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Ringing hollow

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The impact of declining student enrolment hit home last night when the Rainy River District School Board held a special meeting to pass its 2001-02 budget.

The bottom line is simple: fewer students means less money from the provincial government. And that, in turn, meant the board had to make cuts—$500,000 worth—just to soften the blow in the classroom.

While trustees deserve kudos for maintaining their priority on the classroom, it’s really only a matter of time before they’ll have to start looking at more direct staffing cuts as well as programs—particularly if the trend towards fewer students continues here.

All this also calls into question the provincial government’s plan to offer tax credits to parents who send their kids to private schools. Supporters argue it’s only fair, while Finance minister Jim Flaherty stresses it’s simply a case of offering parents choices.

He also says it will make the public school system better in the long run.

But that seems hard to swallow given fewer students in the system, as we’re seeing here, means less money for such little things as teachers, textbooks, classroom materials, and state-of-the-art technology—all things vital to a first-rate education for our kids.

And as Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton pointed out, paying tax credits for private school is cheaper than keeping the kids in the public system.

The Harris government keeps claiming it fully supports public education. This latest step, though, is yet another reason why that supposed support rings so hollow.

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