One of the most prominent is the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), which was established in 1967 as a forum for the dis cussion of mutual concerns. CMEC allows ministers to consult and act on matters of mutual interest, and facilitates cooperation with both na tional education organizations and the federal government. CMEC also occasionally represents the education interests of the provinces and territories internationally. The manner in which provincial ministers and deputy ministers collaborate on policy limited to provincial jurisdiction is an effective window on Canadian “network” federalism. Even though there is no permanent chair of CMEC, the provinces take turns chairing the council, with the chairmanship rotating every two years. The Council convenes twice a year, in both Spring and Fall, and each year there are usually new ministers in attendance, since ministerial appointments and cabinet shuffles happen frequently, as well as provincial elections.
While the federal government is not a member, it partners with CMEC on several projects where they is mutual interest. There is a permanent secretariat located in Toronto, which consists of a Director General and approximately 30 staff who provide research, coordination, translation, and administrative support, with an annual budget of $5.4 mln. These funds are shared among the provinces. Much of the assessment work and cooperation for French language instruction, teacher mobility, copyrights issues, etc. are handled through CMEC. While best practices are usually adopted from province to province, differences are por trayed by comparative data for operating expenditures in public educa tion across the provinces (see Table 2).
To be sure, some of these differences are explained by the different cost of living in each province. But they also reflect different political strategies, relative economic prosperity, strength of teachers unions, and other factors. During the seven year period in question, overall costs for public education increased 22% while inflation was 14%. If we compare the data from Alberta and B.C., we note the cost cutting measures of the provincial government of Alberta that dominated the mid 1990s, and the cost cutting in B.C. that a new provincial govern ment adopted in 2001. Phenomenal economic growth took place in Al berta post 1998, which explains the rapid growth of the total amount of dollars devoted by the provincial government to education and the si multaneous decline in expenditures as a percentage of the provincial GDP. Alberta’s total expenditures in public education grew by almost 4% annually over the seven year period in constant dollars, while in B.C.
they grew by only 1.3%. These dollar amounts will be helpful later in this study as we compare reforms and innovation across provinces.
Table Total Expenditures in Public Schools as Percentage of GDP Province or 1997–1998 1999–2000 2001–2002 2003–Territory Newfoundland 5.1 4.3 3.9 3.P.E.I. 4.4 4.3 3.9 4.N.S. 4.3 4.2 4.0 3.N.B. 4.9 4.7 4.2 4.Quebec 3.8 3.6 3.6 3.Ontario 3.9 3.5 3.4 3.Manitoba 3.7 3.7 3.6 3.Saskatchewan 3.7 3.5 3.7 3.Alberta 3.1 2.8 2.8 2.B.C. 3.8 3.7 3.5 3.Yukon 6.8 6.4 6.3 5.NWT 6.9 4.2 3.7 3.Canada 3.8 3.5 3.4 3.Source: Statistics Canada 81–595.
3.2. Historical Trends towards Centralized Administration As this study is prepared for a foreign audience, it is necessary to point out other dimensions in the administration of education. Regard less of the province in question, there has been a long and ubiquitous historical trend towards the centralization of administration in public education. In addition to provincial ministries of education, there are also locally elected school boards or councils that serve as local ad ministrations for education services. Because of the constitutional framework, the power of these boards and councils are delegated by, and at the discretion of, provincial and territorial governments. These boards are distinct from municipal governments, and, particularly in rural and suburban areas, will include a number of different towns and cities in their jurisdiction. To clarify, municipal governments in Canada do not deliver educational services. Municipal governments are self governing, autonomous institutions primarily devoted to hard and soft services connected to property. School boards deal exclusively with education, although their local budget may be significantly larger than the budgets of the corresponding municipalities. To conflate the two services would mean that either municipal governments would serve as agents of provincial ministries rather than self governing institutions, or that the ministries would have less control over education. While school boards are elected, they have very limited autonomy. They rely heavily, or exclusively on transfers, and function more as local agents for the delivery of education services mandated by the provincial ministry. The relationship between local boards and the provincial government has shifted considerably over the past century, and is linked to the historical development of public administration in Canada.
Where schools were once paid for and dominated by parents and lo cal interests, the push to develop public education in the 20th century required an increased supervisory role for provincial governments.
Without such supervision, it was impossible to promote provincial stan dards in the curriculum, ensure a measure of equality in service deliv ery, or adequately finance public education. Originally, the costs of a local school were shouldered by locally set property taxes, and teacher salaries were negotiated locally. But demographic pressures, the need for higher salaries for teachers, 20th century province building, and changes in the public perception of the role of state in the post World War II era combined to promote the assertion of provincial authority and provincial financing in education.
