Government is in the giving mood again. They have a history of giving generous gifts.
They gave a free pass to OCI, allowing them to export unprocessed fish to China.
They gave a loan of $90 million to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
They gave tax-credits to the tune of about $400 million to multi-national companies including Vale-Inco and IOC.
Now they are giving Adult Basic Education (ABE) contracts to private colleges.
The government tender issued on May 24 to secure ABE services for next year has the effect of automatically awarding ABE contracts to private colleges in all communities where they currently offer ABE.
The release accompanying the tender states: “Students attending CNA in a region where ABE is also delivered by a private institution or community group will be assisted in their move to a current service provider.”
The tender call effectively exempts private colleges from undergoing a
thorough public review to determine whether or not they meet the minimum requirements of a successful bid, as defined by the tender.
Back in April, a representative of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Career Colleges responded to College of the North Atlantic student-led protests objecting to ABE privatization, stating that students should not be concerned about a transition to private schools since the majority of them would have the entirety of their tuition paid for by the government.
There is far more to education than simply paying tuition.
No assurances were given to students that comparable facilities and quality services would be available at private college ABE delivery sites.
Libraries, gymnasiums and computer labs help to ensure student success.
Disability services and group health insurance available at the public college give students who have complex needs access to vital resources.
Moreover, government is turning ABE delivery over to private colleges which in some regions of the province have the practice of exclusively hiring retired teachers to staff their ABE departments.
This hiring trend has occurred because retired teachers who collect a government pension are willing to work for reduced wages.
This, in turn, lowers operating costs for private colleges and maximizes profits for the owners and operators.
Shouldn’t we ask who stands to benefit from government’s recent policy change and preferential tender call?
U.S. President James Madison stated, “A well-instructed people alone can be a permanently free people.”
A government that values freedom makes public education a priority.
A government should not automatically award contracts for essential educational services to its political supporters, nor should it cater to corporate interests.
We need wise investments in areas such as Adult Basic Education in order to address the literacy needs of our citizens and to prepare our people for the future.
All citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador are the beneficiaries of such investments.
Russell Rideout writes from Burin Bay Arm.