Should Charter Schools be Introduced in Nova Scotia? We’ll see…

By Samuel Kirsh

Since 1980, the graduation rate of Nova Scotia’s secondary schools has increased substantially: from rates of 52.8% to the 2016/2017 rate of 92.3%. This spectacular rise has occurred through substantial public investment and increased per capita spending. However, student numbers have begun to decline over the past several years, as have Nova Scotian test scores compared to other provinces. Nearly half of students in the public education system in Nova Scotia are in the Halifax Metropolitan Area, highlighting a significant and potentially negative demographic imbalance. In this article I posit charter schools as a possible solution to Nova Scotia’s lagging education indicators and regional disparities, but with two important caveats.

The Education Reform Act of 2018 makes a start in remedying the inefficient allocation of resources by streamlining the supervising bodies of the education system. Consolidating regional offices into advisory councils will reduce inefficiency, but it does not address the issues of quality and employee retention, nor in truly addressing regional inequities in education delivery. To unpack this issue I would like to draw on Paige MacPherson’s report advocating charter schools as an alternative method to education delivery. While centralization holds the quantifiable advantage of short run savings, meeting the needs of rural, Mi’kmaw or African Nova Scotians is not as simple as adding board seats for these portfolios. Thus, the proposition of introducing charter schools as being more cost-effective and better at engaging local stakeholders should be highly appealing. With direct support from government in the forms of subsidies towards transportation and accreditation, education can be made more accessible for the province’s disparate rural and Indigenous communities. Over the long run this can stimulate productivity and growth across Nova Scotia; a substantially better investment than say, a new football stadium.

Now I would like to discuss the caveats I mentioned earlier. The first is that the Glaze report was released this past year, and it will take time and research to determine the impact of her recommendations, much less what is eventually implemented from them. Next, there is the issue that withdrawing direct government oversight may result in more unequal outcomes for marginalized communities by draining money from the already strained public education budget. Thus, the acceptable decision at this juncture is to implement a version of the Glaze report that is politically acceptable, and rigorously study its impact over the next several years. However, should the delivery of education remain sub-par, then perhaps it will be appropriate to revisit charter schools as a measure of allocating limited resources more efficiently and permitting autonomy in rural communities that will likely benefit from it.

As an Op-ed, this one runs fairly centrist, if inconclusively, but at the same time it is my contention that people should be inconclusive regarding the future of the Nova Scotia education system, as it holds many questions. Will the process of centralization continue? Will sustaining this process leave the department too top heavy, an issue that exists in its current form. What will the province’s population look like in the next few years? The suggestion of a teacher’s college may yield substantial benefits, but what will the timeline be for that institution? For now, this author is on the fence as to the outcome and is merely suggesting that better data is needed to formulate a proper decision, not one merely formed in the court of public opinion.

 

Good News About the Earth’s Forest: They’re Growing

By Jacob Friesen

Our planet has more trees now than it did 36 years ago. That is the key finding of a new study in Nature magazine. We often have a gloomy view of the state of the world’s forests: news of deforestation in the Amazon and severe forest fires around the world paints a grim environmental picture.

This study shows that picture to be incorrect. Using satellite data, it maps changes in tree canopy cover from 1982 to 2016 by continent, country, and climate zone. Asia experienced the greatest net gain in tree canopoy cover, with a net gain of 992,000 sq km, followed by Europe with a net gain of 741,000 sq km, North America with a net gain of 378,000 sq km, and Oceania with a net gain of 16,000 sq km. South America had a net loss of tree canopy cover of 431,000 sq km, and Africa had a net loss of 5,000 sq km. Three countries led the way in increasing net tree cover: Russia, with a net gain of 790,000 sq km; China, with a net gain of 324,000 sq km; and the United States, with a net gain of 301,000 sq km. At the climate zone level, the temperate climate zone had the greatest net gain in tree canopy cover, followed by, respectively, the Boreal, Subtropical, and Polar climate zones, while the Tropical climate zone had a net loss in tree canopy cover. In other words, loss of tree cover in regions classified as withing the tropical climate zone, especially South America, as compensated for by gains in tree cover in other regions.

