This article first published September 2011 remains timely.
Private business promoters aim to eliminate public enterprises through privatization, contracting out and outsourcing. They promote the myth that delivery of services by private, often multinational, companies gains cost and service efficiencies. Thus, BC Liberals, obedient clients to business masters, degrade public agencies and support quasi-public mongrels such as Community Living BC, author of the Ridge Meadows recycling fiasco.
Accountability is unclear so politicians believe they are shielded from blame for failures. Agencies serve another political purpose because loyal party supporters can be rewarded at public expense with untendered contracts and lucrative sinecures outside the professional civil service.
Preference for services to be delivered to the public by private corporations is a matter of bias, often founded on selective evidence. There is no intrinsic reason why a global business with foreign headquarters and a shady history, Accenture for example, should be more efficient and effective than a crown corporation or public agency, provided the latter is not crippled by people or policies imposed for non-business reasons.
Private enterprises, perhaps because of their focus on maximizing profits, have been associated with wrongdoing in delivering essential social services. For example, ProPublica reported on:
how two [Pennsylvania] judges there carried out a scheme in which they took $2.8 million in kickbacks from a private juvenile prison company in exchange for lengthy sentences.
The Economist examined the operation of private prisons in the USA and found:
that firms in the prison business reap profits by billing government for rather more than their initial lowball estimates while scrimping in ways that may make prisons less secure.
A generation ago, public education was intended to provide universal access, allowing roughly equal prospects for betterment to citizens. Now, according to Christy Clark, the government’s focus will not be on delivering the best possible education to learners, instead it will promote a market driven, for-profit education industry, recruiting wealthy students from overseas.
We already have substantial private initiatives in secondary level schooling. For example, West Vancouver School Board offers academic and sports programs to international students. Regular students may be subsidizing this effort through foregone services and attention. There is so little transparency that taxpayers can not be certain whether the focus on fees paying foreign students is hurtful to resident children. It is clear though that ancillary social costs for policing, transit, healthcare and other public services are excluded from WVSB’s financial analysis, the burden simply left for taxpayers at provincial and federal levels to shoulder. Other school districts pursue similar commercial objectives.
This week Premier Clark announced that more BC students will be elbowed aside in a campaign to further commercialize our schools. She aims:
to increase the number of post-secondary students from other countries studying in B.C.
The intended commercialization of schools is not a considered program of educators, it is a wedge, created for the future benefit of private entrepreneurs. It is the dream of some to covert British Columbia’s public school system into an agency to educate only the poor and disadvantaged, the children of little commercial value, while the remaining children take taxpayer provided payment vouchers to private schools of choice.
Supporters of public education need to realize they’re in the middle of a war for its future, and they’re losing.
The Fraser Institute’s school report-card program is merely the opening salvo in a campaign to strip public education of its funding and direct the resources to the private and nonprofit sectors.
…Lost in the debate are the goals of universally accessible, publicly funded education, such as preparing children for citizenship, cultivating a skilled work force, and developing critical-thinking skills.
The next step in the BC Liberal plan may be to sell naming rights to school buildings and school programs. You won’t send your child to kindergarten at Adams Road Elementary School. It will be to the McDonalds Introduction to School Program at the Walmart Family Education Center.