Goertzen’s discussions with U.S. politicians worrisome

Provincial education minister’s trust in market solutions will put Manitoban children at risk

Brian Pallister promised Manitobans that he would phase out property taxes designated for the education budget during his election campaign in 2019.

Austerity measures have long been used as a tactic to disrupt the functionality of public entities which then allow radical free market politicians to fill the vacuum with damaging for-profit institutions.

Now, alarmingly, Manitoba’s education minister, Kelvin Goertzen, participated in webinars with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz to discuss policy alternatives in the education system.

DeVos and Cruz have become notorious allies of the private school movement in the United States, seeking to reduce the role of the U.S. federal government in education.

Instead of expanding the budget expended on the sector, DeVos and Cruz have a record of promoting more “choice” in order to emphasize personal private benefits over social public ones. This is a typical rhetoric used by many free market politicians to justify and promote profiteering of universal public goods.

Patricia Rucker, a Republican senator for West Virginia, also partook in one of the webinars. Rucker is a representative of the American Legislative Exchange Council — a conservative think tank that provides legislators pre-drafted bills which attempt to reduce corporate taxation, promote anti-gay laws, water down environmental legislation, attack labour unions, oppose gun control and promote the privatization of public schools.

Taking advice from groups and individuals like these displays the underlying nature of conservative thought in Manitoba and Goertzen had already made clear before the webinar that Manitobans should expect further austerity and privatization.

Manitoban families, then, should get ready for radical changes in the way their children are taught.

Selling public schools out to market mechanisms would be disastrous for Manitoba. Not only would privatization cut off low-income families from quality and free universal education, it would also stunt children’s personal ability to learn.

Promoting additional expenses for vulnerable low-income families would likely increase rates of childhood stress and trauma at home — ensuring that at-risk youth would become less equipped to learn than they were in public school settings.

Further, the curriculum is virtually unregulated in non-government funded private schools. This inevitably would divide education on class lines.

Poorer communities would likely become segregated from more affluent families who can afford to send their kids to private schools with high-end, expensive equipment and curriculums.

Applying market solutions to our education system, then, would establish less robust schools and leave poorer children in precarious environments unable to access proper education.

Social mobility would also likely tighten due to a less equitable universal curriculum, and the sheer expense of schools would redistribute necessary tax funds and individual dollars into the hands of private profiteers.

The solution to raising the standard of education in our system will not and should not be found in for-profit institutions.

In fact, recently, the leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, Dougald Lamont, called for Goertzen’s resignation.

Lamont believes Manitobans should be worried that our education minister, and one of the most senior members of the Progressive Conservative government, is sharing ideas with Republican politicians. While Lamont himself respects private schools, he sees no benefit to the government defunding the public school system.

If the provincial government wants better results in the public school system, Lamont believes they should put money into fixing it instead of essentially freezing public school funding and beginning the privatization process.

The prospect of privatization in Manitoba’s education system is worrisome and the COVID-19 crisis appears to have emboldened the Progressive Conservatives politically. They have been making cuts and pushing through unpopular legislation under the pretence of the pandemic and meetings with U.S. politicians who have condemning track records should not go unnoticed.

Our children’s education should not be treated as a tradable commodity. Subjecting them — and their basic human right to quality education — to the market mechanism would spell disaster for the province and its families.

When Goertzen says Manitobans should expect further austerity and privatization, know that he means it.