Money is only a part of the real issue

Sask Bulletin
Column: 
October 6, 2020

It would hardly qualify as an anniversary to celebrate, but rather one that only tends to remind one of the lost opportunities in the past two decades.

Yes folks, I’m talking about it is fast approaching 20 years since Dr. Michael Tymchak, then the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, shared the findings of the exhaustive Role of the School Task Force Report which led to the notion of SchoolPLUS and was envisioned as the ultimate integrated support system.

Quite logically and laudably, the aim was to incorporate social services, justice and health into working in tandem with education with the school to serve as the community hub. It sounded so good when they called the news conference.

Spoiler alert–I was actually in attendance at the unveiling. I don’t really care if that dates me; the real lingering issue for me is how many faces I have seen pass through the public education landscape in the past two decades who have all (to varying degrees) espoused their support for the concept. Yet, here we are nearly TWENTY years later and it remains a great rallying cry–as you can see elsewhere in this publication–as Education Minister Gord Wyant and Education Critic Carla Beck both fervently support the idea with hopes for the future.

I recall former Premier Brad Wall indicating to me in conversation that the concept had considerable merit, but had never been properly resourced.

That’s undeniable and it’s been a recurring theme with the common thread that the major issue is the inability or unwillingness for the different government ministries to look beyond the silos. If I had just made a record of how often I have heard that rhetoric, it would fill an edition of the Saskatchewan Bulletin by itself.

Back in the day when this was still the newest and shiniest idea, words such as optimism and opportunity were frequently part of the conversation as well as underscoring the need to be collaborative.

You will see the same words being used by the folks who are in the political realm now, and I believe they are sincere enough. But if you ask me, I would say there is a fundamental reason this vision has never taken hold – aside from the obvious lack of capital investment.

In my view there’s a real disconnect, subtle as it may be, that has endured through all these years. Yes, the decision makers (and those who would be decision makers if the electorate decided to try a new direction) publicly state the importance of public education in terms of how beneficial it is to the economics of the province: both current and long term.

The problem though is that funding education for the overall populace tends to be words only for the very simple reason that the whole K-12 (and beyond) education is always seen as a means to an end. Furthermore, for all the talk about education being for everyone, that just rings hollow.

The rub is that the majority of us and our children will be sufficiently well served by the education system as it is and the end goal will be realized. Translated that means there is a generational unwillingness to pour untold millions into trying to give the students at the lowest ebb a legitimate chance to level the playing field.

Of course, money will always play a factor in an all-encompassing initiative like SchoolPLUS, but the sad reality is there is an unspoken commitment among the more favoured members of the citizenry to look after their own. Call it reality, or more cryptically perhaps, School Minus.