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30 avril 2004
Comités pléniers
Sujet(s) à aborder: 

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9:21 A.M.


Mr. James DeWolfe

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Minister of Education.

Resolution E3 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,002,848,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Education, pursuant to the Estimate.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize the Minister of Education. I realize that you have to wait for the staff to arrive and we'll give the minister a few moments to gather them.

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Chairman, thank you and I appreciate the opportunity to open the estimates debate for the Department of Education. Before I begin my comments today, I would like to introduce the staff who will be accompanying me in the House. They are, to my right, my Deputy Minister, Dennis Cochrane, whom I believe is known to virtually everybody. On my left, is Darrell Youden who is the Senior Executive Director of Corporate Services. I also have some staff in the balcony up there who will provide information if we need it. They are Sue McKeage who is our Director of Communications, and Bill Turpin who has recently joined the communications staff in the department.

This is my first time before the House in Estimates as Education Minister. It is somewhat rewarding for me to see that my career has returned me to the familiar world of teachers, students, classrooms, universities, community colleges, campuses and the Department of Education. All of these spheres, Mr. Chairman, I had the privilege of having some direct association with.


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MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. I wonder if you would allow an introduction. Thank you.

The honourable member for Kings South.

HON. DAVID MORSE: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you, minister. We have a distinguished guest from the Valley today, Mr. Byung Lee. Mr. Lee is an example of exactly why we want to open Nova Scotia up to the world. He emigrated here from South Korea. He is a valuable member of our community, enriching us culturally, socially and economically. Mr. Lee, if you would stand up and please accept the warm greetings from the House.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Greetings to all those watching the proceedings this morning. The honourable Minister of Education.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, like other areas, the field of education has changed greatly over the past number of years, indeed in the number of years that I have been involved with it. I am amazed, it parallels, I suspect, health and community services in the changes that have taken place as it is presented in our province. I would like to acknowledge the employees of the Department of Education. They are a group of people who are solidly committed to providing quality education and training programs to Nova Scotians. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of them for their continuing efforts on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia.

Mr. Chairman, providing quality education and training programs are a shared responsibility. Staff work very hard throughout the year with our partners, including parents, teachers, school boards, the post-secondary education sector, partners in industry and others. Keeping our partners informed and involved is critical as we work to provide a high quality education system, a strong workforce and a bright future for all Nova Scotians. Judging by some of the insightful questions we've had during Question Period since this House opened, not to mention the enquiries and the comments from the press, it seems that our partners and those others interested in education are very well informed of what we do.

Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, during this time of year and I guess it is because the House is open, coupled with the fact that we have school board elections, and we are in a minority government, there are those who like to undermine our working relationship by focussing on some things that are rather minor in the whole scheme of education, such as the money used to provide coffee and other things for students and teachers and others who come as part of the working groups of the Department of Education. I want to say that such comments really are a tremendous disservice to teachers and others who come to the department to partner and try to make education better for our students.

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Yes, we frequently host meetings and workshops for teachers. We need their help to better serve students. This includes helping us to develop curriculum and marking exams so we know how students are doing. We meet with board superintendents monthly; program staffs from across the province meet regularity with the department to share best practices and improve services to students. We meet with representatives of the community college, we meet with the university representatives, and we also meet with industry partners.

Mr. Chairman, we accomplish a great deal for our province by working with these people. We can't and we won't work in isolation. All education policy, curriculum and good ideas can't come from the Halifax area. If education is to be a true partnership in our province, then we must have partners located throughout the province and have their ideas valued by government. I'm reminded at this time of a statement by the Honourable Robert Stanfield. He said this, "Either government nor its bureaucracy is as wise as they are apt to believe." Neither is the Opposition nor the press, thus, the need for partnerships with those who work in the field. "Humility is a valuable strain, . . ." Mr. Stanfield continued, " . . . provided it does not become an excuse for resisting change, accepting injustice or supporting vested interests."

