MR. CHAIRMAN (Mr. James DeWolfe): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome, everyone, to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts this 30th day of October. With us today, from the Department of Education - Special Education, Policy and Funding is the topic for today - are Darrell Youden, Mike Sweeney, Cindy Giffen-Johnson, Ann Power and Dennis Cochrane. We also have with us Elaine Morash from the Auditor General's Office. Without further ado I think we will go to Dennis Cochrane for a presentation.
MR. DENNIS COCHRANE: Mr. Chairman, thank you for the invitation to be here this morning to discuss the aspect of the Department of Education dealing with special education. As the chairman indicated, there are a number of people from the department here with me. We also brought Cindy Giffen-Johnson, who is from the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board. We felt it was important that you saw not only the departmental side of the operation but also what happens when these departmental policies and funding formulae are applied and actually worked out in a particular school board. Cindy was willing, and we want to thank her for coming this morning.
I will make a few comments, if I can, and it may answer some of the questions before they're posed, but we're certainly open to any questions that you may have. If we don't have the information with us, we will certainly undertake to get that to you as soon as we possibly can. Since 1996, there has been a policy in the province that we've been following with regard to special education. It was developed in conjunction with the Act and the regulations. Much of the debate about special education comes from what we call inclusive schooling. You will often have an interpretation of that and what people think that means.
In our statement of principles, it talks about inclusive schooling. To quote from it,
"An inclusive school is a school where every child is respected as part of the school community, and where each child is encouraged to learn and achieve as much as possible . . . a place where all children could learn and where differences are cherished for the richness that they bring."
It's extremely important that we remember that inclusion is not about a place where students learn, it's about the planning and implementing the appropriate programming for students based on their needs. There is a little difference when you look at the definition and what people, perhaps, might think it is. It really revolves around what kind of a plan do we need to serve the needs of that particular student.
Some of the things we look at, with regard to special education in the province, is our funding formula and how we attempt to provide a certain amount of money into the school system to deal with special needs children. A few of the statistics are interesting in that regard. About 20 per cent of the students in Nova Scotia schools receive some kind of support services. Now that may count for double accounting, someone may be involved in a reading recovery program and then also have some other aspect of resource teacher help or assistance provided to particular students, but basically 20 per cent of our students, and we have 151,000 students in the Province of Nova Scotia. That sounds very high but it is one kind of service or another, and it may not be a service for a full year. It may be speech language pathology for a portion of the year, it may be resource help on a particular aspect of their math program or whatever.
Twelve per cent of students receive resource services, and that's getting more specific. About 2.9 per cent have what we call an IPP, which is an individual program plan by which the teaching professionals, the support services, the parents, the administration, the district staff sit down and draft a program to identify what that student needs as far as support and what they need as a program so that, hopefully, they can achieve objectives that are set individually for them. About 2.9 per cent of our students are on IPPs. About 0.5 per cent receive severe learning disabled services. About 0.4 per cent receive behavioural support in our system.
The ratio of special education resource teachers per pupil has steadily improved over each of the last four years as the enrolments have declined and as funding has been maintained or increased. Before, we had one resource special education teacher for every 330 students in 1998-99, and that's now gone to one for every 250. So there has been an improvement in the ratio of special education resource teachers to students. The number of teacher assistants, in that time, has significantly increased. In the last eight years, we have seen a 100 per cent increase in the number of teacher assistants in the Province of Nova Scotia, going from around 750 to about 1,400-some over the period of time.
We now have the largest number of teacher assistants per student in Atlantic Canada. It's not a phenomenon isolated just to Nova Scotia, it's all across the country, and certainly ministers, over the years, have discussed what seems to be a growing trend. The number of special education teachers in our system has increased by 15.7 per cent since the introduction of the policy in 1996, while the student enrolment in that same period of time has reduced by about 10,492.
What we do is provide funding to school boards based on their total population. When we allocate funding to school boards, in Nova Scotia the average funding per pupil is about $5,170 per year per student. What we provide for special education is an allocation based on the entire student population. It's very difficult to assess the exact number who are accessing services at any one point in time, and therefore we have an allocation of, currently, in this particular year, about $304 per student that's given to every student in the system by which the boards then supplement the services they're providing for every other student. In other words, the $5,170 is given for every child including the special needs child, then an additional $304 for each and every child added to the system after that.
In addition to that, our total special education funding has gone from $40.8 million in 1998-99 to $46.129 million in 2002-03. In addition to that, the Province of Nova Scotia supports about $7.7 million to APSEA, which is another division, the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, which provides special services to the visually impaired and the hearing handicapped. On top of that we provide some money to the institutions where a number of our children are. For example, we do provide an education grant to the IWK that they use to provide educational services for students who might be in that institution for a period of time. We do provide some to Justice for their corrections facilities and so on. They're not all special needs allocations by any means. We have some professional development money and we've obviously been spending money over the years with regard to reading recovery.
Basically, the per student base grant has increased by about 11.4. In the next year - and I should refer, I guess, first of all, to the Special Education Implementation Review Committee, which was appointed by the minister in May 2000. It involved 22 different partners who were working together to try to decide, after five years of the program and the policy and the Act and the regulations coming into effect in 1996 - there was a review committee looking at what we're providing and how we're doing. It was to report on the status of the implementation. That committee was made up of 22 different members. You can imagine the challenge of the chair in trying to bring some kind of consensus to 22 member groups, most of whom had a vested interest in the particular program. That involved a number of the groups that access our services. There were four members of the NSTU who were members of that particular committee.
They did a huge consultation in the Province of Nova Scotia. There were about 1,300 responses to questionnaires that were sent out. Focus groups were held across the province, in fact there were 47 of those. Thirty-four recommendations came forward from the committee. Since that time, we've been working, putting together the minister's response to those recommendations. Many of the recommendations involved money, and we've done three different initiatives that would relate to that. While the report was in its draft form in 2001-02, an additional $3 million was provided in general funding for special needs budgets to the boards. The Learning for Life document refers to $2.5 million in 2003-04, coming up. Also, there were several items on the negotiation table that dealt with a number of the recommendations of the Special Education Implementation Review Committee.
Now that those processes have been completed, we expect a full response by the minister, in November of this year, to the various recommendations, the 34. Many of the recommendations have been dealt with, they have been implemented, and there will be a summary of that activity, as I mentioned, at the end of next month.
I can speak and I will, probably in response to some of your questions, of where the $2.5 million is going to be used in 2003-04. That's part of a three-year plan that's going to bring $17.3 million into the special needs allocation in the Province of Nova Scotia over the next three years. We often hear from boards about the funding gap, and that's the difference between what shows on our books as $46 million going into special education and what they claim they spend. A couple of things must be remembered. Allocations are given to boards and boards then decide where they want to create their priorities and where they want to spend the money. Regardless of the gap, there's only one place they get their money - it comes from the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, either on a provincial tax base or on a municipal rate that's struck. The board, within that envelope, can spend the amount of money they feel necessary on the various areas.
Now, there's no question, as they spend more in one area, they have to look at other areas and where they're going to be able to make adjustments, and no one on this side of the room and I'm sure probably no one on that side of the room would indicate that we have enough money. I've never heard anyone yet in public education indicate that there's enough money. We would all like more - we obviously have to deal with how much money we're able to attract to education and what we're able to do with it.
One of the things that can't be forgotten is that the $5,170 is given to every child, including special needs children and then through the top-up comes, per student, about $304 as I mentioned earlier.
It's a rather complex system. You have a huge binder that was circulated to you that talks a lot about the review processes, the appeals that can go forward. It talks about our programs and our policies. It gives a copy of the special education review report and also the Learning for Life document that has been widely circulated in the province, particularly the Success for all Students portion that's there.
What I would like to do is open the floor to any questions that anyone might have. I'll attempt to answer a number of them, but I have a huge number as one of the members indicated. I will start and, as we get into the specific details, I have four people here who are probably more qualified than I to speak on various aspects of this policy, but as a team we'll attempt to answer your questions and, as I indicated earlier, if there's something that we aren't able to provide, we will undertake to get you that information as quickly as we possibly can.
It's a very sensitive area of public education. It's near and dear to the hearts of parents and teachers, and I think the bottom line is that all the people in the system and all the people who support the system and access it are very concerned about the services that are provided in our jurisdictions for special education students. We try to reach a balance - the boards are part of that balance, the parents are part of that balance, and our teachers and our professionals do an excellent job of trying to deliver services to a very diverse population that has varying degrees of need. There's never a perfect system, I can assure you, and even if we had huge amounts more money, it would take us a while to get the professionals that we need to work in our system to fill up some of those gaps that people have identified.