No less than seventeen different commissions and reports dealing with public education were sponsored by provincial legislatures be tween 1925 and 1961. These reports and investigations highlight the various pressures and mindsets of the time, and reflect clearly the ten dency towards centralization of authority20. Any merits of decentraliza tion were generally taken for granted or ignored, and centralization was seen as either a panacea for administrative ills or a much needed cor rection for excessive decentralization in education administration. Cen See, for example, the website of the Canadian Education Policy Studies, which has the text of all the reports and commissions. http://www.canadianeducationalpolicystudies.ca.
tralization was thus seen as a necessary means to improve the quality and equality of educational services. The arguments were consistent with general arguments for central control: there would be cost effi ciencies with greater economies of scale; improved implementation and supervision of provincial policy; greater professionalization of teachers and staff, and greater influence of experts; the general interest of the province would overshadow the particular interests of local communi ties; education could be better coordinated with other services (health);
and the quality of schools from different neighborhoods would not be dependent on the local tax base. The standard arguments for decen tralization (responsiveness to local interests and needs; the promotion of innovation v bureaucratic control; increased levels of participation;
and the merits of competition) were ignored.
One expert, E. Salter Davies of the Hope Commission in Ontario (1950), noted that any extreme form of either centralization or decen tralization was problematic:
The supreme problem of local government is to achieve the golden mean between over centralization and excessive decentralization. The former may lead to a soulless uniformity and to a lack of interest on the part of those most affected, while the latter, at its worst, leads to chaos21.
Yet because the existing challenges of the day were considered to be the consequences of decentralized administration, the overall shift was for greater control by provincial ministries. Certainly, provincial budgets had a greater capacity to bear the costs of education. Revenue sources for local governments were limited to property taxes and user fees. Because education was defined as a public good, local squabbles over tax rates were considered detrimental to quality education. Moving the costs of schooling to the provincial level ensured greater equality across the province and less political grief to local school boards. With this shift in financial control, administrative reforms strengthened the control of provincial government over public education. That is not to suggest that there was no opposition to these reforms. Indeed, one backbencher of the British Columbia Legislature cautioned the provin cial government that such financial reform would strengthen arbitrary Report of the Royal Commission on Education in Ontario, Toronto: Baptist Johnston, 1950. Chapter 7.
administration and lead to a “negation of democracy”22. Yet such cau tions were not common: indeed, the extension of provincial authority was routinely praised by the government, the opposition, and the press as “progressive” and much needed.
This centralization of provincial administration over education means that contemporary policy in education must wrestle with centralized provincial ministries, centralized teacher unions, and generally weak levels of local participation. Despite the push through the 20th century to strengthen administration, the “golden mean” described by Salter Da vies is now no less elusive than before. Contemporary reforms seek to find ways to encourage participation, responsiveness, and innovation – the desired fruits of decentralization – to compensate for overly central ized government.
3.3. Education in British Columbia We will use the Ministry of Education in the Province of British Co lumbia (BC) as a case study for education as a public good. While any single case study has obvious limitations concerning its representation, we will compare some dimensions of BC with other provinces in Canada later in this study. We examine here the administrative structure, financ ing, and current policies, as well as overall trends and issues in educa tion.
The Structure of Administration. Because Canadian provinces have a parliamentary form of government, the Ministry of Education is led by a government minister, an elected member of the BC Legisla ture, who serves in the cabinet at the discretion of the Premier. The cur rent Minister is the Honourable Shirley Bond, first elected to the Legis lature in 2001, and appointed as Education Minister in 2005, after serv ing earlier stints as Minister of Advanced Education, Minister of Health, and Deputy Premier. In most jurisdictions, the Education portfolio is considered a senior cabinet position. Prior to provincial politics, Minis ter Bond served for nine years as an elected member of a local school board. As with other ministries, the appointed Minister may come and go, and the more permanent head of the ministry is the Deputy Minister, The backbencher in question was WAC Bennett, who later became Premier of British Columbia under a Social Credit majority. Vancouver Daily Province, March 5, 1946.
in this case Dr. Emery Dosdell. Prior to his appointment by the then newly elected Liberal government in 2001, Dr. Dosdell was the Superin tendent of the Edmonton School District in the neighboring province of Alberta, a jurisdiction known for innovation in public education. This ap pointment reflected a shift in policy from the previous government in British Columbia. Prior to a Liberal government in 1991, the social de mocratic New Democratic Party had appointed as deputy minister an academic and friendly towards the BC Teachers Federation (union).
Thus government appointments are influenced significantly by politics and parties, and this is common throughout Canada.
The BC Ministry of Education oversees the education of some 660,000 students (63,220 of which are enrolled in 355 independent schools) and has an annual budget of almost $5 bln. The Ministry is di vided into at least eight departments, dealing with such matters as legal affairs, assessment and evaluation, curriculum, supervision, infrastruc ture maintenance and development, and coordination with other de partments and institutions. The Ministry oversees the work of 60 school districts throughout the province, 59 of which are organized geographi cally, the remaining district supervises French language schools in the province23. These districts vary greatly in size and population, with the smallest in population (district 92) serving an area with less than 2,people. The Vancouver district, in contrast, serves a population of al most 600,000. School districts hire teachers and staff and implement policies that emanate from the ministry. The power and authority of the district are delegated by the Ministry, as outlined in the Schools Act (1996).24 A map of the province with the school districts is included be low, although the heavily populated area of the province is too con gested for a map of this scale, the map gives a sense of the geography of education administration (see Fig. 2).
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