Mr. Chairman, the fact that we have established so many partnerships in this province helps us adhere to this principle. These partnerships do come at a cost but it is money well spent, and we are accountable to the taxpayers for it. I believe it is important to remind the House that the Department of Education has a broad mandate. As outlined in our department's business plan, our mandate is one that spans the education and training system from pre-Grade Primary to all post-secondary and adult learning institutions. These destinations include: adult education, apprenticeship, community college, private career college, university, and other venues supporting Nova Scotia's development.

Other responsibilities of the department include public libraries, the Youth Secretariat, and immigration. Thus I thought it was very appropriate, Mr. Chairman, that the Minister of Community Services took the opportunity to introduce one of those people who have come from another country to contribute to our province. The Department of Education has a budget of more than $1.2 billion this year to help us meet our mandated obligations. The majority of this money is allocated to our partners, in particular, the school boards. This year's budget represents an increase of more than $23.3 million in education. We're investing more money at a time when public school enrolment is declining, and at a time when the province is faced with limited financial resources.

[9:30 a.m.]

Clearly, Mr. Chairman, education is a priority of this government. As pleased as we are with the increase, I do appreciate there will be some challenges to school boards, universities and our other education partners, not to mention students who are in higher education. However, working together, we will get through this difficult time. I want to tell

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you that I had the pleasure of meeting with the board superintendents, the CEOs and Directors of Education, Chairs and Vice-chairs last week to review and discuss their budgets. As well, we have recently met with our partners in higher education, those at the university level and at the community college level.

I want to ensure all Nova Scotians, Mr. Chairman, that these people are dedicated and they take what they do very seriously and they work hard for their students. We had a candid conversation last week that focussed on our shared responsibility to meet the needs of students and I have every confidence that they will continue to do their best for children this fiscal year. We will continue to work with school boards to help them manage their budgets and cost pressures while at the same time enabling them to continue to provide a quality education to students.

One of our public school priorities this year, Mr. Chairman, is to revise the school board funding formula. We met with board chairs and superintendents in March to review our plans, and those plans are proceeding. All school boards are funded on an equitable basis that recognizes that school boards have different cost pressures. We all agree that we need one funding formula that's equitable to all school boards and understandable to the public. I want to emphasize that equitable does not mean equal. The cost of educating students varies from one part of our province to another, and boards should be funded according to what it costs to serve their students.

Indeed, we are well aware that each school board has its own unique cost pressures and we need a formula that responds fairly to all boards. For example, Mr. Chairman, a board with a large student population that is bused to school should get more money than a school board that doesn't have the same transportation demands. Thus, if we adhere strictly to per student funding without acknowledging the boards' different cost pressures associated with transportation, then some school boards would be underfunded for transportation, while others would have more money than they need. All school boards have been involved in developing the current funding formula over a number of years. The boards will continue to be involved as we revise the formula in the 2004-05 fiscal year. In this process, consultation, equity, adequacy and accountability are some of the underlying principles.

The transition plan for the new formula will also be developed this year. We expect to start implementation of the formula in 2005-06. I'm pleased to tell the members of this Legislature, Mr. Chairman, that we are very close to making a public announcement of the person who will lead the formula funding review, it will be a person who is well known to a good many people to this House and indeed has the respect of all Nova Scotians. Indeed the person who has agreed to do that is Mr. Bill Hogg who was the former Deputy Minister of Finance and we're just delighted that he has agreed to assume this role.

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Mr. Chairman, the public education system includes 442 schools, about 150,000 children and about 9,500 teachers. There are eight school boards, all of which have seen an increase in funding since 1999. In fact, since 1999, close to $94 million more has been invested in public education. That's an increase of 15 per cent. Our per pupil funding has increased from $4,840 in 1999-2000, to $6,241 this year. This government is investing more money in our children's education at a time when enrolment is declining.

If we have fewer students, it makes sense in many cases that we have fewer teachers. This year due to the fewer number of students, we believe there will be 93 fewer teaching positions required. However, Mr. Chairman, there will be no job losses, because according to our projections, 508 teachers will retire. Members of the House will note the statement I believe in yesterday's ChronicleHerald by Dr. Jim Gunn, saying that very thing in relation to the number of teaching positions that would be reduced down in the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board.