So, with that, we'll open the floor to any questions you might have and we will certainly attempt to provide answers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Deputy Cochrane and just before we start that, I want to introduce the members of the committee for the benefit of some of your staff who perhaps don't know everyone in the room, beginning with the real Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and perhaps Mr. Estabrooks, you can start off the introduction.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm Jim DeWolfe, Vice-Chairman and also with us is Mora Stevens who is the Clerk for the Committee. We'll start with 20-minute rounds again and Mr. Estabrooks is leading off.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Thank you and welcome to the Nova Scotia Legislature. I want you to know that I usually sit in that chair as the chairman, as the deputy chairman said, and I requested permission to be here today because when I had a real job, in a previous career, I can tell you that this is a topic that is a real concern to front-line people in the education business - teachers, learning centre people and, of course, school principals.
But I must tell you that there's a great deal of frustration and at times a great deal of anger because this is another one - and it's a good one - a report that came forward in June, 2001. If you look at the people who participated, that cross-section of people, and it's no reflection on the fact that there are people outside the department involved, but it's of real importance when this sort of committee is struck, that they are there - Sandra Himelman in particular, Iris Peet from the Halifax Regional School Board. and other people I can mention.
I'd like to address my first question to Ms. Power, if I may. I thank you for appearing here. I want to read a comment which comes out of Page 9 in this document, which I have a lot of time for. As a practising school administrator, I can tell you I've been studied to death, but this report was necessary, well done, and a cumulative job.
This comes from Page 9: "Special education programming and services are a vital part of the education system. They are the people, programs, and material resources that support students with special needs and help ensure that every child is respected as part of the school community and encouraged to learn and achieve to his or her potential."
Ms. Power, there were 34 recommendations. The delay, the drag time, has been frustrating, from teachers I have heard from. Have you heard from any other members of the committee that you served with - you were on that committee - have you heard from any other members of the committee, have you heard from any other teachers, practising educators, where's the response from the minister on this report?
MS. ANN POWER: Yes, we continue to meet with many of the members of that committee. We have a committee called the Special Education Programs and Services Committee, which is a standing committee at the Department of Education which includes many of the members who were on the review. We have met with them, discussed the recommendations, discussed an appropriate course of action with regard to the school boards and with regard to the department. We've met with the Student Services coordinators across the province as well to look at what's feasible for them to be able to move forward on many of the recommendations, and we've also moved forward on some of the recommendations already, some of which were already in progress as we drafted them.
So it's not as if there hasn't been any movement, however, we recognized that there was a fair bit of funding which was identified through the report which was needed to make a big difference if we were going to implement many of the recommendations. They required new teachers, new professionals, and also some money which would be available to the school boards to be able to assist them in moving forward with innovative programming.
In order to do that, we recognized that it was going to be a large budget issue. It wasn't something that the department was able to do right off the bat as soon as the report was finished. Learning for Life has just been announced and in that there is more of a multi-year plan which will address the type of funding that we needed. So while we weren't able
to suddenly put in a lot of money, we have identified how that will be done and have taken time to ensure that it's put in the right places.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, but you didn't answer my question. Because of my current position, I hear from teachers. You said you talked to other members of the committee and I can tell you and assure you - and I've said this to the minister, and the deputy knows where I'm coming from with this - I think sometimes people in the Department of Education spend too much time talking to each other. Have you heard from practising classroom people about what happened to the 34 recommendations? How come we aren't hearing what's going to happen? Because I'm aware of the fact that the word "immediate" was in that report and I didn't count them as I was reading through it, but immediacy was one of the key issues. So, have you heard in the interim between June 2001 and November 2002 - have you heard from practising teachers on the delay?
MS. POWER: Well, I work with practising teachers all the time. We do in-servicing, we're in schools . . .
MR. ESTABROOKS: Have they complained to you?
MS. POWER: Well, I don't know - they've certainly asked, teachers have asked, what's going to happen with the report, when is the department going to release the recommendations and so on. The people on the Special Education Implementation Review Committee are not people within the department either - they are people from school boards and there are teachers on that committee as well and other government employees, advocacy groups and so on. It's not an in-department . . .
MR. ESTABROOKS: So you find nothing wrong with the fact that, using your terms, it was an appropriate course of action to wait this long before there's a response from the minister? And I thank the deputy for telling us that in November we will finally get a response from the minister on the recommendations from June 2001.
MS. POWER: Well, if you're asking me would I have preferred to have had that announcement earlier, I think, yes; if we had had access to that amount of money earlier last year, then yes, that would have been preferable. But we didn't have access to it and certainly as the Director of Student Services, having a multi-year plan now being able to move forward is something which we're really looking forward to.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Okay, thank you. Mr. Chairman, if I may continue, one of the committee's 34 recommendations was for a $20 million immediate injection into the system which would continue in subsequent years. Recently I followed the minister around the province because I wanted to hear what she's saying directly. I've heard the announcements, I've read about the follow-up in the press. My question to you, Ms. Power, again is, as someone who's daily involved with teachers on this committee and aware of the needs
particularly of special needs children around this province, are you satisfied with the fact that the $17.3 million over the next three years will ensure that every Nova Scotian child with special needs, that their needs will be met? That they will be properly nurtured, supported and able to achieve, as the report says, to his or her own potential? That's $17.3 million over 3 years, when the committee recommended $20 million immediately in June 2001.
MS. POWER: One of the issues that we have and the committee recognized this, was that we were going to have difficulty addressing that immediately. We were going to have difficulty recruiting; we already have problems in the province getting the experts that we need in the areas that we need them. We are entering into a situation where we have a number of teachers retiring and when we deliberated about how we were going to implement this, the plan that was agreed to was to look at it over time. The committee itself agreed that we should look at this as a lockstep approach and although the recommendations stayed as they were, we basically said we wanted that to be the target. Everyone on the committee agreed that we should move in a multi-year approach and in 2001-02, the department added an extra $3 million into the grant to boards to be able to assist them in moving forward.
In some ways, if we put $20 million in, we'd have difficulty recruiting people to actually be able to fill those positions. This way we can work with universities - we've started to work with universities, for instance, to put in a new program for master's teachers in the area of curriculum which has a concentration in resource teaching and we have a large cohort of teachers going through - approximately 90 right now - in a program that we designed with the universities and the school boards to ensure that it meets the needs of teachers in the classroom and that it's very practical for their needs. So, we're trying to put things in place to be able to allow us to access the expertise that we need and we need some time to do that.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you. I can assure you that I continue to encourage young people to join this profession - teaching, that is, not this profession; I don't even know if this is a profession - because it is a wonderful one.
Ms. Power, if I may continue with you - and, Mr. Cochrane, I'm not neglecting you, I will eventually turn my attention, if time allows, to you - my question again is, I'd like to take issue, and I have, with the minister, with two of the specific things announced by Miss Purves on September 17th. At that time, Minister Purves mentioned increased funding for reading recovery and $6 million for pilot projects. Can you tell me where, in this report, those two actions were recommended by that committee of experts, well-recognized educators from around the province?
MS. POWER: Yes, I guess there are two answers to that. One is that all through the report we talk about early intervention, we talk about the need for proactive approaches, we talk about the need for innovation, the need for flexibility for the boards to be able to have the type of programming options that they need. We talk about issues such as autism, major issues that teachers have identified and were identified very clearly in the 1,300 responses and 47 focus groups around behaviourial issues and the difficulty of meeting increased needs in that area and the current lack of services that we are trying to address in that area. The $6 million in relation to pilot projects is related to that. While the recommendations may not have said we want pilot projects, basically you can see it all through the report.
Reading recovery is a response to early intervention in reading and writing. There is no dispute around the fact that it is highly successful in our province and across the world. So we are very interested in ensuring that we go - and again you will see that in the report - with research-validated types of approaches which are not based on guess work but based on actual research and actual results.
The second point that I'd like to make in relation to that is that Learning for Life in student success is not necessarily just a response to the special education implementation review. You can certainly see that many of the responses of government in Learning for Life were related to that but also it is based on other analyses that we have done; it's based on the minister and what she hears from her constituents and people across the province as well and other areas. Learning for Life is not the response to the special education implementation review.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, let's get my bias out of the way. Pilot projects, in my opinion, on this topic, are a waste of time and money. The problem has been identified. You don't have to be Einstein to know that when it comes to this particular problem in the education system, we are aware as practising teachers - let me correct myself - they are aware as practising teachers.
I wonder if you could tell me, I mean we have a committee of experts. The word pilot project, in spite of what you said, Ms. Power, is not there, yet we have allocated $6 million for pilot projects. Now perhaps this could be unfair so I will turn to Mr. Cochrane. Who made the decision, Mr. Cochrane, to take $6 million of this and go on the pilot project route?
MR. COCHRANE: It's an excellent question and one of the things we didn't want to see happen, we didn't want to see $20 million passed over to boards without any sense of where it should be dedicated because they are already claiming that they are spending $20 million more than we give them. So what could have happened is the $20 million could have gone back to the boards and filled up the other envelopes where they have obviously taken money from to provide special needs children with support. Quite frankly, we weren't interested in filling up the pot that may have related to some other administrative structure or whatever else. We wanted to see the money go directly to serve this particular population.
