Amendment to School Act sends a troubling message

On March 26, 2007, the BC Liberals tabled Bill 20, the School (Student Achievement Enabling) Amendment Act. In her introduction of the legislation, Education Minster Shirley Bond emphasized that the proposed amendments would ensure greater "accountability" within the K-12 education system and "improve quality and choice" for students.

On March 26, 2007, the BC Liberals tabled Bill 20, the School (Student Achievement Enabling) Amendment Act. In her introduction of the legislation, Education Minster Shirley Bond emphasized that the proposed amendments would ensure greater "accountability" within the K-12 education system and "improve quality and choice" for students.

"Choice", "accountability" and "quality" have often been code words within the BC Liberal Cabinet for far more radical changes in public policy. "Accountability" was used repeatedly to justify the massive overhaul on BC's public health care system that saw rural hospitals beds cut and core services contracted out. "Choice" became the government's rationale for deregulating everything from health and safety rules to land use and resource planning across the province. "Quality" was the justification for many of the government's ill-considered privatization schemes.

A closer reading of Bill 20 shows that accountability, choice and quality will be hard to recognize in the reforms contemplated in these amendments. The legislation will establish a critical new layer of oversight within the K-12 system. The amendments enable the Minster of Education to appoint "Superintendents of Achievement" who will report directly to the Deputy Minster (not to School Boards). More significantly, these new Superintendents will have the power to override School Boards and impose "re-allocation" of Board resources if the Superintendent believes those allocations will improve achievement outcomes.

If there was ever a plan to rationalize school districts and force them to comply more tightly with directives from the Minster of Education, Bill 20 is that plan. In the name of achievement, these new Superintendents have an enormous amount of power and are on a short leash to the provincial Cabinet.

What are the implications for post-secondary education in these amendments? At first glance, the only obvious links are the extent to which programs like adult literacy will change under this new structure. However, the comments from the Deputy Minster of Education on this aspect of the amendments indicate that no radical changes in the delivery of adult literacy programs are being contemplated.

The troubling aspect for post-secondary education is the degree to which the provincial Cabinet is prepared to tighten and rationalize the administrative structure that allows for local input in the design and delivery of education within the province. Currently, BC's post-secondary institutions put a great deal of emphasis on serving their local community. To what extent does Bill 20 signal a shift-at least at the Cabinet table-in that priority?

Within the next month, Campus 2020 is expected to release its report on BC's post-secondary education system. If Cabinet Ministers are moving to centralize control of the K-12 system, will that same approach be used to overhaul the post-secondary education system? Stay tuned.

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For more information, contact:
Phillip Legg, Communications and Policy
Federation of Post-Secondary Educators
(604)873-8988 or (604)788-2877
email: plegg@fpse.ca

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.