Because we have balanced the budget, it allows us to continue our investment in children's education. This year, again, there will be more money to support children with special needs, to help children improve their reading and writing and to reduce class sizes. This year's additional investment in public education will mean new and improved programs for students, and help for boards to manage cost pressures.

There is an increase, Mr. Chairman, of more than $7.5 million to the eight school boards to continue to implement the Learning for Life plan. This program, the Learning for Life plan, now is funded annually to the tune of $12.4 million. Smaller class sizes will allow teachers to spend more time with each student, and last year we invested $2.5 million in Learning for Life to reduce class size to a maximum of 25 students in Primary. That funding continues for Primary this year and we are investing an additional $3.5 million to reduce the maximum class size in Grade 1, to 25 students.

In 2005, Mr. Chairman, we will expand this initiative again to include Grade 2 students. In addition, combined Primary-Grade 1 classes will have a maximum of 20 students or there will be an additional adult in the classroom. This criterion also applies to Primary and Grade 1 classes, with students with special needs, will have an individual program plan. Helping all children to succeed is a priority, Mr. Chairman. Our goal is to educate all students with special needs in our public schools. We've increased the funding for school boards to do this job better.

School boards have $48 million in targeted funding which they must spend on special education. They also allocate a considerable portion of the provincial funding to provide other services or additional service to students with special needs.

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In addition, government has made commitments through Learning for Life to ensure success for all students. Last year, we provided $2.5 million for school boards to hire the professionals they need: speech language pathologists, school psychologists and resource teachers. This money also helped train more teachers in reading recovery, moving us closer to the goal of making this effective reading intervention program available to every student in the province who needs it by September 2004. The money also allowed each board to conduct pilot projects, to explore new and better ways of serving students with special needs. Many of the boards chose to focus on helping students with behavioral challenges and hired additional staff for this.

The school boards now have this $2.5 million in their base, to maintain funding for the new staff hired in 2003-04. They also have an additional $3 million announced in our budget this year to hire and train more professionals and to continue pilot projects in 2004-05. Mr. Chairman, to put this in context, last year our increase in funding to the boards meant an additional 41 teaching positions hired and the equivalent of 16 new teaching positions for reading recovery.

Mr. Chairman, with all of this support, we are confident that we can serve students with special needs well in our public school system. However, we recognize that there is a small number of students who may benefit from a short period of time with the specialized expertise of a private school. That's why we are developing a new tuition support program. I want to be clear that I am talking about tuition support, not tuition agreements. The provision in the Education Act for school boards to enter into tuition agreements with private schools will continue to exist. That's entirely at the discretion of school boards whether any of these agreements are made.

Mr. Chairman, what we are doing this year is to provide another option. Through the Financial Measures (2004) Act, we're adding a provision for tuition support in addition to tuition agreements which are in the Education Act. Tuition support will be a contribution towards private school tuition. The Education Act currently has no provision for this so it must be added, so this option can be offered. The protocols for the tuition support program are still being developed. At this point we're looking at providing tuition support as an amount of funding equivalent to the annual per student funding grant. Parents would apply to access tuition support for a maximum of two years. School boards and private schools would be required to plan for each student to make a successful transition back to the public school system.

[9:45 a.m.]

We announced $200,000 in the budget to help with this program. Part of that amount will be allocated for an arm's length Ombudsman's Office should there be disagreement over the level of service. Some of it will be allocated for low-income families so that the ability to

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pay is not a barrier, and some will be used to assist in the transition of some students back to the public school system.

Mr. Chairman, this program is not being designed for a large number of students. We have fewer than 150,000 in our public school system, and only about 3 per cent of them have individual program plans. In other words, only about 4,500 students have special needs to the extent that they can't follow the provincial public school program without help. Of those students on individual program plans, we estimate that about 1 per cent or 2 per cent, may need access to the tuition support program, and that is somewhere between 45 and 90 students. I mention this particularly because I wanted to dispel the myth that there are hundreds and hundreds of students who would benefit from the specialized services of a specialized private school.

I'm confident that our public school system is serving all of our students well. We've been investing and we will continue to invest in more support for students with special needs as we can afford to do so. As I said, Mr. Chairman, the tuition support program is still in development. We are consulting with our partners and the process and eligibility criteria will be finalized in regulations.