In total, from 1982 to 2016, the area of the planet covered in trees increased by 2.24 million sq km, to 33 million sq km – a gain of 7.1 percent. That’s an are the size of Texas and Alaska combined. Gains in tree cover are being driven by a variety of factors, including less land being needed for agriculture, especially in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia, and increases in global temperatures allowing forests to push further in the direction of the poles. Meanwhile, much of the loss in tree cover is connected to agriculture.

The most important takeaway from this is that humans grow more trees than they chop down. While the factors driving deforestation are human-made, so are the key factors driving forest growth. As mentioned above, better farming practices and technological innovations have reduced the amount of land needed to produce food in several regions. Additionally, some of the increase in tree cover is the result of commercial activities, such as industrial timber plantations and mature palm oil estates. There has also been a considerable push for responsible environmental regulations during the period examined in the study. All this shows that industry, science and technology, and governments can effectively preserve and promote the environment. Moreover, the evidence of the last thirty years shows that economic growth and environmental health do not have to be at odds: global tree cover expanded even as economic growth lifted more people out of poverty than ever and humanity experienced the most peaceful, prosperous period in its history.

Halifax 2050: Part 2

By Samuel Kirsh

 

Understanding the Halifax of the coming decades also requires an understanding of provincial infrastructure and the industries that underpin the province. One of the biggest challenges facing Nova Scotia and the Maritimes provinces overall is the demographic shift that is occurring as an aging population slides the tax base out from under. Outmigration and stagnation limit the province’s ability to counteract this process, and tax rates that already outstrip other provinces mean the shortfall will have to be made up elsewhere. Two obvious routes, borrowing and renegotiating transfer payments, will not lead to long-term stability or growth in the province. What is needed is to reverse flows of outmigration and pursue equitable, province-wide growth. This can be “unlocked” in several ways, through a variety of methods. The two profitable directions I propose here are regulatory and investment based.

First, let’s deal with the regulatory aspect. Individually, the Maritime provinces are ranked only above the territories in terms of provincial GDP. But collectively, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Prince Edward Island represent over $115 billion of production, as well as over 2.3 million individuals. The waste and lost business due to Canada’s interprovincial trade barriers is a logical place to start; encouraging a regulatory framework that encourages trade in the Maritimes stands to boost business, free markets and net positive migration as firms grow in the region. The existing Atlantic Procurement Agreement could be renegotiated to increase its scope to include the private sector, however this would likely require an entirely new agreement. While the recently implemented Canadian Free Trade Agreement is a good start, it would likely yield greater benefit if the Maritimes negotiated collectively on regional regulations, given the difficulty of competing with much larger provinces such as Quebec or Ontario.

The next consideration is investment based. Historically, Nova Scotian industries have been based upon natural resource exploitation. Some examples include petroleum, natural gas, wood products, and seafood. Currently some of these industries are also Nova Scotia’s most lucrative exports. As the effort to reduce carbon emissions continues, several of these businesses will not be seen as favorably as they once were, despite their substantial economic contributions to the province and the nation as a whole. Given the changing political climate, perhaps this is an opportune moment to transform the Atlantic economy. This may be done by incentivizing alternative energy sources that harness the resource endowment of this region, thus stimulating infrastructure development and indirect demand from growth. Steps have been taken to increase the use of tidal power or wind power, but what is really needed is the impetus to jump start these cleaner initiatives. In maintaining the growth of Halifax into a major city, clean energy will act as a method of increasing employment into newly developed and continuously developing industries. A primary method of stimulating this investment could be reducing Nova Scotia’s tax burden and encouraging businesses to settle here. Over the near term this investment would lead to larger corporate and individual income tax revenues that could make up the temporary shortfall.

While technically these choices are not truly elements of urban planning, their implementation can positively influence the future urban landscape of Halifax and the Maritimes and consistent economic growth. Infrastructure and energy investment are two paths to secure both blue- and white-collar jobs and affirming the Atlantic provinces commitment to cooperation will enhance their governmental relationships and boost long-term effectiveness of policy. Further, these strategies will strengthen not only the metropolitan core of Halifax but also smaller communities throughout the province. Industries will situate themselves in geographically appropriate areas, thus distributing income in a geographic dimension as well as the social dimension.