Following the province's release of further information debunking fiction from fact surrounding misconceptions about bill 64 -- the new Education Modernization Act -- Portage la Prairie MLA Ian Wishart speaks out.
"Well, there's certainly been a lot of misunderstanding around Bill 64," says Wishart. "What we're really trying to do is change the governance on education and focus it away from school divisions -- we have 37 in the province, which is obviously too many -- to a system that really is more focused on the parent councils in each one of the schools."
Wishart says they're trying to reach the students through the parents, noting that the entire effort is really focused on better student outcomes than anything.
He notes governance does change as part of the process, but the classroom structure and the supports for teachers in the schools are not changing.
"A lot of people are tying all this together and saying, 'Well, you know, that means a change in everything in the school,'" continues Wishart. "It's really more about the governance of the school than anything else. There's been long-standing problems and misunderstandings from division to division on how funding is done for the school."
Wishart adds the province is moving away from education tax on property, noting they need to make some changes to accommodate that and make sure that the funding is fair and equitable as they move ahead.
"So, it's kind of changing a lot of things at once, but it's really focused not on changes in the classroom or changes that will negatively impact students," adds Wishart, "but focus much more on changes to the governance and providing additional student supports in the process."
Wishart explains he receives a fair number of calls and emails about the issue, acknowledging that the rumour mill of social media is having a heyday.
"We want to try and set the record straight," says Wishart. "We're trying to improve education in the province, and there are people that don't like change, really, and don't want to have to try to make changes. And the changes are mostly over the governance side. Your kids will still be going to the same school. The curriculum will be updated over time, but there won't be any immediate changes in the classroom. Teachers will get more supports than they did before. There'll still be supports for special needs children. All of those things will still be in place. There will still be supports for First Nations kids in the schools, designed especially for them."
He notes poverty is an issue they're also grappling with.
"We haven't really had a coordinated approach to that, and we are certainly adding that in, and trying to develop a support mechanism to deal with poverty through the schools, but not solely through the schools," continues Wishart. "It's part of a government-wide process to deal with poverty."
Wishart says, in all of his correspondence with residents, he's not hearing too much fear about school closures.
"It's been very clear all the way along that there's no change to the school closure system," says Wishart. "Schools can still be closed, but it's a long consultation process. Frankly, we haven't been seeing much pressure to do that lately because our special rural populations are far more stable now than they were in the 90s and 2000s, when we were dealing with a lot of pressure to close schools. It was due to the populations dropping. Most of rural Manitoba now is stable or growing. So, there's just not the pressure there to close schools that there was back in those days."