A Failing Report Card

Publication, Education, David Seymour

Executive Summary

• Since the election of the provincial government in 1999, significant changes to educational
policy in Manitoba have taken place. Contrary to the “New Directions” initiative of the previous
administration, these changes have been characterized by a retreat from Canada’s decentralized
education model and a rise in discretionary authority from the Minister’s office.

• These changes include a new assessment program, forced school division amalgamations, special education legislation (Bill 13), stipulation that course content be changed, intervention in school closure procedures, the ineffectual Tax Incentive Grant scheme, and a shortened school year.

• Provincial standardized tests for grades 3, 6 and 9 were abolished and replaced by subjective
and time-consuming assessments. Manitoba students write fewer standardized exams than
students in every other province except Prince Edward Island.

• The number of school boards was reduced from 57 to 36. The Minister of Education predicted
a savings of $10-million.

• In actuality, overall spending in post-amalgamated school divisions increased. This can be largely
explained by the upward harmonization of wages.

• Special education expenditures increased by over 300 per cent over the past 20 years while overall
expenditures increased by only 49 per cent over the same period. While catering for special needs
students is an important prerogative for any education system, it is reasonable to question whether
this exponential growth is a response to better levels of service, a genuine increase students
requiring such services, or the perverse incentives offered to school boards by the Department’s
funding formulae.

• The government passed Bill 13 and entrenched the controversial policy of mainstreaming in
our schools. Once again this initiative overrode the autonomy of local school boards.

• Decision-making powers regarding special needs students were centralized in the Minister
of Education’s office. This reduces local authority and accountability.

• The provincial government reduced the school year from 200 days, and the year fluctuates
between 194 and 198 days. This was done to enable a post-Labour Day start date.

• Many organizations expressed concern about the loss of instructional time and pointed out
that a post-Labour Day start date has more to do with family vacations and recreation than
with education.

• The government missed an opportunity to emulate other provinces and allow school divisions
to decide what changes for the school year work best for their students.

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