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Next time you drive by a school, ask yourself – who owns that building? Then ask yourself, who should own it - the community or a for-profit company?

Historically, schools were funded by individuals, churches, and by local fundraising. As Canadian and provincial economies grew, the responsibility to fund school construction and renovation shifted to public sources. Public sector financing methods were developed, such as property taxes, provincial capital grants, long-term debentures, bonds and capital reserves. Underlying this development was the recognition that because the whole community benefited from public education, the community should share the costs.

Schools were seen as places where children of all backgrounds could have the opportunity to improve their situation and learn to become good citizens. As well, publicly funded education aimed to meet the economic needs of the community, and employers profited from a well-educated workforce.

However, a new trend in school financing has emerged in response to:

  • cash-strapped schools boards trying to meet emerging needs in the face of unprecedented funding cuts by provincial governments;
  • governments’ reluctance to show debt on their books;
  • the ideology that business can run anything better than the public sector.

P3 schools are a form of privatization. P3 arrangements are a way for governments to fool taxpayers into thinking they are saving money. In reality, what is happening is that publicly delivered services are being handed over to the private sector. This raises some fundamental questions:

  • Should someone make profit from operating a public school?
  • Should schools be located where they serve business interests or the community?
  • Should someone make a profit from little kids who want to play after-school sports?

The P3 option has been tried and discarded in Nova Scotia. Yet, in B.C., with the BC government’s penchant for privatization, it may still be considering P3s as a way to fund new schools. Our evidence and experience show P3 schools are a bad idea, and one that should be challenged if, and when it is raised.

P3 schools represent not just a change in funding, but an ideological shift that really should be examined in the context of experiences so far. CUPE’s experience shows that P3 schools cost taxpayers more; create concerns about quality, accountability and control; open the door to conflicts of interest; impact negatively on the local economy; and they are risky. This Research Report will present the evidence for these claims, and offer alternatives to funding new school construction.

The traditional public school method: private companies design and build the school, but public school boards own and operate the school. The province sets budgets, standards and arranges for financing.