The GNWT has committed to fully funding junior kindergarten, but don’t expect it to happen in time for the 2017-2018 school year when it rolls out across the territory.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod announced $1.5 million in funding for junior kindergarten in 2017-18 and an additional $2.7 million to fully fund it over the life of the current government.
But regular MLAs are concerned a funding shortfall for the upcoming school year will leave educational districts scrambling to free up funds of their own.
“My riding has agreed with implementing junior kindergarten from the beginning,” Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson told his colleagues Thursday.
“Unfortunately, the plan to fully implement the program across the NWT this year will come at a cost to the schools I represent. They are looking at programs that we’ll have to cut in order to offer the program.”
“When we do implementation, it must be fully funded from the start.”
Thompson also questioned if the government took into account additional costs for implementing junior kindergarten, such as staffing and busing.
On Wednesday, McLeod said the earliest the $2.7 million could become available is 2018-2019.
So when exactly will junior kindergarten be fully funded?
Education Minister Alfred Moses reiterated on Thursday that junior kindergarten will be fully funded across the territory, though he couldn’t identify a specific timeline.
“Junior kindergarten is expected to cost $5.1 million to implement,” he told MLAs in the legislature.
“The additional $2.7 million that was announced, along with the original investment of $1.5 million, plus $900,000 that we’ve identified internally within the department, will cover the implementation costs.”
Under the original implementation plan, the GNWT asked education authorities to cover $2.76 million through a reallocation of existing funding – an amount Moses says will now be covered by the $2.7 million in new funding.
However, an exact timeline for when that funding would become available wasn’t provided.
“Staff at the department is going to be contacting all the superintendents of all the boards,” Moses said.
“Once we get those initial discussions completed, I myself will have a meeting with all the board chairs to look at how we are going to be allocating this additional funding throughout the schools in the Northwest Territories.
“I can’t give him a timeline until we have those discussions with the superintendents and then the board chairs.”
Budget debates underway
MLAs will spend the next six weeks going over the budget with a fine-toothed comb.
Earlier this week, a committee of regular members criticized the budget for failing to address a number of the government’s mandates.
Regular MLAs outnumber cabinet, and would need at least 10 votes to successfully vote down the budget.
But if cabinet can get support from three of the territory’s 11 regular MLAs, the budget could pass as is.