As a result, we felt that if the boards had innovative ideas or other ways that they wanted to deal with the special needs population, we would look at those pilot projects in an effort to expand the continuum of services that we have now. We weren't interested in making the budget whole again for it to go back into other facilities or other departmental or board department expenditures, we wanted to make sure it got dedicated to this population. So that's why the special needs allocation of $6 million over three years was designed for pilot projects.
Now, a number of things can come forward that boards may be doing that they want to enhance with regard to pilot projects, and we would certainly look at that, but it was really meant to be dedicated funding so that it ended up for truly the population that we were trying to help as a result of the infusion of money into this particular document and this particular program.
MR. ESTABROOKS: The concern we always have with pilot projects is how much of that money is direct student dollars, acronym of the day, DSD? Ms. Giffen-Johnson, I attended a press conference in Hants West where you were in attendance.
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: Right, I remember you. I knew I had met you before.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Yes, well, I have that lasting effect. At Hants West that day, it's been typical of press conferences lately, the minister introduces some people and sits down and all the details, the flesh on the bones - excuse the expression - is provided by people like Mr. Cochrane and, of course, people in the field such as yourself. Of the money that has been allocated to the Annapolis board - and I know Dr. Gunn will have lots to say on this because whether he will admit or not, Dr. Gunn and I know each other - of the money that you have been assigned in your particular pilot project, how many of those dollars go directly to students?
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: For our behavioural pilot, the intervention project that we've been given, the actual $25,000 that we have been allocated, at the moment . . .
MR. ESTABROOKS: And have you made any decisions, or has Dr. Gunn made any decisions on how that $25,000 is going to be spent?
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: Yes, oh yes. We've made the decision. We are going to use that to help, because it was to develop a pilot, it wasn't to actually begin direct intervention with the students and . . .
MR. ESTABROOKS: No, I understand that.
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: . . . because of our staffing situation with our own student services staff, I wanted to use that money specifically to hire a person to help me facilitate the project and get that going, to be a liaison between the schools and between the day treatment facilities that we are intending to run beginning in January.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Excuse me, but if I have a student at risk in my Grade 8 class and I'm the vice-principal and I've heard about this pilot project, I'm going to contact you and you're going to tell me that the $25 million - $25 million, excuse me, I wish - the $25,000 has been used to hire staff?
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: Well, as a vice-principal with Grade 8 students in the past, I know what you would be asking and what the intent would be behind that question. At this point, it's critical if we want to make the program work, we have to have someone who can facilitate the direct intervention between the schools and the program. We do not want the schools, as has been the case sometimes in the past when we have children with severe problems, they are suspended and that's the last time we've had to deal with them. The point of this project is that we have a person to facilitate - who knows what they are doing with program planning, behaviour planning, to involve the schools, the teachers and the administrators, as well as the parents in a direct intervention, direct liaison, direct planning team with the teachers and the support psychologists, social workers - who we have involved in the intervention program. So we felt this piece was absolutely critical. We have, as a board, out of my student services budget, provided the funding for the teacher at the base within the early intervention program. So, over and above what the department has given us, we, ourselves, have made a commitment to do this combined with Community Services and Justice funding.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Giffen-Johnson. The time has lapsed for the NDP caucus. We will now turn to the Liberal caucus. Mr. Downe.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, first, if I may make an introduction, if I'm permitted to do so. In the gallery, I'm pleased to have four individuals from the South Shore, from the Bridgewater area, Catherine Methaven, Chairman of Pathways, which is an organization that recently held a symposium in our area dealing with this particular issue, for which we had hundreds of individual parents show up. We have Joanne Roy, as well, Mary Gammon and Wendy MacLeod. These are parents of children who are experiencing challenges in the educational system and they are concerned to the extent where this body, Pathways, has organized and has been very proactive in trying to deal with concerns relative to the educational system and how these children, in fact, are falling through the cracks in many instances or that there's lack of funding to deal specifically with concerns of individual students and, thirdly, the fact that if the system doesn't do it, they are forced to go to the private sector to find ways to help those children and not all of them can afford to do so. So I will be asking questions that they in fact have actually given directly to me and I would hope
that in responding to these questions you will realize that they're coming from an organized body as well as supported by our caucus with regard to the specific areas.
The first one I want to ask is not necessarily related to them but I did note that the deputy minister indicated that the school boards are saying they're spending $20 million more than they receive. Are you planning on a deficit for education this year? As a Finance Critic, I don't understand what you're saying.
MR. COCHRANE: I must say the boards have been extremely good in the last two or three years in dealing with potential deficits. It's always a question of funding. If you look at the $46 million and then they add up all that they spend, they claim that they're spending more than we're giving them and that could be from a number of things in the formula. For example, and let's use any one of the areas, a lot of their budget was struck on a formula in 1996 and it dealt with the number of students, number of square feet, number of buildings and so on. For example, if a board has chosen for some reason to consolidate the number of schools, then that money stays with the board and they can allocate it wherever else they want. So what they have been able to do as a result of a number of efficiencies over the years, they've been able to assign this money and in many cases the special needs budget does dictate that more money be spent there. So it's really an accounting procedure as to how we give it and how they decide to spend it. They shape how they want that to go in their own board.
One of our concerns was, and that's where the $20 million comes from, very often the references to $20 million, and we really weren't interested in just assigning it to a board and let them pay for what they've already been paying for and perhaps go back and do something else in facilities or something else in administration or whatever. So that's really where that whole discussion comes from and we're thankful that they recognize the needs that a number of parents have been bringing to them and have been able to find a way to allocate the funding and that's their discretion within their envelope obviously.
MR. DOWNE: On September 12, 2001, the Special Education Implementation Review Committee released its recommendations. They talked about an immediate injection of $20 million in the fiscal year 2002-03. Just short snappers here, can you explain to me exactly, out of the $20 million that was highly recommended to go into that program, how much actually went into the budget for 2002-03 because we're talking about $17.3 million over the next three years. What's in there today?
MR. COCHRANE: In 2001-02, which is while the report was actually being drafted and before the report came because as you know we strike the budget in, hopefully, February of 2001 for 2001-02. There was a $3 million infusion immediately at that time without the report being finalized and then last year obviously that was in the base so it was there. There was no huge addition last year. In fact, I don't think there was any significant addition other than the salary increases for teachers and so on that go through this process. Then for this
year obviously, 2003-04, we've got a certain number, obviously more dollars that are coming into the system. So at that point before the $20 million recommendation, $3 million was put in. The place was kind of held that year and then this is the year that we're trying to find the extra resources to put in.
MR. DOWNE: So in actual fact there is virtually no improvement in actual dollars being spent on children with special educational needs over and above what was currently already in place?
MR. COCHRANE: The extra $3 million was put in in anticipation of the report, that's correct and then last year there was no extra increase. This year, obviously, there's a significant amount coming.
MR. DOWNE: That particular report indicated that they needed an immediate injection of $20 million and you're indicating now that there will be an additional $17.3 million over three years. So we're talking about a little over $5.5 million to $6 million, $5.5 million per year. I don't know if you're going to be allocating it on an equal basis or if you're going to have an upfront large amount or is it a smaller amount going in in the next budget?
MR. COCHRANE: It's $2.5 million in 2003-04 and then it will go to another $6 million on top of that in 2004-05 and then in 2005-06 there will be another $8.9 million for a cumulative of $17.4 million into the system over the next three years.
MR. DOWNE: So we're now realizing that early intervention is a key component to the success outcomes of those particular reports. You're saying for the next three years, certainly this current year and next year there's virtually none going in because you have salary adjustments in there as well. I mean you basically have a flatline budget and in the next budget you probably have to absorb your salary adjustments that are negotiated so you really don't have a true growth in your budget. So how can you say there's going to be any real dollars allocated to those children? In other words, we're allowing the system to sit back and allow those individual students to go through the system and not truly address the problem that has been reported to you and indicated that this is an immediate crisis that we have in our educational system.
MR. COCHRANE: The $2.5 million that will be in 2003-04 is new money on top of any money we need to pay the negotiated salary agreements. In this particular year we put 2 per cent in as a notional amount and we'll see when the arbitrator is done whether that's going to fit but we will be budgeting for the increases as a result of the collective agreement and the discussion and the $2.5 million is on top of that. For example, we'll engage an extra number of speech language pathologists, psychometrists, psychologists and resource teachers,
whatever we can get, plus whatever the boards bring forward as staffing needs as a result of the pilots.
I want to make one comment that all of our money in special needs, for example the project that Miss Giffen-Johnson referred to, was paid for out of the code of conduct funding. So they're developing the program under code of conduct. They will probably now come forward under the pilots and look for the actual implementation of that particular program. So there is a sequence and we have a number of pockets of resources that don't appear in this $2.5 million or in the $3 million, but the $2.5 million in 2003-04 is new money on top of whatever we would have in our budget as a result of the increases in salaries that may be needed as a result of the arbitration award.
MR. DOWNE: Time is an issue here. We talk about 20 per cent of students needing these special services in the Province of Nova Scotia. Other reports have indicated between 20 per cent and 26 per cent of Canadian students could be using these particular programs. Yet 12 per cent of them receive the IPP program.
