Update – October 29: The Yellowknife school boards’ press release on which this story was based contained a critical mathematical error regarding the $4 million figure quoted, which should in fact read fractionally below $2 million. See this update for more information.
Yellowknife, NWT – Schools in Yellowknife say junior kindergarten will cost older students more than $4 million in funding if rolled out as planned.
The territory’s program for four-year-olds will be free to parents. The GNWT has asked education authorities to cover most costs of junior kindergarten themselves, by ‘reprofiling’ funds.
The government believes reallocating funds should not prove difficult. It argues education authorities have received more funding than was strictly necessary, by law, for a number of years.
“Only 5 per cent” of that additional funding will be affected, according to the GNWT.
Yellowknife’s education authorities dispute that assessment and say they cannot fund junior kindergarten without cutting back elsewhere.
In a joint statement on Friday, Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS) and the YK1 education district said those cuts would amount to a cumulative $4,080,969 withdrawn from the education of older K-12 students in the city, over the next three years.
“The financial impact of junior kindergarten rollout is equivalent to offering 14 grades of education with 13 grades of funding,” read the statement.
“The funding reductions for each of our districts are substantial and will have a real impact upon each classroom in Yellowknife.
“YCS and YK1 boards have met with both Yellowknife MLAs and government over the course of the past year, but have been unable to persuade the government to change its position on these cuts.”
Junior kindergarten is being introduced to smaller communities first, with a planned rollout for Hay River in 2015 and Yellowknife in 2016.
During Thursday’s session at the Legislative Assembly, MLAs warned junior kindergarten could also disrupt businesses and non-profit programs in Hay River.
“There are so many negative repercussions in the larger centres where we already have a very good focus on early childhood development,” Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen told the assembly.
“Please reconsider. Please take those resources and direct them to where there are no options for early childhood development in some of the smaller communities, and please don’t – with your wide, sweeping approach – ruin a good thing that’s going on in the larger and the regional centres.”
In response, education minister Jackson Lafferty said the department was “working very closely with organizations, whether they be early learning, the daycares, all those organizations that could be potentially impacted, whether it be positive or negative”.
In a document tabled last week, the GNWT said asking education authorities to reallocate funding is “the most effective and immediate way to offer this critically important … program,” given the “fiscal realities of the NWT”.
The territorial government added it will provide “start-up funding” of $15,000 per classroom, for the acquisition of materials and resources such as “sand and water tables, rest mats, building blocks and art supplies”.
Moose FM understands education authorities in Yellowknife have already begun to plan program and staffing cuts, in order to accommodate the expenses associated with junior kindergarten.
Those authorities say they support the ambitions of junior kindergarten, but not “at the expense of K-12 students”.
CJCD Moose FM News