No ‘better use’ for $1.8M

I was taken aback to hear North Side MLA Ezzard Miller say that he was against the annual grant which government pays to 11 private schools and that the $1.8 million might be better used elsewhere. On the face of it, this amount of money may sound like a lot to squander on those “wealthy” private schools.

However, when the facts are considered, one quickly realises that Mr. Miller’s comments either arise from an incredible ignorance of the situation, or from a deliberate, mischievous attempt to mislead the naive voting public. No matter which of the two scenarios promoted his comments, both are dangerous and irresponsible grounds for an influential public figure to base such statements.

Let’s put things into context: Government (by its own estimates) spends considerably more to educate a student in the public school system than is the case in the private schools … Government spends much more on the buildings and infrastructure of its schools than the private schools can afford to do … Government pays higher salaries to its teachers than private schools can afford to pay their staff. One wonders why the private schools provide an arguably better educational product than government can, for less money?

At a very conservative estimate, it costs government $15,000 each year to educate a student in the public system. Mr. Miller is well aware of the fact that – if the private schools did not exist – government would be obligated to provide an education for the 3,000-plus students which the private schools presently “educate for less.” By my reckoning, the education of these students alone would thus cost government $45,000,000 (yes, that’s $45 million) each year. Of course, if there were 3,000 more students to educate, government would have to build at least three more 1,000-student schools to accommodate them. Government’s dismal school-building record suggests that these new schools would cost government $300,000,000 (yes, that’s $300 million) to build!

Mr. Miller suggests that “the $1.8 million presently granted to 11 private schools might be better used.” Does he mean that we, the people could have used it as a down payment on former Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan’s settlement? Could we have used it to pay off [wrongly arrested Cayman] Judge Alexander Henderson? Should we “better” use it to make a down payment on the tens of millions of the people’s money spent on the Operation Tempura debacle? Maybe we could have used it as a part-payment for those civil servants who got paid full, bloated salaries for several years without striking a lick? The list could go on.

It is a very sad fact that, when government wastes public funds, no one ever seems to be held accountable. I would respectfully tell Mr. Miller that private schools could not exist if a similar lack of monitoring, frugality and accountability pertained.

In the light of the above, I trust that Mr. Miller realizes the inaccuracy of his ill-considered remarks. It would seem to me that $1.8 million might well be the best investment government could ever make towards education in the Cayman Islands.

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