MR. COCHRANE: No, 2.6 per cent; 12 per cent were receiving some kind of resource support . . .
MR. DOWNE: I see. So all those don't add up to 20 per cent?
MR. COCHRANE: No, no.
MR. DOWNE: Are all those children being addressed now? Are they all being looked after now in regard to meeting the needs that they currently have within the educational system so that they can personally feel they are being respected in the educational system? Can you say that?
MR. COCHRANE: I would like to think that they are.
MR. DOWNE: No, but can you say that?
MR. COCHRANE: I guess you can't guarantee anything, but what is in place, for example, 2.6 per cent of our population have an IPP. They would access a huge variety of programs, but there would be a number of other students, for example, who wouldn't have an IPP who may be accessing the resource teacher for three days a week, or three hours a week or three periods a week on extra help in math. There may be another 20 per cent of our children in Grade 1 in most of our boards who are accessing reading recovery. When you add up all the access to special services, about 20 per cent of our students are getting access to special services. The degree of access and the amount of service they get varies. Obviously, if we had more, we would provide perhaps more support and more time, but 20 per cent are accessing one kind of service or another in the system.
MR. DOWNE: Certainly the report of the Special Education Implementation Review Committee highly recommended those extra dollars be put in there immediately because we have a huge crisis in our educational system with regard to this issue. You mentioned the IPP. There are some students, the IPP basically can't meet any outcomes, you know, they can't meet certain levels of outcomes. You have a standard level and then you have the IPP level. Before you used to have what they call the IMP level which was really in between the two and so my concern is that we've established a crack here. You either are forcing children to move into the IPP program that maybe are not at that level and yet they can't fit into the standardized program. Why did you create that crack in the system and eliminate the IMP program that meets the needs of the children who are halfway or in between the IPP and the standardized program?
MR. COCHRANE: I will probably pass it to Ann as well, but I will make an initial comment. An IPP is an Individual Program Plan by which the system and all the parents, teachers, resource teachers, everyone would look at that child and their needs and set reasonable goals for that child to accomplish and to achieve so that the bar isn't way up here and they're here and they know they'll never get there, so it varies. Some students in an IPP would have a much higher goal as far as the achievement is concerned depending upon their abilities and so on. A number of other students who may need an adapted program in mathematics or resource intervention in literacy or reading recovery wouldn't be on an IPP, they would have an adapted program in one subject or another. So the system is designed to reflect whatever the student might need without putting them all in the same box. In other words there is a variety of program access that's needed to deal with the child's levels of achievement.
MR. DOWNE: I agree with not putting them all in the same box. The concern I've heard from parents is that in fact there are two boxes that you can get into and maybe there's another area that we're missing and I would encourage the staff to meet with the parents who are here today to talk about that third level that could be there. I would ask if you would mind providing to me how much is actually being spent on special education and specific programs at a later date if you could provide that.
I want to move on to the Early Intervention Program. As you have indicated, there's never enough money in the system and even though the report indicated that the crisis is there in our educational system, we've known it for a long time. We talked about it in 1996. There's a huge crisis. We're now talking about virtually no money or very little money going into the system to deal with the early intervention initiatives that need to be dealt with - a little over $2 million going in next year of the budget that's announcing $17.3 million.
My question is what happens to the students who are not picked up on the Early Intervention Program because we don't have the system in place to pick those children up or by the time you get the money in? What are we doing with those students who have missed, you know, who have not been picked up in the Early Intervention Program and are going
through the system and all of a sudden they run into a roadblock, they realize they cannot read properly, they're not up to the speed of the class, they cannot function with literacy and so on and so forth, what are we doing with those children? How are you catching those or are we just simply pushing them through the system?
MR. COCHRANE: That's an interesting debate.
MR. DOWNE: I don't want to get into a debate, I've got a limited period of time. I just want an answer.
MR. COCHRANE: The question of pushing people through the system is the interesting debate.
MR. DOWNE: Well, that's happening, as we know.
MR. COCHRANE: There are a number of initiatives that are there now that we're trying to deal with a number of our children who have special needs. Early intervention is also conducted very often by other government departments. I mean we don't deal with children, we deal with them at a certain age when they enter the school system. There are a lot of programs out there being provided through the Department of Health or the Department of Community Services and so on that deal with a number of early interventions in children before they get to the school system.
In our package in what was announced there are a number of initiatives that are going to pick up and provide more service for a number of children. The class size initiative shouldn't be lost on the fact that - I mean there are special needs children in those classrooms too and if you're one child in a class of 33, there's a different level of service than you get if you're one child in a class of 25 and, you know, we would like to have that a different number even then.
The Reading Recovery Program is a very positive one. We pick up Grade 1 children and it takes basically 20 per cent of the children in Grade 1 and it's the lower 20 per cent as far as our literacy skills are concerned and provides a pretty concentrated intervention for that whole year with those children. The success rate is fairly good and many of those children don't have to access resource services later on which has been very, very positive. The Active Young Readers program is designed to provide extra materials all the way through elementary school for children who may have difficulty, and every child actually, to enhance their reading levels.
MR. DOWNE: To take you off your stride just for a second, deputy, the question is if a student is missing the early intervention, how and when will they be picked up in the system?
MR. COCHRANE: Well, obviously, the teachers are constantly evaluating the children in what they're able to do and if it's a significant issue, then obviously they'll access the testing services that are available through the various boards and if it's severe, there will be the development of an IPP. Otherwise, they may access resource services and so on. They may be looking for the services of a speech language pathologist or whatever . . .
MR. DOWNE: So it's left totally to the teacher to assess that individual and what proof do we have that that is actually being done in light of the fact that we've had children go through the system and I've had parents in my office where their son was a Grade 12 graduate who could not read at a level of Grade 6 and that system allowed him to go through. So where is the Early Intervention Program there and why is it different today than it was a year ago?
MR. COCHRANE: I think the additional resources are going to help with regard to that and there's no question this has happened.
MR. DOWNE: These resources that we do not have today and will have $2 million for 20 per cent of the students in the educational system of 151,000 students.
MR. COCHRANE: You must remember that $2 million is new money on top of an existing budget of about $808 million, $46 million of which is dedicated to special services. So it's not bare bones $2 million, it's going to build on a structure that's already there. Just before I go back to the question of the teacher, it's not just up to the teacher. The teacher often sees the red flag and then accesses people like Cindy and other professionals in the system to help them determine what the child levels of achievement are, what areas they may have special needs. So it's a team effort in order to deal with this.
For example, if a child was having trouble reading and maybe that particular child, you would like to have them get resource help when it's identified but because of a limited number of resources they may not get four hours a week. They may get an hour. They may wait a month rather than getting immediately accepted into the system or they may wait even longer. So I think the extra money and the extra resources are going to provide better service and hopefully build on what we've got and pick up students earlier and provide better service.
MR. DOWNE: What are you putting in place to ensure the identification of those children who are at risk? What specifically are you putting in place to ensure that those children are picked up?
MR. COCHRANE: Obviously when we look at reading recovery, when students are referred, we're going to see their levels and, you know, that's the literacy one and that's where many of these problems first appear and we begin to see this. There is much better identification of problems of children before they enter the system even, which is a positive
thing. We're always struggling to provide the level of service that people may be hoping to get or expecting to get or be led to believe they're going to get.
We are doing a great deal more testing. Obviously as we provide professionals in the system and we look at psychologists and psychometrists and so on, we're going to provide better assessment tools than we currently have. Hopefully we'll be able to reduce the waiting time that people may wait to have testing assessments done. We do have a new testing program that's going to be implemented with regard to Grade 6 and the literacy levels there, but they're very often picked up long before that and what we're trying to do at that point is decide what kind of additional resources we can provide for them in junior high.
MR. DOWNE: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Minister. I want to move to assistive technologies. We have a pilot project in our area of assistive technologies at the Nova Scotia Community College, a phenomenal program, working very well with HRDC, federal government money, and provincial money may be involved as well, I'm not sure; I hope so, a great program. The Assistive Technology Centre that we have meets a need but there are assistive technologies that could be implemented and put into the educational system that are not maybe as big as we've got in Bridgewater but just allowing tools to allow children to be able to, you know, that assist them in reading or keyboarding and things of that nature. What are you doing specifically for programs for that and when are parents going to see assistive technologies actually being brought into the educational system across the board for those particular students?
MR. COCHRANE: I've been in the centre in Bridgewater and it is amazing what they've been able to do. We've provided in the plan for success for all students about $50,000 in the first one to provide additional assistive technology. That would be things like talking books, electronic pencil holders, all kinds of things the professionals have developed over the years to help children adapt and cope with the system and life in general. The first year is $50,000, $350,000 in the second year and another $650,000 in the third. So in the base there will be $1.1 million more at the end of three years than we currently have.
