(Editor's note: After this article was posted on Straight.com, the B.C. government agreed to mediation to try to end the teachers strike.)
As things stand now, the B.C. government has an incentive to encourage parents to put their kids in private schools.
That's because group 1 independent schools receive no government capital funding and only 50 percent of the operating funds per student that's granted in the public-school system.
Group 2 independent schools, which include elite institutions that spend more per capita than the public system, receive 35 percent of the operating funds. Again, there's no capital funding available, freeing the government of any responsibility to build private schools.
So every time a parent opts to put a child in a private school, the B.C. Liberal government saves money.
Therefore, Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender have an incentive to spurn the B.C. Teachers' Federation request for mediation to end the teachers strike.
That's because the longer this dispute drags on, more parents will examine private-school options.
The downside is that when kids are enrolled in private schools, it leads to greater segregation between the rich and poor. This undermines equality because wealthy parents put their efforts into improving schools that serve the elites rather than schools that serve everyone.
That's not good for society as a whole.
Private schools also cost parents a lot of money. It would be an unnecessary personal expense if there were sufficient collective will, including from the B.C. government, to provide outstanding education in the public system.
According to a chart on the Federation of Independent School Associations of B.C. website, the province spent nearly $145 million on these schools in 2000–01, which was the final year of the last NDP government.
By 2011–12, that figure had ballooned to $245.4 million. Over that period, independent-school enrollment increased by 27.8 percent.
One of those parents with a child in an independent school is the premier.
A public-school teachers strike won't cause personal discomfort for MLAs like the premier with children in private schools.
So the strike can be viewed as a positive thing from the government's perspective, particularly if it drives more kids into independent schools.
There's a way to balance this out, though.
Someone in the legislature could bring forward a private member's bill making it illegal for any sitting MLA to send their child to a private school.
That would create a disincentive for provincial cabinet ministers, some of whom will have children, to spurn a request for mediation to end a labour dispute that's seriously inconveniencing parents and students.
What's wrong with mediation, anyway? Unless, of course, there's money to be saved over the long run by avoiding it, and thereby driving up enrollment in independent schools.
(If you like this column, you may want to read the 2010 article "War on public school rages" by Donald Gutstein. It provides deeper insights into efforts to privatize education in B.C.)