MS & Q: Junior Kindergarten Confusion

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’ve heard more about junior kindergarten than any other issue in my 14 months as an MLA. There are people in Hay River who are philosophically opposed to junior kindergarten or believe it is not needed in Hay River, but I found that most residents are in support of JK. Only if it’s fully funded, however.

Today, we heard from the Finance Minister that junior kindergarten will be funded by the end of this Assembly. While I’m glad to hear that the government has moved from its position of drastic under-funding, I’m still concerned about the adequacy of this commitment. I’ve seen various estimates for the cost of implementing JK, all greater than the amount committed today. It’s also unclear if that amount includes all the costs associated with the renovations and equipment that will be needed to accommodate four‑year-old children. For schools that expect only two or three JK students, there are minimal costs associated with implementing it. However, for Hay River there are significant capital costs, operating costs and logistical challenges. In a CBC article today, the Minister is quoted as saying that although the committed to fund JK by the end of the Assembly, school boards can apply for the money and receive it in the fall; however, I’m not convinced it’ll be that simple.

School boards have to keep a small amount of money in the bank, a rainy day fund, so if there are unforeseen circumstances they can still make payroll, keep the buses running, and keep the schools open. I’ve been told my multiple school boards that these are the funds that ECE wants school boards to dip into to top off JK funding, and I’m concerned that ECE will deny the additional funding unless the school boards do so.

Mr. Speaker, I’m trying to get a handle on this JK situation, but it’s turning into a he said, she said situation. I’ll have some questions for the Minister of ECE later today and hopefully we can clear some of this up. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Questions

SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I spoke earlier about junior kindergarten. I just have some questions for the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment. I’m sorry to spring this on him, but I had to change my topic at the last minute.

I’ve heard varying numbers about what it’s going to cost to implement junior kindergarten. I was wondering what’s behind this disparity? There was a press release by the South Slave District Education Council that quoted a significantly higher number than the $2.7 million that Minister McLeod today said would top off funding for junior kindergarten, so I would like to hear from the Minister what is the number and what is the reason for these disparities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Education, Culture, and Employment.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Before the meetings that we had with all the board chairs and superintendents in December, there was a request for all our education authorities to come back and find money to help implement junior kindergarten. We’ve made an additional investment that brought the numbers down, so it is the 2.7 that we are looking for, thank you, just for confirmation.

SIMPSON: This highlights the problem with this whole junior kindergarten debate. I’ll go back to the boards, and they’ll come back to me with a different number, and so it’s just he said/she said, so it’s going to take some digging here. I’m not saying the Minister isn’t truthful. I’m just saying I’m getting different answers from different people.

So how will this $2.7 million roll out? Is it going to be $1.5 million the first year, $1.2 million the second year? Is there a plan for that yet?

HON. ALFRED MOSES: As you heard in the Budget Address, we have that initial investment of $1.5 million this year, and then we will be rolling out the 2.7 before the end of the 18th Legislative Assembly.

In terms of some funding, that other funding, working with our education authorities, we do fund our education authorities $152 million every year. We’ve asked our education authorities to look within their budgets to find about 2 per cent to help offset the costs. We believe that the education authorities have the leadership, the fiscal management skills, and the financial flexibility to be able to cover the remaining costs. As I mentioned to the Member and as we sent out letters to community leadership, all our education authorities have an accumulated surplus of over $10 million, and we’re also asking them to look within there, as well.

SIMPSON: From what I understand from the boards, this surplus is to cover unexpected costs, make sure they have a payroll for, you know, a month or whatever may be, so how are they expected to dip into these “rainy‑day” funds to cover the cost of implementing junior kindergarten? It’s a contingency fund. It’s not an operating fund.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Schools will be making their own decisions regarding the details of the classes, the teachers, and the programs that best meet the needs of their students. As I mentioned, we believe that our education authorities have the leadership and the financial management skills. They do it on a regular annual basis when enrolments are low, that they were able to shift things around, and we believe that our school authorities have the tools to do that.

SPEAKER: Masi. Oral questions. Member for Hay River North.

SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I can tell the Minister has had to answer a lot of these junior kindergarten questions.

‑‑‑Laughter

My final question is: what about the capital costs associated with implementing junior kindergarten? Is that coming out of this $2.7 million, or is there additional money that ECE has that will cover the full capital costs of implementing this? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. ALFRED MOSES: Yes, we do have additional money specifically for the play‑based learning resources as well as infrastructure. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.