You're correct in that we do have a fairly extensive program in the Department of Education dealing with the transition from the public school system to the community college and so on. The rehab services, and it is a federal-provincial agreement, there is a significant provincial contribution to go with federal money to make that transition, but we have a fair number of these assistive technology devices now and we're going to add more to that. We're still debating as to how we're going to present that list and what we're going to do, but there is an additional $1.1 million over the $3 million to provide additional assistive technology devices.
MR. DOWNE: Can I just close by this, I've got . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your time has expired. Perhaps we'll get it on the second round. Thank you, Mr. Downe. We will now turn our attention to the PC caucus and Mr. Taylor is going to take the lead.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I too would like to welcome all our guests in the gallery this morning. I know that many of them are parents. They're parents of students who do have special education needs and they have taken an active and concerned role in this very important matter. I know the member for Lunenburg West is aware as well that many of the concerns and challenges and demands that the public education system is facing today are a consequence, whether it's direct or indirect, of the inclusionary policy that had been adopted a few years ago. I'm not going down that road, but I think it's fair to say that that should be pointed out.
Mr. Chairman, one of the questions I have, to whoever the appropriate respondent would be, is in terms of identifying students who have special education needs. I have, in fact, heard that the criteria, if we can speak in that term, and the conditions are quite different from board to board. I'm not sure if that is the case. For example, I have learned that in the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board they use an IQ limit of 75. I guess I would like to know, without a great detailed response, what are perhaps some of the major criteria used to identify these students who have special education needs.
MS. POWER: There is a process that's outlined in the special education policy which indicates how you would go about identifying students, from the classroom level and referrals, involvement of the team members including school psychologist where necessary, and it's outlined the process each board should be following. In terms of specific school psychologists and the criteria they would use, we don't have a system whereby we label students. We don't say, oh, this is what the student is identified as, or this is what we will call that student. Some provinces do have what we would call a categorical process, where you say this student is identified as "a student with" and move on.
What we have in Nova Scotia is a process whereby we identify what the student's needs are in relation to what they need to learn, so you have your outcomes, what are the students' needs in relation to that, and then the team decides what they need to put into place in terms of resources and supports and program options in order to meet those needs. That will be unique and different for every student you will work with.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I expect that generally that would be the condition that does apply, however, it's pretty obvious to most that when a student, for example, is tube fed that they do have special education needs. We're not talking about labelling students. I think it's very obvious.
I would also like to know, if I could, how parents who are concerned that their student's education needs are not being met - whether it is a special education need student or a student perhaps who needs accommodation, a student who may need a particular seating arrangement, a student who may require a little additional time to write a test or reading or different types of support - when, in fact, those types of accommodations that are needed are not being received by the student, is there a transparent process in place that's consistent from one end of this province to the other where the parent can engage in that process?
MS. POWER: You're referring to students who do not have individual program plans for which there is an appeal process. In all other cases, for any student in the system, where the parents are experiencing concerns and they have concerns with the system, then the normal process that they would go through is to first identify that with the teacher, the principal, and that can be referred to the student services coordinator or supervisor, depending on the board, and then to the assistant superintendent, superintendent, and the elected school board.
So there is a process which all parents have access to. In some boards they have formalized that process so that it's well communicated to parents. For instance, in Halifax they have a parent concern protocol which parents would follow, which is very similar to that, but it's written down and formalized.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, Mr. Chairman, and that all sounds very good in theory, but in practice - and I think Ms. Power recognizes that - it's not working out the way it should in many cases. The Department of Education claims that the various school boards are responsible for granting tuition agreements, and the boards do as they see fit. I think the department should acknowledge that this creates inequities across Nova Scotia. Parents in some areas do have access to an application process. If the board chooses to grant a tuition because all parties you mentioned agree that the education needs are not being met, that's fine, but parents in the Town of Truro, for example, cannot even apply for a tuition agreement because, as I understand it, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board will not accept applications.
I would implore the department to perhaps give clearer directives that make access fair to all parents in the province and I'm just wondering if the department has any plans to examine what I call an inconsistency in the process.
MS. POWER: It's difficult to give a directive to the school board when in fact in the Act they are not required to do so; in terms of the provision of services in relation to contracts and contracting out, that is at the discretion of the school board. We would not be in a position to be able to then provide a directive to school boards to enter into agreements which, under the Act, is at their discretion.
MR. COCHRANE: We are going to review it and to look at it. It's not something that, as a wholesale policy, we're interested in encouraging the boards to give tuition agreements to anyone who might want to come and access services in a different way. I'm more concerned when there's the absence of a policy or there's a policy not to entertain a discussion. I think there has to be an open discussion and a dialogue. There's always going to be a disagreement as to what level of service can be provided and what's reasonable and what's affordable and what the expectation, perhaps, is that some people have of the system and what it can provide.
I have asked for some information as to the number of tuition agreements that might be out there, and taking a look at the process, because I am concerned when the door is just shut and there's no discussion about that, as I think we have to be able to defend whether or not we can serve that child; if we can't, then I think we have to find a way that we can. One of the options may be some other venue, but it would not be something that we're interested in seeing happen with any great regularity, because obviously we have to design a system so that it can meet the needs of children and attempt to do that.
We are going to review that and look at it. I have some concern that a tuition agreement may be the whole bill, as opposed to the cost per pupil and so on. Maybe that's an inhibitor as far as boards looking at it, I don't know. Certainly we're prepared to reflect on it and take a look at what appears to be a concern that a number of people have. The ultimate decision, of course, has to be the parents and the school system working together to try to find the best way to serve that child, hopefully within our school system.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I am somewhat heartened by the deputy's response to what is a very prevalent concern out there in the special education arena; also a concern at what I suppose you would call the constituency level. Students in my riding go to some 15 different public schools, so some of the concerns are quite varied, but one of the common concerns that we hear at the constituency office is that the educational needs of my son or daughter are not being met in the public system. I would again, irrespective of the Education Act which you can't be oblivious to - and I appreciate that - but we still have to recognize and acknowledge that from time different pieces of legislation in this very Chamber are amended and adjusted. So to take a somewhat closed shop attitude towards what is a very significant problem probably points to what could be the root of the problem. I am heartened by the minister's comments.
Just one other question, if I might Mr. Chairman, I believe the deputy minister mentioned on the CBC last week that EPAs were not necessarily the best way to spend public funds and I'm just wondering if he could expand on that a little bit. I understand sometimes people are misquoted or it may give him an opportunity to perhaps better explain his position on that.
MR. COCHRANE: Or dig myself in deeper.
MR. TAYLOR: There's an opportunity.
MR. COCHRANE: I think one of the things I want to preface my comments with is that teacher assistants and people who are supporting the system are doing the job that we ask them to do. One of the concerns I have is with the reduction of 10,000 students in the last six or seven years, five or six years. We've increased the number of teacher assistants by 110 per cent and there seems to be a growing trend and the concern I have is that it is a paraprofessional and the person will do what we ask them to do, but the bottom line is we don't want the primary responsibility for dealing with our most difficult children who need access to the educational services the greatest, passed from the professional to the paraprofessional. The ownership of the student must rest with the teacher. I want to make sure that we try to change the system so that we have people working with the children who have these needs as opposed to a belief that an assistant is the very best service you're going to get. Maybe it's the best we have in some areas, but it's a tough call.
When you look in the area of 1,500 now in the system, it seems to be a growing trend and it does take resources and maybe we're better off to have rather than two teacher assistants, to have another resource teacher or maybe another speech language pathologist. We have to get a balance. I think what's happened in the absence of - and maybe there is a balance, but there seems to be one area of our system that's growing much more than the others. Don't get me wrong - these people are doing the job that we hire them to do and they're doing it as best as they possibly can but there does seem to be a growing trend and really, we need the professional service and the professional support more than we need some of the other aspects of what may be provided through that particular venue.
It's a tough call and the boards are trying to balance that, but there's huge pressure and as you respond to that pressure, on an individual basis, you may not then have the resources to provide that resource teacher or the extra person you may need in the system.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The remaining six minutes will be turned over to Jon Carey, the member for Kings West.
MR. JON CAREY: Deputy, in your initial statement, I think you spoke that the average per student in the province was $5,170 and then you said there was $304 given for every student in the province, but it was designated for special education?
MR. COCHRANE: Yes, in the allocation, the $46 million that's designed for special education services, works out to $304 per pupil. That's distributed to every board for every child.
MR. CAREY: I guess my question would be, the school board then, they get this $304 for every student, but they have to make the decision of where it's spent for special education - is that it?
MR. COCHRANE: Yes.
MR. CAREY: So the reality is perhaps that some special education students could get a tremendous amount of support while others only a few hundred dollars or something?
MR. COCHRANE: Yes. And some students would get no support, not needing it, which would enable all the money to be spent for those that do. But you're right, it would be varying degrees of access to the support services.
MR. CAREY: The school board makes that decision?
MR. COCHRANE: Yes.
MR. CAREY: Just for a moment, I will shift into another area that I have concerns over. Gifted students are defined as special education people as well, I understand. How does the department define a gifted student?
