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MacKinnon report creates flurry of speculation

Save money but don't make education harder to obtain.

The province's Blue Panel 26 recommendations, otherwise known as the MacKinnon Report, have been raising eyebrows since their release.

It should be emphasized, as of yet, those recommendations, which span everything from education funding to municipal capital spending are not cast in stone. However, they do point to the continuation of the UCP's campaign theme of fiscal prudence in an effort to rein in deficit spending. The goal is to see a balanced budget in Alberta by 2023.

While fiscal responsibility is a goal to which all governments should strive, some of the recommendations allude to concerning changes to some funding models, especially when it comes to education. 

How much of those concerns are media hype is yet to be seen. However, when it comes to government sometimes taking the wait-and-see approach yields less than desirable results, which is why it is important to voice concerns early and often. Ultimately, the government should follow the will of the people, that is why there are elections. 

MLA Peter Guthrie, in a sit down with the Eagle this week, said when it comes to education funding the plan is to review the funding models in an effort to create efficiencies especially when it comes to bureaucracy. He believes there has been a lot of administerial funding that has disappeared into the "abyss" that could be better utilized. Sure, who doesn't want to see less money go to bureaucracy and more go to education. If that is the way it works out then everyone wins.

That being said, there are recommendations in terms of education that rightfully make some people nervous. For example, the report alludes to education funding being tied to outcomes, a similar recommendation was made for universities. There is also a recommendation that more university funding comes from tuition or entrepreneurial sources.

While Alberta tuitions are lower than many other provinces, having affordable advanced education should is something that should be maintained. An educated workforce is essential to future prosperity.

Tieing education funding to outcomes (keep in mind there is no clarity to what that means yet) has the potential to skew education delivery that essentially creates a multi-tiered system, one where schools with high populations of at-risk, marginalized or poor students always lose.

A similar model with universities – possibly using completion rates as a benchmark – is fraught with dangers. With an influx of adult students taking classes piecemeal or others using university programs for one or two courses can paint an inaccurate picture. Having the government decide funding based on outcomes also comes with the risk of education becoming more ideological based, something the UCP was critical of the NDP for during the curriculum review.

Few can argue that the government's spending has been out of whack for the past decade, between 2009 and 2013 deficit spending ranged from $830 million to $4.7 billion before the only surplus budget was tabled in the past 10 in 2013. Alison Redford's 1.1 billion surpluses was followed by a record deficit of 6.1 billion by the NDP, $1 billion more than Prentice's proposed budget that didn't pass before the election call.

Controlling spending is important, but let's ensure it is done without sacrificing important services such as education.