education is at the base level of all indicators of progress and prosperity… period.  This is a truth repeated at the empirical and anecdotal level over and over again.  Want crime rates to decrease and health outcomes to increase?  Invest in education.  Want economic sustainability and rural development? Invest in education.  Want a community of self-sufficient individuals who do not require the assistance of the state to exist?  Invest in education.

So why then, is education considered low-hanging fruit for this government to achieve “fiscal balance”?  It must be because our education system here in NS is so good, right?  Well, a 2009 ranking of reading scores shows NS 5th out of 10 provinces (declining by about 10 points between 2000 and 2009).  I guess that’s why we don’t need school librarians… our kids are reading less.

Perhaps our crime rates are lower here?  Nope, in 2010 our crime severity index score was 83.5 and our violent crime severity index score was 84.5, placing us 8th highest in the country (out of 13 provinces and territories).  Our economic performance must be doing well then… uh-oh our current business climate index ranking has us in last place for Economic Development.

Nova Scotia has a long tradition of being a have-not province.  But I guess all that will change when Irving rides in on it’s white horse to save us all.  And I suppose that that assumption is guiding the provinces governmental priorities right now.  Thank god we have a government that is investing so much hope, money and resources into a corporation, and diverting provincial education funds away from students, schools and librarians into Corporate Policy and the building of an Irving Training Centre… because history shows us that communities which rely on corporations to exist do so well in Nova Scotia, right?  Oh, wait a second…

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