Saturday, January 31, 2009

Alberta Schools and Poor Infrastructure Planning

(Empty field where school should be)

It appears the recession is having an impact on well-heeled Britons.

"The government will nationalise recession-hit private schools by turning them into state-funded academies, ministers have confirmed.

Headteachers predict that some struggling fee-charging schools will seek to join the scheme to stave off closure, as more parents desert the private sector.

There are warnings, too, that thousands of pupils may seek places at already-stretched state schools this September if private schools fail."

In recent years - in Alberta - we've seen the massive growth of the "for profit" "charter/private" school category. The growth in Alberta was so sustained and all-pervasive that the "charter schools" have actually supplanted "public" schools in many locales. With their multi-thousand dollar fees and "kitschy" names and curricula, these schools were all the rage through the 2000s. If you want your kid to play hockey, there is even a "hockey school". There are sports-oriented schools, science-focused schools, and arts focused schools.

The government of Alberta didn't even CONSIDER a new school without first developing a P3 "deal". Charter schools are everywhere in AB.

Spurred by the Conservative (Alberta) government's desire to privatize all things public, and the Alberta public's opinion that taxes do "nothing" for them, Alberta is a victim of "over-capitalism" in the public sector. This disease seeps through the health "care" system (which lags behind BC and Sask), government services sector (fees for EVERYTHING), infrastructure (P3s build everything - and "own" it too), and, or course the molding of the future minds of the province.

I'm curious to learn what the impact of massive government deficits and poor infrastructure planning has wrought in my old province. I recall driving about Calgary, and seeing the empty fields (where a school "will go") in glistening new suburban housing tracts... Will young home owners choose to live 20 km from downtown Calgary anymore - with no rail service, inadequate bus service, no schools (except for the mega-thousand dollar tuition ones), and few medical services? Or... will they choose to live closer to downtown, where they may still find a public school (aging as it may be - with children studying in "portables")?

The recession, coupled with the poor educational infrastructure in Alberta will result in a further construction slow-down/slump away from "downtown", and more crowding in areas close to downtown. Construction companies and workers should be very upset with the Alberta government. Developers initially were more concerned with the quick "build and dump" in a market driven by real estate flippers. Many a new subdivision plan had the markings for both public and separate schools. When building in Calgary, I noticed that few if ANY of these subdivisions actually received the promised schools.

Will we see private/charter schools close in Alberta? Chances are, yes, we will. Will they require government bailouts? Most of these schools were created by people who had close "friendships" with the provincial PCs. Will they take advantage of that relationship to acquire funding to remain open? There's a good chance they will - it never stopped them in the past. Ask PC MLAs in Alberta where their children go to school. If you don't hear "the public system", don't be surprised. The "bottom line" will be whether parents can afford the tuition at the private schools when perfectly good public schools exist (although not close-by).

In the end, we'll probably see another conservative government learn a lesson on "over-privatization". When times get tough, the private companies pack up and leave.

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