With junior kindergarten rolling out to every elementary school in the territory next year, there are still concerns about where funding is coming from.
At a public meeting at the legislative assembly Thursday, a handful of educators brought up concerns about implementing new funding when existing programs in NWT schools are ‘historically underfunded’.
Almost $8.5 million in funding will go towards implementing junior kindergarten in the NWT for next year.
Of that, just under $5.1 million is a direct investment into junior kindergarten, while the remaining $3,375,000 will go towards purchasing classroom equipment and making renovations to existing classrooms.
But of that $5.1 million investment, only $2 million is new funding.
The rest comes from the reallocation of existing funds from school board budgets, meaning existing programs could face cutbacks.
“Let’s implement junior kindergarten, but let’s not do it at a cost to the other grades,” said John Stephenson, chair of the Yellowknife Education District No. 1.
“That’s where the additional $3 million would come from,” Stephenson said. “From the other K to 12 grade experience across the Northwest Territories.”
Stephenson says education authorities support implementing junior kindergarten in the territory, but only if the territorial government provides full funding.
“We believe it’s the responsibility of the government to pay for this additional grade of education,” Stephenson said. “And not cause reductions in funding in other aspects of the other grades.”
Scale back on other initiatives
Yvonne Careen also spoke at the meeting on behalf of the territory’s francophone school board.
She says if junior kindergarten isn’t fully funded by the territorial government, it would mean scaling back on some of the initiatives her school board has been working hard on.
“We’ll have to scale back on some of the cultural activities that we provide for our students,” Careen explained, adding that funding they put aside for professional development would also need to be reallocated.
NWT school boards have already incurred significant reductions according to Stephenson and Careen, most notably to the inclusive schooling program for children with special needs.
Careen says that junior kindergarten students are being removed from the funding formula for inclusive schooling.
This means that the GNWT is getting a smaller number of how many students need the program than what is a reality, which in turn means less funding is allocated for it.
“You cannot remove the junior kindergarten students from the funding formula for inclusive schooling because they will need inclusive services personnel,” said Careen.
She thinks the territorial government should wait until finances are in order before implementing more programs to fight over limited funds.
“We would prefer that the new initiatives that are being brought to the table that are costly be postponed to a few years from now when the fiscal situation may be better,” she said.
“We want the GNWT to realize that you can’t implement everything at the same time if you don’t have the resources to do so.”
Despite this, Careen is in favour of junior kindergarten programs moving forward.
“It’s a positive step,” she said. “Is there still room for improvement? Yes. But it’s a positive step in the right direction.”