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Our Schools for Sale? Part 3

Pat McAdie

Final article in a 3-part series

On the importanc of education generall we may remark, it is as necessar as the light  it should be as common as water, and as free as air.

Egerton Ryerson, 1829.

Equity and universal accessibility are two of the objectives of  our public  education system. Yet these goals can be undermined by the increasing commercialism in our schools.

The national survey on commercialism1 that I wrote about in previous issues of Voice identified the ways in which private money funds activities and programs in public schools. The survey looked at  the extent of  fundraising (see  Voice Winter 06) and the extent to which corporations have a presence in our schools (see Voice Spring 06).  Topping  up  public  school  budgets  with private fundraising and other sources of private money has been described as providing a private school education within our public system, particularly in wealthy neighbourhoods.

These activities can and do change the nature of our public education system. Here are some of potential impacts:

  • Inequity: The amount of money schools raise ranges from a low of $180 to a high of $250,000 per year. Generally, schools in wealthier neighbourhoods can raise more money.
  • What is – and is not – funded: An increasing number of items defined as “frills,” fall outside of government funding including playground equipment, field trips, and even some classroom and learning resources. This is less of a problem for schools in wealthy neighbourhoods that can raise funds and provide a richer variety of experiences for students.
  • Competition for funding: Programs and schools relying on private donors may all be competing for the same sources of funds. How does this detract time and energy from other activities?
  • Lack of educational quality control: Who ensures that the curriculum/classroom materials provided by corporate sources are unbiased, complete, and accurate?
  • Targeted funding: When private interests decide which schools or programs are more “worthy” of support, they are making decisions about programming that ought to be made by schools and school boards.
  • Requirements for receiving funding: Some private corporations or organizations may require advertising or the use of specific curriculum or other materials.
  • Instability of funding: Many private sources of funding do not make commitments to provide resources over an extended period. As parents and corporations go through challenging economic conditions, support for public education may not be as attractive or feasible.

Many of these issues go to the purpose of our public education system. Whose interests are being served and who is left out of the discussions and decisions?

How do we provide support for public education if our governments won’t provide it? We need to reaffirm the purpose of public education – to benefit not just individuals, but our communities and our whole society.