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Why school taxes are going up, a sideshow

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Her Majesty’s official opposition can always potentially bring reasoned discourse to any debate, along with helpful suggestions for the good of the entire citizenry — is it so with the funding of the public education system?

Within minutes of Education Minister Nancy Allan’s having finished announcing her 2013-2014 funding Monday, the Tories were denouncing the government.

Alas, it appears that while the Conservatives have changed leaders, their education policy still consists mainly of, NDP bad, NDP really really bad.

While I did get education critic Kelvin Goertzen by phone later in the afternoon on Monday, earlier, right after Allan finished, the Tories immediately trotted out local government critic Blaine Pedersen, who did the usual attack on the N-Dippers. Tory staff said Pedersen was available for the media scrum, and the cameras needed someone right away.

The money’s the same as last year, said Pedersen, who wouldn’t say how much money a Conservative government would spend on education.

The Tories are all about whether the NDP is educating our children adequately for postsecondary and careers. Can you guess the verdict?

"How are we doing on results?" said Pedersen. "Their funding models now are not producing students with good results. Manitoba is failing in student performance in core subjects."

Mr. Pedersen, how do you know that?

Well, because tests show that.

Which tests?

He wasn’t specific.

I know which tests, which national and international organizations conducted them and when, and in what subjects. They’re national and international tests conducted every few years in math and science and reading, with students chosen randomly from a particular age or grade.

Manitoba kids in the samples have been trailing kids from two or three other provinces by a fair bit, and those other provinces and territories whom we were behind a smidge or ahead of a little, the differences were so small as to be statistically insignificant.

We also do rather well against most countries in the industrialized and western worlds in these things. But we do trail the provincial leaders in Canada, to be sure.

The teachers challenge the methodology and validity of these tests, but the unions would, wouldn’t they? But I digress.

I asked Pedersen about testing, how much the Tories would conduct if they form government. You’ll find out after — note, after, not before — the Conservatives form government, said Pedersen.

Oh, OK.

Are you cool with that, Mr. Pallister?

"I’m not really familiar with the education portfolio," said Pedersen, explaining the lack of details in his answers.

That lack of knowledge, of course, doesn’t stop him from denouncing the government’s education policies.

"We’re not getting results now," he said, and also pointed out that the NDP is downloading its own failures onto local taxpayers.

And what would the Tories do to rectify that and to ensure that kids graduate with the skills necessary to get into university and graduate educated sufficiently to meet the needs of the workplace, which Pedersen says they’re not doing now?

"I can’t answer that," he replied.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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