Treaty 1 Territory, Winnipeg MB - The Pallister PCs are using the pandemic to deny parents and students access to the public education, while misleading Manitobans about how much new money the government is putting into making schools safe.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says the PCs are undermining the public school system by refusing to provide a public "distance learning" option for parents and students.
Parents are being given the choice between sending their children to public school, or pulling them out and sending them to a private school or homeschooling instead.
Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface, Dougald Lamont, says forcing parents and children to abandon public education and homeschool instead is a reflection of the Pallister PCs and Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen's bias against public education.
Even before the crisis, the PCs were increasing funding for private schools while public school funding remained stagnant.
In 2015-16, there were 177,541 students in Manitoba's public school system, which increased by 3.06% to 2018-19. Over those 3 years, funding per student only increased 0.16%.
By comparison, in 2015-16, there were 13,833 students in Manitoba's independent school system, which increased by 1.4% in 2018-19. Over those 3 years, funding per student increased 8.95% - 55 times the rate of increases in the public school system.
In April and May, Goertzen met twice with a number of far-right politicians and policymakers as part of a global homeschooling exchange. Panelists included Goertzen, Ted Cruz, Betsy DeVos, the extreme-right German opposition party Alternative fur Deutschland, as well as representatives from Bolsonaro's Brazil and Putin's Russia.
Goertzen urged other panelists to use the pandemic as a way of pushing homeschooling, suggesting that majority of students could be educated outside the public school system.
"Manitoba's Minister of Education is on the record praising Ted Cruz and Betsy Devos, who have devoted their careers to dismantling public education and urged extreme right wing parties and governments to use the pandemic as a pretext to undermine public schools," says Lamont. "Until today, the PCs were unwilling to spend a dime of new money to make public schools safer. Parents and children must have the option of public distance learning from home so that schooling can continue safely no matter what happens this fall."
Liberals also say the Pallister PCs announcement is misleading and dishonest.
With new COVID-19 cases reaching new daily highs in Manitoba, the PCs new spending on back-to-school COVID-preparedness funding is only half the $100-million the PCs claim, and there's no guarantee the funds will go to students who need it most.
The fund is not $100-million, and school board "savings" vary widely across the province
The "new" money promised is $52-million, and an unspecified amount will be held back
Manitoba will NOT have the second most funding per student
The funding is not "focused," since it ignores differences in school preparedness, class sizes, school crowding, travel times and student needs
Manitoba Liberals say there are still too many questions unanswered. They say the PCs must:
Let school boards delay the return of school until plans are in place
Work with school boards and teachers to develop a public distance learning program
Ensure students and staff can get adequate social distance in class, at school, and on buses
Ensure funding is in place based on need and takes into account differences in challenges and costs between urban, rural, and northern schools - including class sizes, travel, access to internet and special needs
Most important of all, parents and families need supports if their children are sick and can't attend school or have to self-isolate.
"This government has got to stop acting like the pandemic is a problem for parents to solve on their own. We do not want people who are sick with COVID going to school or work because the PCs can't, or won't, help," says Lamont.