MR. COCHRANE: Well, there is a whole document in your package I think with regard to that. It is in the general definition and there is a resource guide and it's several pages long, about 103, called Challenge for Excellence: Enrichment and Gifted Education Resource Guide and it's a student service series. There's no question that's an area that doesn't get the attention because, obviously, there's only so many dollars in the same envelope and maybe it's an unfair competition inside that envelope. Ann, do you want to speak to it? Or Cindy? With regard to the actual application with what we might try to do with minimal resources to deal with that element of our population?
MS. POWER: Yes, in terms of Challenge for Excellence, it defines a three-part process. First of all, what we suggest is that the school boards work with school-wide enrichment, which is a way in which the whole school is enriched through programming and through bringing in outside community resources and so on to engage students in learning and interest areas that they may have that are not in the curriculum necessarily and to allow them opportunities to extend their learning through that process. There's an identification built in and there's a whole section on that process in the guide for students who need more opportunity to extend their learning mainly because they may have already met the outcomes of the prescribed curriculum, of the provincial curriculum.
So, if they've already met the outcomes, you don't want them sitting in classrooms and continuing to go over them again and again. Then there's a whole process where we develop individualized programs or they may be doing independent study, they may be challenging for credit - in other words, where they determine that they've already been able
to, in a high school setting, for instance, they know all the outcomes and they can actually move on, get the credit and move on to independent study.
MR. CAREY: You were able to tell us 12 per cent require resource and so on. Can you tell me what percentage falls into the gifted student and what funding they get?
MS. POWER: We don't separate out the funding. The boards would do that at their level.
MR. CAREY: Perhaps I could question Cindy, that's the board I'm particularly interested in.
MS. POWER: What we've been trying to do since the Challenge for Excellence initiative came in and even prior to that, many of the schools, especially in the old Annapolis board, were involved in programming for gifted students. As far as specific numbers, again, it's that continuum, you look at the lower 3 per cent of high needs students, there's another 3 per cent at the other end who would require education certainly related to enrichment.
What we've been working so hard on doing, the teachers and parents, is looking at that adaptation piece - a number of people have talked about it - that gifted students need adaptations in their programs as well for a whole lot of reasons. So, the Challenge for Excellence guide outlines and mentions a number of things that you can do to challenge students who are gifted.
MR. CAREY: But again, there are statistics - 4 per cent for behavioural, 0.5 per cent for severely, but we really don't know the . . .
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: Very few of our students are actually identified traditionally as we used to do as gifted in terms of an IQ. If parents are concerned and if it goes back to the program planning team process every time, that's why the policy is so valuable, and that's what we say to our parents - use the policy, use the process and your child will be identified.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. So as to leave a few moments at the end for closing remarks, we will now move forward with the NDP caucus, Graham Steele. We will have 11 minute sessions, please.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: I would like to move the discussion from the rather abstract to the very personal. On October 15th I sat in the living room of a home in my constituency with a mother and her daughter. Her daughter is a special needs student at one of my local schools. She's in Grade 6. She has been recently diagnosed as clinically depressed. She's talked about suicide. Her mother says that she's included, she's integrated into the
school, but she has no friends. It's not that the other students bother her; they just leave her alone, they just don't have anything to do with her.
It's a very difficult situation for the family. The mother has found what she believes to be the best option for her daughter, a place where her daughter can be included, a place where her daughter can learn the life skills that she's going to need to live her life as an adult. It happens to be a private school. When she inquired about whether a tuition agreement was possible or whether the government could take a certain amount of money and contribute towards her tuition at the private school - the family is willing to make up the remainder, but they're looking for what they perceive to be their share of public school dollars in order to help their daughter to learn and live a full life - she was told no, that's not possible.
Mr. Cochrane, I wonder if you could explain, as concisely as possible, what exactly is the province's position on tuition agreements with private schools?
MR. COCHRANE: The boards have the right to enter into such an agreement if they choose to do that, and many, for different reasons obviously haven't exercised those options. I think there may be some barriers to them doing that. In many cases I think it's expected that if the tuition is $10,000, that's the payment, whereas your allocation per pupil is $5,170 or whatever, and maybe that difference would allow for some kind of support.
The other question, when you get into that, though, then is it only open to the people who can afford it, who can access that kind of services versus what the public school might provide. There's a very difficult line that we have to watch very carefully, because if we said, okay, you can have your $5,170, then someone else who may not be able to supplement the difference isn't going to be given that choice, whereas we try to provide the services to everyone regardless of their income levels and socio-economic status and so on in our public school system. So that's a concern and that's a philosophical concern, I think, that all of us have with regard to public education.
The board does have that ability to debate. Halifax is one of the boards, I think, that still does have some tuition agreements. One of the concerns we also have is that we don't do any kind of inspection or any kind of testing or any kind of quality work with regard to some of the private school operations. Many of the ones we know of we feel very good about, but there are also situations where we would have concern. The courts are full of cases across the country where private schools have been existing for a long time and, unfortunately, had a number of procedures that were somewhat questionable.
So we do have some concerns as we recognize that more of a vehicle, then we have some obligations on behalf of the taxpayer and the citizen to look at what level of service we're providing or might be provided there. I'm also concerned, as we look at people who may choose to do home-schooling or people who may choose to enter into private schools, some of which are very good.
So it's a whole area that if we're going to look at a piece of it we have to look at it all, and it's a question then of what kind of resources do you put into inspection, what quality, efforts and issues are there, because once taxpayers' dollars do go there, with children, then we have some concerns and I suspect we have not only a fiduciary responsibility but we certainly have an obligation to make sure that we're not facilitating the placement of a child in a facility that may not have certain standards and levels of service that we would expect.
Certainly, it's worthy of reflecting. Some jurisdictions have done it in a different way. I'm very concerned with what Ontario has just done because, quite frankly, it's a very slippery slope. We have an obligation to take our resources and to try to provide a service for all of our children. If we're not doing it as well as people might like, I think we have an obligation to try to do it better. I'm certainly not prepared to abandon the public school system in trying to deal with that vast array of students. We are going to reflect on it, but there are some pitfalls of pretty basic policy.
MR. STEELE: You said that the province is going to "reflect on it", and in response to one of Mr. Taylor's questions, you said they're going to "take a look at it". I guess for the sake of my constituents, those people, I sat in their homes and talked to them, and for other families in the same situation, when is that going to take place and how, and when can we reasonably expect an answer to these very important questions?
MR. COCHRANE: I've asked for some information as to which boards have tuition agreements, how many, what they look like and so on, and that's just statistical information that I'm going to need to have a discussion with the superintendents and the directors of education about what they're doing, what their policies are and so on. I don't want to create a belief of immediacy with regard to this. It's a very big picture. There are significant ramifications for the public school system and public school education funding. I don't think it's probably within my head alone to come up with a solution to that, or any of us here, but it certainly would be a matter of debate, I think, in this House, because obviously if there's going to be a significant change in policy that's going to have an impact on the funding levels of public education and the expectation levels of what we're expected to deliver, then it's going to take a fair public debate.
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, the rest of our time will be taken by my colleague, Mr. Estabrooks.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, how much time do we have?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have three and a half minutes, approximately.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Let's be clear, in spite of what the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley might have insinuated, I firmly believe that inclusion is working, it's rewarding, and I've seen it first-hand. However, I think it's of real importance, Mr. Cochrane, that you clear up the fact that at a public meeting with Halifax West parents, although the question was asked in a different text - I remember that evening with CBC - you said that teachers' assistants are like the Advil of the public school system, you take two and you will be fine in the morning. That was insulting. It was glib. It was the 15-second clip. I offer you now the opportunity to withdraw it, or certainly improve on the analogy.
MR. COCHRANE: I appreciate that. It's a growing trend that concerns me. It's a growing trend that concerns professionals and teachers in our system. One of the things that I don't want it to become is any representation that that's the solution in the public school system for dealing with children with special needs. My quote probably was glib, and I think it was an analogy more than anything, and it wasn't Advil, it was Aspirin.
I don't want anyone to believe that that's the answer in the public school system to the vast complexity or the complex problems that a child might have. They are paraprofessionals, they are providing a certain level of expertise, but nothing takes the place of that teacher, that psychologist, that psychometrist or that resource teacher. I just didn't want anyone to believe that that growing industry is the only response of the education system to dealing with the complexity of problems that our children are bringing to the school system today. It isn't, singularly, an answer, it's part of an answer, but it needs to be supported by the professional working on a one-to-one basis or a three-to-one basis, whatever, with our children. I'm just concerned that people have demanded that kind of assistance, and I don't want anyone to believe that we think, at that point, our obligations to the child end because we've provided that kind of assistance.
It's a significant issue. Certainly as a professional, and I'm sure you're aware, people often have a tendency to reflect upon the physical presence of someone that's there as the answer. That may be part of an answer, but it can't be the Department of Education or the education system's response to a very difficult problem.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Ms. Power, learning centres - another buzzword comes out of the education system. I'm concerned about the fact that within the report, the June 2001 report, the concept of learning centres wasn't dealt with. My concern comes down within the department, within your division. How do you evaluate learning centres? And are learning centres throughout the province the predominant trend in schools today?