Reading, writing and math, continue to be a priority. This year we will move ahead with the vast majority of our initiatives to support students and teachers in those areas. We will maintain the status quo in others. We were very pleased to be able to secure $1 million in new funding to help those students who didn't meet expectations in the recent literacy assessment. We're investing $1 million to help teachers give more support to students who did not meet expectations. Schools will get a share of the funding that is proportional to the number of students who needs more support. It will be the professional staff and the school and community members who will help decide how best this funding can be used to help their particular students.

The Active Young Readers Program will expand to Grade 9. We will invest $1 million and thousands of books for Grade 9 classrooms and professional development for teachers. There will be an additional $478,000 to add more reading resources to all junior high classrooms. About $500,000 will move Writers in Action into Grade 6. Both the Writers in Action and the Active Young Readers Programs provide professional development for teachers so that they can help students strengthen their reading and writing.

The jeune lecteurs actifs and Écrivains à l'oeuvre will continue and expand in Acadian schools. In addition, we will start working on moving Writers in Action into Grade 10. We will also provide Primary to Grade 9 spelling resources and professional development for teachers. As in the past two years, we're investing more than $500,000 in school boards' base funding, so that each board will continue to have a math leader who supports classroom teachers. A further $645,000, will provide professional development for teachers.

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We will continue to implement the Time to Learn strategy with new minimum time requirements for math in Grade 7 and Grade 8. We will also invest $355,000 in resources for students, teachers and parents, including homework baggies in Primary and Grade 1. In addition, Mr. Chairman, we are continuing to implement African/Canadian Studies 11, and African Heritage Literature 12. The department will continue to work with partners in implementing recommendations from the Black Learners Advisory Committee and we will add $500,000 this year to support African-Nova Scotian students in the public school system and further implement the recommendations of the BLAC Report.

Part of our Learning For Life plan includes a commitment to ensure students continue to learn in a safe and healthy environment. To that end, we will spend over $400 million over the next eight years to build new schools and support extensive renovation work. The capital construction plan is based on the priorities of school boards. It means 19 new schools, and additions and/or alterations to more than 50 schools. We have a solid, fiscally responsible long-term plan to fund education's capital projects. This was critical for good solid planning, and to ensure completion of the work in a timely manner.

This year Mr. Chairman, we are investing just about $46 million for 12 new schools. There are five new school construction projects that are underway, and we expect these facilities to open in 2004-05. These schools are Amherst Elementary, Truro Junior High, Sydney Elementary, Shelburne High, and Cumberland Elementary. Planning in construction will begin for seven additional school projects in 2004-05, which are expected to open over the next two fiscal years. These are Hammonds Plains Elementary, Barrington High, Western HRM High School - which received a strong endorsement from my good friend and colleague for Timberlea-Prospect, as well as our own members who have constituents in that area - the St. Patrick's-Queen Elizabeth High, Harbourside-Robert Jamison High, Truro West Elementary, and Rankin Education Centre. In addition, we will invest $13.4 million for 21 renovation projects to improve existing schools across the province.

Mr. Chairman, our schools play an important role, along with parents and community partners, in increasing our young people's physical activity. Healthy, active students are an important component of our Learning for Life plan. There is extensive research and evidence to support physical activity and healthy eating as essential to good health and learning. Most schools offer physical activity programs and some form of food services. Healthy eating and physical education are also part of a program of studies. We are empowering children to make the right decisions. We want to make it easier for them to make healthy lifestyle choices.

The prevalence of obese and overweight children in our schools is increasing dramatically. Indeed, Mr. Chairman, recent information suggests that about two-thirds of Canadian children are not active enough on a daily basis to gain any health benefits. Developing healthy eating habits and a physically active lifestyle are essential for children's well-being, and to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases including obesity and Type II diabetes. I said, I believe in the House yesterday, that I had met with the Canadian

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Paediatric Society a couple of days ago and one of the statistics that they presented to me, which was rather frightening, is that we are now raising a generation that, if things don't change, will not live as long as their parents - we are going to start to go back the other way.

