Opinions
Allison Cully/the Gauntlet

Editorial: Another tough blow for education

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The budget news came down Tuesday and -- surprise! -- education got fucked. You weren't really surprised though, were you? Because this is Alberta, the land of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (or clinging to your parents') to put yourself through school. The province hits hard times and it stops investing in education (though at least this time there's an increase in healthcare, something I'll enjoy much more when I'm as geriatric as the bulk of the voters who turn out).

The damage? A drop in the Advanced Education and Technology budgeted program expenses by six per cent, an increase in the Education budget (which covers K-12 students) by 0.7 per cent, but no increase to the amount the government gives to the schools per student and a collective shrug to questions about how the schools will pay for mandated wage increases for teachers tied to Alberta's average weekly earnings index, around three per cent for next year.

By all accounts, the people of Alberta should be happy that at least through this minor economic valley, the government hasn't gone all Ralph Klein cut-happy and slashed spending to health and education. Regardless of the poo-pooing by the fiscal conservatives in the province, most vocally represented by the surging Wildrose Alliance party, government spending does some good and we do live in Canada, a country that values things like government spending on healthcare.

Accepting that there are valuable things the government does with its money, including assisting infrastructure-starved cities like Calgary, this short-term up-swing of the natural resource revenue yo-yo that has eased the potential budgetary headaches slightly should be looked at with more concern than jubilation.

"We see the province's ongoing dependency on nonrenewable resource revenues for program operating requirements remaining a serious concern," Geoff Pradella, vice-president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, told the Calgary Herald in a Feb. 10 article.

Alberta, between 2005 and 2009, received on average 32.2 per cent of their total revenues from natural resources according to Statistics Canada data, more than twice the percentage of the next highest province, Saskatchewan, which averaged 14.4 per cent over the same period. In other words, our province is relying on commodities, which wildly fluctuate in price. The result is that when the economic dice rolls are coming out against us, our valuable programs suffer and take heavy cuts that often are never recovered.

It could be argued that the province's healthcare and post-secondary education systems never fully recovered from the damage done during the lean Klein years. These cuts are not just short-term belt tightening exercises, but have long-lasting ramifications to the capital in these systems.

The solution likely lies in adjusting our revenue pie so that a larger slice comes from more predictable sources, i.e. taxes. Alberta had the second lowest average amount of revenue collected from all taxes in the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, averaging just 44 per cent. Obviously this isn't a cure-all. Ontario collects a significant proportion of its revenue from taxes and has done its fair share of hack-and-slash work on its education and healthcare systems. But increasing reliance on a more stable area of the financial portfolio would help a lot towards avoiding the crack of the economic yo-yo when it nails us in the face every time the oil markets take a swoon.

Nobody wants to pay taxes, and premier Ed Stelmach and his gang even said there would be no new taxes to help with the deficit. No wonder -- if a large amount of taxes were implemented by the PCs, they would be replaced by the Wildrose Alliance faster than you could say election. There's nothing for us to do but accept that education is undervalued in this province and that, historically, it is always the first to the wall when the province inevitably hits hard times.

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Comments

> The budget news came down Tuesday and -- surprise! -- education got fucked.

Don\'t let the increases in funding to community, artistic and vocational adult education, or increased access to student loans, get in the way of your trollrific lede. Or, be clear that you\'re complaining about your university in particular, and not about education in general.

> You weren\'t really surprised though, were you? Because this is Alberta, the land of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (or clinging to your parents\') to put yourself through school. The province hits hard times and it stops investing in education

A $17 million gap in a billion dollar budget means a full \"stop\" in investment. Go on...

> (though at least this time there\'s an increase in healthcare, something I\'ll enjoy much more when I\'m as geriatric as the bulk of the voters who turn out).

You plan to be medically ill in 10 years?

> The damage? A drop in the Advanced Education and Technology budgeted program expenses by six per cent, an increase in the Education budget (which covers K-12 students) by 0.7 per cent, but no increase to the amount the government gives to the schools per student

Why do you assume that increased funding is the only avenue to maintain or increase educational quality?

> and a collective shrug to questions about how the schools will pay for mandated wage increases for teachers tied to Alberta\'s average weekly earnings index, around three per cent for next year.

There\'s no shrug. For years, PSE students have asked universities to do more with less tuition. Why would you hold K-12 educators to a lesser standard? Unless, of course, the value of an education should actually be measured in more than dollars.

> By all accounts, the people of Alberta should be happy that at least through this minor economic valley, the government hasn\'t gone all Ralph Klein cut-happy and slashed spending to health and education.

