On November 3, 2012, the Education Committee of COPE (the Coalition of Progressive Electors) hosted a conference called “Justice, not Charity: A Discussion of Inner City Schools and Creeping Corporatization”. Approximately 70 people attended the day-long session: parents, teachers, support workers, and other education activists.
The purpose of the conference was to examine the issue of charity and whether charity is an appropriate way either to fund a public education system or to alleviate poverty or to help inner city schools. Organizers hoped that an action plan and policy guidelines would result from discussion among the participants, and, specifically, a call for a change from a charity model of funding education to a justice model.
The conference presenters and participants focused on three themes:
- The current state of the inner city schools program and the effect of its deterioration on poor children and their families. Noel Herron, former VSB trustee and elementary school principal, outlined in detail the negative changes in the program brought about by chronic provincial underfunding. (See Appendix A brochure.)
- The alienation of both parents and teachers in a system where fundraising and charity are a mainstay of school funding for basic needs. Two parents, Cherise Craney and Gwen Giesbrecht, and three teachers, Marjorie Dumont, Linda Young and Anna Chudnovsky, ably talked about their experiences in schools where the needs of underprivileged students are being met, although not well, through money collected from parents and through charity from corporate donors. They all described the stigma and isolation felt due to the inability of some schools to provide for the educational needs of students, even with fundraising and charity, and due to the failure of the government to ensure adequate supports and services for families that would allow all to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
- An analysis of charity, donors and how schools are affected. Dan Hale analysed school board guidelines for corporate involvement and how dependent schools are now on corporate charity. Heather-jane Robertson spoke of how privatization begets inequality and that charity may remedy inequality but doesn’t deliver social justice.
Lively discussion ensued on all the issues the speakers raised. There was relative unanimity on specific demands that should be made of the provincial government. These included a poverty reduction plan, a full breakfast and lunch program funded by government, and universal, accessible, free, quality child care for 0 to 5 year olds. Most agreed that tax reform is necessary to ensure sufficient resources for these programs. All considered these demands necessary for a better functioning school system where children can participate to their full capacity and not be hindered by hunger and poverty.
To achieve these goals and specifically to revitalize the Vancouver inner city school project, participants identified a media and advocacy campaign as key. As well, there needs to be a re-commitment by the VSB to the inner city school project where parents, teachers and students examine and evaluate the criteria. Increased support for special needs students was considered a key demand.
Debate occurred about whether school fundraising should continue, and, in any event, whether the goal of eliminating fundraising is achievable or desirable. Many participants recommended that funds raised should be distributed equitably amongst schools, should not be used for basic educational resources (eg. library books, smart boards) and should be capped.
Charitable giving by corporations was also considered an inappropriate way to fund schools. However, again, participants felt that there is no doubt that corporate charity will continue for the time being. Hence there were other recommendations: donations (preferably anonymous) should be capped and centrally administered by the school board; corporate branding or marketing should be prohibited; enforceable guidelines should be developed; children should not be used to sell or promote any products in order to fund their own education.
Participants unanimously agreed that an awareness campaign on the detrimental effects of fundraising and charity is necessary and should be undertaken with parents, teachers and their unions.
SUMMARY AND FUTURE ACTIONS
The conference tapped into the current debates on substantive funding issues (ie. underfunding, charity and parent fundraising) that address the dilemmas faced by schools with underprivileged populations. More advocacy about these problems is clearly necessary both to the local school board, to the provincial government and to the larger society. Notably, the Conference Organizing Committee has already sent letters to all Vancouver MLAs and School Trustees outlining the conference conclusions.
As there was wide agreement that public education should not be dependent on donations and fundraising, the debate on how to deal with these issues needs to continue. The Conference Organizing Committee recommends that there should be a debate engaging the broader education community to discuss alternatives to the present forms of fundraising and charity in schools. In particular, there is a need to develop priorities and strategies about the recommendations arising from the conference.
AM or morning session:
1. Jane Bouey – Pt. 1 of 6 – Introduction
2. Adrienne Montani – Pt. 2 of 6
3. Noel Herron – Pt. 3 of 6 – https://vimeo.com/55468445
4. Marjorie Dumont – Pt. 4 of 6
5. Linda Young – Pt. 5 of 6
6 Cherise Craney – Pt. 6 of 6
Afternoon or “PM” session ( in 5 parts )
1. Kevin Millsip – Pt. 1 of 5 – Introduction
2. Heather-Jane Robertson – Pt. 2 of 5
3. Dan Hale – Pt. 3 of 5
4. Gwen Giesbrecht – Pt. 4 of 5
5. Anna Chudnovsky – Pt. 5 of 5