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Vancouver school board’s rejection of corporate funding purely political

For four years now, the energy giant Chevron has been diverting dollars it takes in at the pump to help power children's minds.

The company has focused specifically on improving instruction in science, technology, engineering and math. Not a bad idea. The company hands over thousands to cash-strapped school districts around the world so they can buy microscopes and iPads and other materials for which they do not have the money.

Chevron calls it corporate responsibility. Others suggest there is motive to the company's generosity. Fuel Your School is effectively a fundraising campaign. The company puts up posters at participating gas stations informing customers that $1 from every purchase of 30 litres of gas or more goes toward school projects in the district. To some this is corrupt. Taking a cent from an oil company is equivalent to accepting blood money.

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The Vancouver School Board is one of those that has deemed itself above pocketing cash from a multinational to help buy supplies it cannot afford. Board chair Patti Bacchus, a member of Vision Vancouver, the left-leaning party that runs the city and school district, offered tenuous reasons for rejecting the company's overture to make the program available to the district.

She said the school board was not set up to accept corporate donations. Ms. Bacchus also said she was concerned about the "impact or influence" Chevron might have on what teachers are teaching and how they are teaching it.

Excuses with little to no validity.

The real reason the funding is being turned down is politics. Vision Vancouver thinks oil is evil, as are any companies associated with it. It's why Mayor Gregor Robertson is trying to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline. This business about not wanting Chevron to get inside Vancouver schools is complete fiction. This is not about maintaining the purity of the classroom, this is about ideology, pure and simple.

Ms. Bacchus constantly complains that the board does not get enough money from the provincial government. And yet here she is rejecting hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used to buy things students need, all because of rigid dogma. If I was a parent in the district, I would be furious.

Chevron is arms' length from the program, which is administered by the Canadian charity MyClassNeeds. Teachers submit project ideas to the non-profit, which decides what proposals get supported. (Most usually do). There are no corporate logos on the resource materials distributed, contrary to information being disseminated by the Vancouver school board. Parents are not encouraged to buy gas from Chevron. The company has zero control over who gets funded. There is no corporate advertising in the school. There is no attempt by Chevron to influence the curriculum or lesson plans of teachers, as the board has suggested.

When Vancouver rejected nearly $500,000 it could have accessed through the program this year, Chevron offered it to four other districts in Greater Vancouver, all of which welcomed the proposition with open arms. The four districts plus Surrey got a total of about $565,000 from the program in 2014, which was used to buy everything from salmon hatching and rocketry kits to computer software and calculators. The company intends to fund the program in Greater Vancouver to a similar amount next year.

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Schools are already submitting proposals. Burnaby Mountain Secondary is hoping to secure dollars to buy touchscreen tablets to assist in teaching math functions. Bayridge Elementary in Surrey is hoping to get funds to buy robotics kits for children in kindergarten to help develop technology and engineering skills. Parents who see the kids playing with cube-like objects a year from now will never know how they got them. Yes, it would be wonderful if the provincial government had money to underwrite every need in every classroom in the province, but, unfortunately, it operates in the real world, where there are limits to how much it can spend.

Since it started in 2010, Fuel My School has distributed more than $100-million worldwide. Over that period, only one school district has ever rejected the offer of funding under the program – Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver has become the moral arbiter of what happens in the classroom. But on this issue, the party (and its representatives) has its ideological head in the sand.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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