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When education is underfunded, society suffers


OVER the past 75 years or so, Canada has endeavoured and often failed to create a society where robust public systems support healthy, sustainable, just communities.

While this has been the utopian focus, the erosion of public funding and political inertia have and will continue to extend the icy grip of poverty, unfettered capitalism and colonialism.

In February, Seven Oaks School Division revealed that the funding allocated to the division did not match increasing enrolment, let alone increased costs due to rising inflation and future salary pressures.

Some other school divisions fared better, although those in the sector recognize that overall, the education system remains in an endemic crisis of underfunding. The past six years in Manitoba have witnessed funding levels that have not kept pace with the cost of living.

Difficult — some would say impossible — choices remain: cut programming or cut teachers who are essential for learners and families who are most marginalized and vulnerable. This comes on the heels of the release of the Poverty and Education Task Force findings — which recommended nutrition programs in schools, an increase in mental-health supports, anti-racist programming and education, greater support for children in care, and ensuring equity within the system — and recommendations by Manitoba Education, all of which will require significant investment in public education.

All this is occurring in a landscape where we are increasingly seeing young people in our community face greater challenges and struggles. This is an era where programming is fundamental not only to a child’s education, but to their overall well-being, and therefore the well-being of families and the community — now and in the future.

Drawing funds now out of the savings accounts of education and health care is and will be devastating for our society.

The impact of a pandemic has only aggravated the challenges faced by learners and families who are impacted by poverty and colonialism. Shifting resources to tax cuts, including federal transfer payments and education property taxes, has already manifested itself in our communities.

This is also a time when cutting teachers would be against the backdrop of already overcrowded classrooms with children of varying needs and backgrounds, creating a herculean task for educators across the system.

Education is fundamental to any healthy, productive and just society. Supranational organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, have repeatedly and convincingly established links between ongoing development and a robust education system. Access to meaningful education provides one of the best opportunities for upwards socioeconomic mobility, so that the most disadvantaged are also most reliant on a functioning public education system to secure a less precarious future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

This is hardly a point that requires debate, and the evidence is overwhelming.

Yet, time and again, those in the education sector, as well as parents and others who believe in the sanctity of education for young people, find themselves defending and even pleading for adequate funding. When we cut funding to social, health and educational services, we see the impacts in the community.

It stares us in the face on a daily basis. It is not hard to find societies where the education system is dysfunctional or even broken. Those societies end up having negative downstream effects that impact individuals, communities, and ultimately entire nations: think failing democracies, such as the United States, Brazil and Russia. When the public goods are eroded through cuts and chronic underfunding, democracy and society suffer. Separate tiers emerge, creating structural divisions between the haves and the have-nots. The gap between rich and poor widens.

There is a foundational link between health and education. This is readily apparent for anyone who works in the health-care sector. Lower levels of education are associated with poor health outcomes. This relationship is replicated throughout our province, our country, and around the world.

The same is true of the justice system and other institutions that make up our societal edifice. The justice system teeters and simply plays defence in a society where health, educational and social needs are on the decline. The primacy of education is undeniable and it needs to be cherished and protected.

If we continue to write cheques that we can’t cash — on the backs of the most vulnerable — all our systems will lurch further into crisis.

Andrew Lodge is the medical director of Klinic. Matt Hendersonn is the assistant superintendent of Seven Oaks School Division.

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