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Go away for a week and look what happens

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Nancy Allan did a lot of good things for public education.

I was in Upper Canada when Premier Greg Selinger shuffled his cabinet, replacing Allan with James Allum as education minister.

She was always a good interview — maybe too good for the liking of some of the backroom people who might have preferred she keep on programmed message — and Allan was generally civil, usually downright cheerful, even on the 326 or so occasions I upset the government during her administration.

A former school trustee, and the first NDP education minister who wasn’t a teacher, Allan has set smaller class sizes for kindergarten to Grade 3 well in motion. She championed physical activity for kids, brought in a new/old math curriculum, and legislated keeping kids from dropping out before the age of 18, while providing funding for the programs that will help them graduate. Report cards are uniform and written so that parents without an advanced degree in eduspeak jargon understand how their kid is doing in school. Allan’s ministry has been increasingly serious about aboriginal education, even if it meant ignoring constitutional niceties and helping out kids under federal jurisdiction who were getting an inadequate education.

Nothing will so mark her time in office than Bill 18, the anti-bullying legislation so reviled in some quarters, which declared that homophobia is racist and hateful, and will not be tolerated in our schools.

Of course, as the N-Dippers will constantly point out, funding support for public education met or exceeded provincial growth every year, at least for the province’s share of it.

But the funding formula remains complex, complicated, confusing, and confounding, and it remains ludicrous to say we have completely equitable education across Manitoba, when quality of local education continues to be based on the assessed value of property.

The tax incentive grant further muddied the waters for the four years that it hung around with its own perplexing rules.

As for Allan’s dumping on school trustees for raising taxes while the province refused to get involved with teachers’ salaries, the single largest item in the $2.1 billion public education system...

Good luck sorting all that out, Minister Allum.

The NDP won’t touch amalgamation, even after imposing it on some divisions in 2002 — some divisions seriously need to be amalgamated, and why haven’t we at least discussed having one division in Winnipeg? Nor will the province go near its 2008 moratorium on school closures, save for letting communities close a school when all the parents take their kids to a bigger school.

Allum is also responsible for postsecondary education, the first time in many years that the two jobs have been combined.

Allum’s biggest challenge there will be figuring out how to fund universities and colleges while not only maintaining, but enhancing, quality of education, when the province has just reneged on a three-year five per cent annual increase in operating grants. Will the premier and finance minister even pop for 2.5 per cent next year? Or any increase?

And what are the chances that students living in a socialist workers’ paradise will be tapped for much-higher tuition fees?

I wish I could tell you about Allum’s predecessor, Erin Selby, but I only spoke directly to her three or four times in all her years as minister. Selby would probably be the first to tell you that she’s sharper than I, but Selinger’s backroom people preferred that Selby speak through prepared statements emailed by the ubiquitous aide to the minister.

Advanced education is one thing, with only me and sometimes the CBC and the campus papers asking — everyone will be asking for Selby now that she’s health minister.

Anyway, thanks for being one of the more open politicians with whom I’ve dealt, Nancy, for helping to learn the kids real good, and good luck.

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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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