MS. POWER: In terms of the report, we did discuss, at great length, the issue of the continuum of services, which does include learning centres. We discussed what options, what range of services that schools and school boards would need in order to meet the full range of services of children. That's on Pages 17 and 18 of the report.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Excuse me, Ms. Power, how do you evaluate them though?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have about 15 seconds left.
MS. POWER: In terms of the Department of Education, we meet regularly with the Student Services coordinators. The coordinators have more of the direct responsibility for ensuring that their programs and services meet the standards outlined in our special education policy, and then we have a sort of provincial monitoring through the Student Services coordinators. I don't know if Cindy might like to address that directly from a school board's perspective.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps we could deal with that in the next round.
Mr. MacKinnon and the Liberal caucus.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: My first question would be for the deputy minister through you, Mr. Chairman. Our deputy minister has waxed a fair bit of eloquence here this morning, but I'm not so sure he has given a lot of satisfaction to the individuals who have concern. The issue of inclusion at the school board level, my understanding is that when a parent or parents feel that their child should be included in this IPP program - to use that acronym - and the school board says no, there is no mechanism to be able to access the Department of Education beyond that level, as I understand. Am I correct on that assumption?
MR. COCHRANE: I've seen a lot of people accessing the department and that's one of the topics that they will bring to our attention. We try to refer it back to the board . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Aside from politics?
MR. COCHRANE: I don't deal with those questions, remember, but we deal with the specifics and we will often get a question from parents about the level of service and we try to refer it back to the board, give them the name of the individual and so on that they should contact because often they're not familiar with the board structure and who the person may be. There are appeal processes, but they're generally involved once there is an IPP in place.
MR. MACKINNON: So in other words, if you're accepted into the IPP program, that's fine, and if there are areas of concern you can appeal, but if you're not accepted into it, even though you feel you should, there's no appeal process to be able to access it? Am I correct?
MR. COCHRANE: Ann, do you want to refer to the specifics?
MS. POWER: Yes. Certainly we would look into that. When parents come to the department, if there's a dispute with the board in relation to an IPP and whether or not a student requires an IPP and they haven't been able to resolve that dispute with the school board, then we would certainly work with the school board and the parents to try to mediate or to find out where the sticking points are and how we can help.
MR. MACKINNON: Don't you feel that there should be a written policy or some regulation in place to address that rather than a lip service, you know, ad hoc approach?
MS. POWER: Definitely, definitely; that's why we have the special education policy and it's the policy that would guide us.
MR. MACKINNON: But the policy doesn't address this issue?
MS. POWER: In terms of?
MR. MACKINNON: You don't have any written policy to address this vacuum between going into the program and post into the program in terms of its appeal processes? In other words, you can't appeal. There's no . . .
MR. COCHRANE: If you don't have an IPP.
MR. MACKINNON: That's right.
MS. POWER: You don't have access to the formal appeal process related to IPPs, but certainly in terms of accommodations and adaptations the policy outlines how those should be documented.
MR. MACKINNON: "Should be." But would you give an undertaking that the department would provide or develop, include a written policy to address that appeal to go into the program?
MS. POWER: I can certainly look further at that. One of the areas I think that is going to assist in that is a guide that has just gone to print, actually yesterday, on resource teaching and services which outlines very specifically the whole area of accommodations and adaptations, and gives a little bit more guidance, I think, to school boards and a little bit more information to parents about the process by which that should be followed.
MR. MACKINNON: I will take that as a weak commitment that you're going to go from a guide to a regulation or a policy. So I will take that on notice for the benefit of these individuals. The number of special needs children in the province, is that population increasing or decreasing? I notice you indicated that the overall population in the school system is decreasing, what about special needs children?
MR. COCHRANE: I can ask Ann or Cindy to get to the specifics. I think there's much better identification now of problems and there is an awareness of parents and the other supports in the public system of pre-school identification clinics, health care. I think there are many cases, for example, that would have been there 30 years ago, or 20 years ago when you went to school, 30 when I did, that were never identified.
MR. MACKINNON: Many would consider myself as special needs (Laughter) Especially in politics.
MR. COCHRANE: Quite frankly, I almost think I might be, but I think what happened often is they may not have been identified. The other thing that was happening is very often years ago children didn't complete school. They left because no one knew what their problem was and found a way to deal with it. I would say there is a greater percentage of our 151,000 now who will be accessing some kind of service than what would have been 5, 10, 15 years ago.
MR. MACKINNON: So the population is increasing?
MR. COCHRANE: I would say yes.
MR. MACKINNON: Despite the fact that the overall population is declining?
MR. COCHRANE: Correct.
MR. MACKINNON: When you go into school closings, do you give that issue consideration? I know you say it's a school board issue, but my understanding is as deputy minister you have frequent contact with the various school boards across the province. Is that issue discussed before an unofficial directive is given to school boards as to what schools should or shouldn't be closed?
MR. COCHRANE: The board would be aware of the population that the school serves and the services that it provides. We don't give any indication of the schools that we think should close. Boards are quite aware of the declining enrolment. They're aware of the physical status of the building and so on. I think one of the things that boards are attempting to do is look at the kind of services they can provide when you have a critical mass versus maybe a small school where you can't provide some of those services as readily, but those are board decisions. I presume they take into consideration the kind of clientele and the students who are in the school and the kind of service that they're getting.
MR. MACKINNON: One final question and then I will turn it over to my colleague. With regard to the appeal process, the question I would have is are the fundamentals of administrative law being followed during these ministerial appeals?
MR. COCHRANE: I would say so. The guide is very specific and there is a role for everyone to play and it's clearly outlined. I haven't heard of many complaints after having gone through a ministerial process. Maybe I've heard complaints about the outcome, but I haven't heard any complaints about the fact that they didn't think there was a fair hearing, that it was done reasonably, there was due process and so on. I have never heard that argument.
MR. MACKINNON: How many appeals a year do you hear?
MR. COCHRANE: Any idea? (Interruption) Probably we're guessing, you know, three, four, five across the province in the formal appeal process and so on with regard to an IPP and the level of service.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Downe, you have approximately three minutes.
MR. DOWNE: I have two questions of the deputy. Parents with special needs children are committed to their children being able to have an educational level, to make them a productive part of society and also to have them so that they have self-respect and self-esteem and so on and so forth. Some of the questions that have been posed here today and the dancing around some of those probably pose more questions to some of those parents maybe who are here today. My question to you, would you and your staff be willing to meet with the parents who are here today, certainly from Pathways and maybe others who are interested, to maybe follow through on some of the questions that have been asked and maybe clarification of some of the answers that have been given could be given to them? Would you undertake to meet with them today?
MR. COCHRANE: Yes, I personally have met with a couple of the individuals already and we have no reticence with regard to that. It's a partnership. It's a relationship. Sometimes the expectations aren't met, but I don't think anybody gets up in the morning and says how are we going to thwart the effort of parents to try to find the best they can for their children. No one from the classroom teachers . . .
MR. DOWNE: I do know, probably some people wake up in the morning and say how can we spin this so it looks like we're doing a job and, in fact, we're not. I guess that's the issue at hand.
The other issue is, you mentioned Reading Recovery, I understand that the Reading Recovery program is a good program but I understand the funding is only good for one year. Is that accurate?
MR. COCHRANE: That's the design of the program. It's a Grade 1 program . . .
MR. DOWNE: What happens if it doesn't work in year one?
MR. COCHRANE: Then they access the resource teachers' support program and so on that exists in the school system.
MR. DOWNE: But it is not the end-all to solve the problem.
MR. COCHRANE: No. If a child doesn't need any further intervention, that's great, and we've hopefully dealt with the problem early. Very often one aspect or another of their problem has to be dealt with later on, but it's just a program to pick up that 20 per cent of every Grade 1 class and it will be extended to the whole province as a result of this funding implementation. But it's not the be-all and end-all. It's a great program, the best we've been able to find, but then they can access if the problem still exists after that - resource teachers in schools and so on.
MR. DOWNE: Inclusion was brought in, it needs the support of teachers and assistants to make it work. I don't believe in putting children who have special needs in some other departmental box or community. I believe they need to be brought into the system so they can actually be part of society in a positive way. I disagree with some of the comments that were maybe alluding to the fact that it was a wrong decision. I think it was the right decision, we just need to make sure we have the support mechanisms there to make it work properly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Downe. We will now turn to the honourable member for Kings West.