Mr. Chairman, that's why my colleague the Minister of Health Promotion, the Premier and, indeed, all members of this government are making a commitment to try and make our children more active and more healthy. We believe that this year will allow us the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of our children and youth, to help more children feel good about themselves and to have the information and support they need to choose an active and healthy lifestyle for today and tomorrow. Schools are nurturing environments for children - it's a safe place for them to explore and develop positive lifelong skills and healthy attitudes.

Schools are one of the best settings to promote a collaborative approach involving various community partners including school staff, parents, community volunteers, for-profit, and not-for-profit organizations to enable children to make smart lifestyle choices. There is solid research and evidence to support physical activity and healthy eating as essential to health and learning. We look forward to continuing our work with the Office of Health Promotion on many initiatives, including implementing the Active Kids, Healthy Kids strategy to promote healthy active living in many settings, including schools.

Education is very pleased this year to be the lead department for the Children and Youth Action Committee. This committee was established to support government departments working together to collaborate and share resources which will enhance efforts to support the youngest members of our community. Mr. Chairman, an unhealthy body cannot support a healthy mind.

This is an exciting time as we move forward with the projects to help promote the health and well-being of our students, and a part of our efforts is to introduce a new community use of schools policy. Young Nova Scotians will have a more affordable access to school gyms and playing fields once the amendment to the Education Act, which has been introduced, is passed. It is part of the Learning for Life commitment to encourage more young people to be more active. The amendment supports a new provincial policy on community use of schools. It will allow young people up to the age of 21 to use publicly owned school facilities for physical and recreation activities without rental fees. They will pay only for direct additional costs, including extra custodial services if they are needed.

We've worked with school boards and recreation partners on this policy. It was the key to ensure fair and reasonably consistent access to our schools for non-profit community groups, particularly for youth across the province. Making our facilities more available is one of the many steps we are taking to help encourage more physical activity among Nova Scotia's young people; the policy also makes good use of schools as community resources. Community not-for-profit groups will have access to school facilities at a nominal rental fee, to cover school board costs such as heat, electricity, and supervision.

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Turning now, Mr. Chairman, to the higher education sector. We are blessed in this province with 11 universities, with a community college that has 13 campuses, and they are complemented by about 45 private trade schools and career colleges. As I said yesterday, Nova Scotia leads the country in the percentage of its 18 to 24 year olds who access post-secondary education; indeed, we are 62 per cent above the national average. One of the reasons for that is that government has continued to invest in students, universities and the community college because we believe it will build a stronger Nova Scotia. We have the second highest university funding per capita in Canada, and we have increased funding to universities by 13 per cent since 1998-99.

We understand and appreciate that universities are facing rising costs. We appreciate they, like all agencies, have significant cost pressures and government is continuing to invest in post-secondary education at a rate at which Nova Scotians can afford. We are, Mr. Chairman, investing more than $206 million in our universities this year, and they also received $8 million on March 31st, which they can use during the fiscal 2004-05. In addition, of course, the universities will be the prime beneficiaries of the $5 million from the Office of Economic Development for research and innovation.

[10:00 a.m.]

Moreover, Mr. Chairman, my colleague, the Minister of Health, has a Health Research Foundation which is directly intended to promote health research, and of course the people who do that primarily are university researchers, and in addition there is also money in the Gaming Foundation, that most of the money that's accessed from there for research goes to universities. What I'm trying to say, although the base amount that is going to university is not what we would like or what the university would like, we work very carefully with them, and they understand the position that we are in, but I just want to point out that there is that additional money, which enhances the research efforts of universities, for them to access and it comes from our government.

We are also committed to working with the universities on a multi-year funding agreement, and in this memorandum of understanding, once it's concluded, will give universities a three-year guarantee for operating funding. In return, we are discussing such important initiatives as reducing duplication, making it easier to transfer credits between universities and colleges, identifying and supporting programs in areas that address Nova Scotia's skill needs and also to keep tuition increases to a minimum.