It would suck to have to re-live the days of the Alberta Advantage, in which Alberta became the most attractive place in Canada to live, and Starbucks employees earned better than a living wage.

> Regardless of the poo-pooing by the fiscal conservatives in the province, most vocally represented by the surging Wildrose Alliance party, government spending does some good and we do live in Canada, a country that values things like government spending on healthcare.

Ontario handed out free healthcare to all comers. It failed. Our vision and implementation of healthcare is non-sustainable, consuming 2-3 per cent more of our total budget every year, on top of inflation. If we valued healthcare, we would have protested the elimination of the health care premium last year. No amount of blaming conservatives will fix our distorted image of healthcare, nor the structural inefficiencies which the unions and media refuse to permit anyone to challenge.

> Accepting that there are valuable things the government does with its money, including assisting infrastructure-starved cities like Calgary, this short-term up-swing of the natural resource revenue yo-yo that has eased the potential budgetary headaches slightly should be looked at with more concern than jubilation.

\"We see the province\'s ongoing dependency on nonrenewable resource revenues for program operating requirements remaining a serious concern,\" Geoff Pradella, vice-president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, told the Calgary Herald in a Feb. 10 article.

Of course, but the teachers, public employees and health care workers have not taken kindly to tie operating revenues (wages) to performance.

> Alberta, between 2005 and 2009, received on average 32.2 per cent of their total revenues from natural resources according to Statistics Canada data, more than twice the percentage of the next highest province, Saskatchewan, which averaged 14.4 per cent over the same period. In other words, our province is relying on commodities, which wildly fluctuate in price. The result is that when the economic dice rolls are coming out against us, our valuable programs suffer and take heavy cuts that often are never recovered.

Right. How would you suggest that we convince rural Alberta to give up more than $3 billion a year in subsidies which hedge against commodity price fluctuations, or the subsequent 30-100 per cent increase in the retail prices of local food staples?

> It could be argued that the province\'s healthcare and post-secondary education systems never fully recovered from the damage done during the lean Klein years.

It will take years to claw back the senseless spending on inefficient labour and bureaucracy which has driven Alberta\'s per capita health costs to the highest in Canada.

> These cuts are not just short-term belt tightening exercises, but have long-lasting ramifications to the capital in these systems.

But you stated that the problem was with the operating expenses. Your paper is fond of bashing investments in new buildings, roads, and other public infrastructure.

> The solution likely lies in adjusting our revenue pie so that a larger slice comes from more predictable sources, i.e. taxes.

Which, of course, are completely immune to economic and market pressures in a natural resource-based economy. Hint: most of Alberta\'s natural resource revenues (or, revenues) already come in the form of taxes on the processing and sales of natural resources.

> Alberta had the second lowest average amount of revenue collected from all taxes in the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, averaging just 44 per cent.

And yet we provide around $4,000 per Albertan per year to other provinces via transfer payments and other tax-like mechanisms.

> Obviously this isn\'t a cure-all. Ontario collects a significant proportion of its revenue from taxes and has done its fair share of hack-and-slash work on its education and healthcare systems. But increasing reliance on a more stable area of the financial portfolio would help a lot towards avoiding the crack of the economic yo-yo when it nails us in the face every time the oil markets take a swoon.

Right. Why do the same individuals and groups who complain about the lack of diversity in the economy also bash the government for investing in nanotechnology, biofuels, CCS, alternative service delivery models, and trade missions to develop business and economic partnerships?

> Nobody wants to pay taxes, and premier Ed Stelmach and his gang even said there would be no new taxes to help with the deficit.

Clearly, arts and humanities students want to pay taxes. Students have been fighting against differentials and market modifiers, which would reduce the subsidies currently paid by students in low market value degrees to students in high potential earning degree programs.

> No wonder -- if a large amount of taxes were implemented by the PCs, they would be replaced by the Wildrose Alliance faster than you could say election. There\'s nothing for us to do but accept that education is undervalued in this province and that, historically, it is always the first to the wall when the province inevitably hits hard times.

Record applications and enrollment despite of adverse funding conditions indicate that PSE is doing fine.

For the record, Jon, I approve of your editorial.

\"Miss commentator\" here clearly didn\'t.

Maybe she should submit something to the Gauntlet; not hide in her parents basement critiquing what she doesn\'t have the balls to publish.

You have defeated another student newspaper editorial!

Strength +3
Agility +4
Respect of peers +19
Benefit to society +13


The destruction of Alberta by the Stelmach government now includes education. Help me and others fight back, get involved. Be sure to send me a freind request on Facebook.

www.joealbertan.blogspot.com