MR. CAREY: Mr. Chairman, I just have one question and then I will pass to Mr. Taylor. In my previous life, many years ago, I did teach school and back as Mr. Cochrane has said, some 30-odd years. At that time we had classes that were called auxiliary or adjusted and these were students who probably, a lot of them, would have fallen into resource areas and some were behavioural problems; it was a mix. I think all students benefit from this interaction that we have with inclusion, I think it's a two-way street. I think there's total benefit to a lot of people, but I also think that success is an individual thing. I found that these students - and I don't suggest for a minute that we go back to it - is there anything where we're taking the positives from those old programs and using them with the inclusion, which appears to be total inclusion? I found that the students socialized with other students throughout the school program of different levels, but like most people they chose their own friends who had common interests and so on. I just wondered how that was working and if there was anything from the old system that did work, because we thought it had some positives.
MR. COCHRANE: Certainly the board has discretion with regard to the continuum of service. For example, because we were dealing with a capital construction issue, I think with the new school in East Pictou and West Pictou, they will have what they call the OPP available in every high school in Chignecto-Central, which does enable some students to take
a certain kind of interest course or a certain level. There are a variety of mechanisms across the province. One of the things we've said very clearly is inclusion doesn't mean that 100 per cent of the students spend 100 per cent of their time every day in every classroom. There are times when you want to deal with them in a different environment for a short period of time. The resource program's a good example of that, Reading Recovery, IB in Park View is a good example of that, if you look at the definition of special needs.
One of the aspects of the pilots that we've asked boards to bring forward is that they can fashion or create a system that may take a number of children for a period of time into a special intervention environment, with the goal being that you're trying to give them the skills they need to be fully integrated into the system again. So, it is adding an element to the continuum and we have a number of these opportunities around the province now and we're saying if that kind of strategy and intervention strategy is beneficial, then that's certainly something that the boards could look at as a pilot.
It's not of any assistance to necessarily put a child who needs a special intervention in the classroom every day for every minute. It's more important to get them and find the kind of service and support that they might need to help them get back into that classroom and into society and so on to maximize their ability to adjust to that and to contribute.
MR. DOWNE: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I do want to make it clear in spite of what Mr. Estabrooks and Mr. Downe think, students, parents and yes, including teachers, have made it very clear, to me at least, that the inclusion policy has created a lot of challenges and a lot of demands on the public education system. That is simply what I said, Mr. Chairman, and that's all that I'm saying at this point about inclusion. Mr. Estabrooks can extract from that whatever he will, but I did want to clarify that.
Earlier on I did place a question to Ms. Power about the IQ criteria, if you will, that is being used in order to determine that a child has special needs. It seems to me from the meeting this morning that special needs students are somewhat loosely categorized from board to board and perhaps even in the Department of Education's own special education policy manual. It's clear that a special needs student with a learning disability such as dyslexia has different needs, for example, than a student with significant physical challenges and disabilities.
So, perhaps, if I might, this time around I would ask a similar question of Ms. Giffen-Johnson regarding Annapolis Valley Regional School Board as to what IQ, if you will - and
I know the criteria are much broader than that - but it certainly is a primary consideration in Chignecto-Central and I would just like to know for comparison sake, if nothing else. Thank you.
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: When we talk about placing students on an individual program plan, there is a process of assessment that we have in place which may differ from board to board, but is very similar. One of the things that we do often use, our school psychologists within the system, is the WISK, or the intelligence test, to determine not so much the IQ level, but certainly the specific learning needs of the student. It gives you an overview so the WISK is used, an intelligence test is used. Not in all cases. Just because your child may be considered for an IPP, do you give an intelligence test?
We focus on a lot of other assessment batteries as well. We look at achievement, the various speech and language folks do some things to look at language, we look at motor skills, all of those things. It's a combination. So the WISK may be used, or the intelligence test may be used, but it's used in combination with a number of other things. Just because a child may end up with a specific score on an intelligence test doesn't necessarily say they will be placed on an IPP. Some may and some may not.
MR. TAYLOR: Excuse me if I might - I will be more specific. Does the particular board that you represent use an IQ level of 75 then?
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: No, we don't.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you very much.
MS. GIFFEN-JOHNSON: We use the discrepancy in programming.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you. That was the question I was trying to get answered a little earlier on.
Of all of the students in Nova Scotia with special needs, obviously they do require different specific resources. What I would like to know is, what special needs programs or resources exist or are, in fact, being enhanced? We've talked about the EPAs and other resources, but short of the department having assessed and carried out a number of studies, has recognized a particular area where they would like to see programs enhanced somewhat for special education needs students. I was just wondering if they could shed a little light on that or maybe the deputy minister.
MR. COCHRANE: The continuum exists. We're trying to enhance it and to make sure that it's uniform across the province. For example, we have Reading Recovery available for about 55 per cent of Grade 1 students in the Province of Nova Scotia.
In the Learning for Life document and particularly the Success for Students part, we're providing the money to extend that across so that every student in Nova Scotia in Grade 1 who qualifies will have access to Reading Recovery. It's at 20 per cent, $4.3 million over the next three years, which will bring 35 trained Reading Recovery teachers into our system. And the training is a significant contribution, it's expensive, it's difficult, and there's a major commitment by the teacher. So that's one area that we think is important if we're looking at that opportunity to try to identify the problem and correct it at an early age, because if you can remove that level of frustration associated with not being able to read early then you're going to solve a number of the other problems that may manifest themselves later on.
The area of professionals in the system: speech language pathologists, which we know there's a shortage not just in Nova Scotia but throughout certainly Eastern Canada; psychometrists who do the kind of testing; guidance councillors; resource teachers - we've identified in the next three years an additional $6 million to try to add to that group of professionals and it's going to be a recruitment issue as well, because other jurisdictions have a tendency to have no conscience and lots of money and they make an effort to get our people and we want to be out there first trying to match that with the beauty of working in our system in Nova Scotia.
So there are a number of those kinds of things that we have recognized that we do need more of and I think the initiative of class size is a significant contribution as well. Nothing is going to take the place of a good teacher in front of a reasonable sized classroom of children and then the supports that come to work with that is all extra effort that's going to make it better. So all those initiatives are really designed to make a better environment with more professionals, more qualified individuals, better PR for teachers and so on to deal with all of our children and, in the subject of this debate obviously, with our special needs children.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I'm wondering if accessibility resources such as wheelchair ramps, elevators or large-type textbooks, if they would be funded through special education funding or would in fact school boards fund these through different budget means?
MR. COCHRANE: The physical adaptation of the building is often done through our construction projects as we look at major projects. Boards have a certain amount of money for maintenance and repair that they will often use. If you didn't anticipate that a student was going to arrive in a particular junior high that may be of two floors, then they can access a fund in the department to put in the ramp or the elevator, whatever might be needed. So we've done a fairly good job, but we have a lot more to do with regard to the physical access of our buildings.
It's between, let's say a small fund in the department, board allocation, as well as a huge amount of money in new construction. We're doing a major renovation project, for example, in Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional School, and we know we have to do work with
regard to elevators in that particular building because what's there now is barely adequate and probably not. So all of our new construction, we make sure that they're available, that the processes - the new one in Brookfield, for example - will be accessible. I don't think anyone disputes very much the job the system has done in dealing with the physically disabled. I think we've had a fairly good success track record and so on at integrating those students into the system. It's some of the other areas that we get the complaints about and we know there's an unmet need there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Cochrane. The time has expired for the PC caucus. Normally at this time we allow a few minutes for closing remarks. Mr. Cochrane, would you like to do a summation, please?
MR. COCHRANE: I do thank you for the opportunity to be here and one thing we have to reflect on is that our system is constantly evolving: our client is changing; expectations of the public are different than they used to be; our success in keeping children in school; the success of the health care system in keeping children who many years ago would never have accessed the system in a healthy state that they can access it - all of these are making huge demands on the system and one thing I want to thank you for is the opportunity to discuss this here.
I know a number of you have made comment to the presence in the gallery of people who have issues with the system - and that's how the system is going to change because we have activists, we have parents who are asking for services. What we have to find is that balance, and what the boards are trying to find and you as legislators are trying to find is a balance as to what the expectations are and what we can afford and when we can provide it.
No one is an enemy in this system. It's really designed that we're partners and we're going to try to find solutions. We may not get there as quickly as people might like but, at the same time, the fact that everyone is at the table and having a discussion, the fact that we had 22 partners sitting around and discussing a Special Education Implementation Review Committee five years after the policy was really put into legislation and regulation, is a positive thing and it's now a question of getting to the level of service that we all want and that obviously parents aspire to for their children. But there is a balance. There are limited resources, there's a limited ability to pay, and we're going to try to find that balance. Obviously we haven't found it, but that doesn't mean that we won't work with everyone in trying to find that and the discussion here today and the presence of our officials, I think, has enhanced that debate and it's the kind of debate that has to be held. So thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Deputy Cochrane, and indeed thank you to all the members of your staff. Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Youden escaped the hot seat today, but I'm sure the future will provide an opportunity to receive some challenges from this committee and, again, thank you for a very interesting presentation.
Next week we will be convening here, on November 6th, with witnesses from the Department of Health and the topic will be Pharmacare. That will be at 8:00 a.m., Wednesday morning. Thank you again. The committee is now adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 9:58 a.m.]