We are also, through the Council of Maritime Premiers, led by our Premier, working on a proposal to the federal government to help universities address the cost of maintaining their buildings - I said the Council of Maritime Premiers, and I want to correct myself, that group is now the Council of Atlantic Premiers, Mr. Chairman.

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I just want to mention one other thing about the universities that is not all that well recognized outside of the university community - it is the tremendous work that our universities in Nova Scotia do with other countries. Saint Mary's, Dalhousie, Acadia, St. F.X., UCCB and, indeed, all of the universities, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in my constituency, all do significant international work.

One of the things that I learned last night, Mr. Chairman, when I was at Mount St. Vincent University at a function honouring a former long-time and extremely well-respected civil servant, Dr. Fred MacKinnon - I was talking to Dr. Brown, the President of Mount St. Vincent University, and that university, its education school has signed an agreement with the Government of Jamaica to provide in-service training for all school principals in Jamaica. That is the type of international work that we are doing. Indeed, there are 55 school principals from Jamaica in Nova Scotia as I speak, working with the people at Mount St. Vincent to improve and to enhance their educational and administrative skills, of course with the benefit to Jamaican students.

I would encourage all members, if you do get the chance to visit university campuses, to find out what they do internationally. The international component of our higher education sector is good. We are selling skills and knowledge, or giving skills and knowledge to those who need it. We're helping developing countries and, in addition of course, universities are getting some revenue from it. I should not leave the community college out of that group too, because I know that the community college is working down in Mexico among other places.

So when we think of our universities serving only our own Nova Scotian needs, I think we also have to recognize that they are taking their leadership and their considerable skills and knowledge to the world.

Mr. Chairman, we remain committed to our $123 million investment in the Nova Scotia Community College, to provide more students access to the education they need for the jobs that they want. The college has received an increase of $3 million in operating funding, bringing its budget to about $74 million this year.

I was looking at the community college statistics the other day, Mr. Chairman, and material which was released by them - and they do follow-up surveys every year - that about 97 per cent of their graduates are employed. That's not bad for an institution that has just begun. Indeed, I said in this House the other day, I think the community college education in this province is a bargain. I look at the types of skills that they are developing in our young people, the types of industrial needs they are meeting, and obviously the high employment rate is good solid evidence of my comment.

Mr. Chairman, there was a recent study by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission noting that university graduates saw their education, regardless of its cost, as an investment in their future. If students need loans to complete their college or university

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education they have access to Canada and Nova Scotia student loans. Recent federal announcements are encouraging because the expected parental contribution for the student's education is going to be reduced. I want to say in front of this House, in front of all Nova Scotians, it was the Department of Education, the Ministers of Education, my colleague, Mr. Angus MacIsaac, and former colleague, Jane Purves, who were largely instrumental in convincing the federal government, working with their colleagues the Council of Ministers of Education to get that very positive change happening, and I'd like to say thank you to Minister MacIsaac and those who worked with him in bringing that benefit to Nova Scotia students and Nova Scotia parents.

Mr. Chairman, we pay the interest on the loans while students are in school, and this means that when they graduate they pay the principal only. We also pay the interest for graduates who are having trouble with repayment. Students with Nova Scotia student loans now have access to our new Student Debt Reduction Program when they graduate. This is a $5.1 million program designed to help the students with the highest debt with repayment; indeed, some students will be able to have as much as 40 per cent of their student loan eliminated. More recently, the department placed ads in student and provincial papers and mailed notices directly to eligible students, and we also followed up, where possible, with e-mails to students, and we're also working on an automated system to make the application process easier for students. I encourage all eligible students to apply for that new program.

We continue to work with our partners and across business, labour, and education training partners, to build a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. Government faces the same challenges as other employers with an aging workforce, rapid advancement of technology and process innovation.

For our youngest Nova Scotians, newborns, we are expanding the Read to Me! Program to include more hospitals. What this program does is provide parents, a child's first and most important teachers, the resources they need to develop a love of learning with their children. Mr. Chairman, I'm delighted to say that I had the privilege of attending a couple of the openings of the Read to Me! Program, actually the one down in the South Shore Regional Hospital and another one at the Aberdeen Regional Hospital.

We have a number of shared initiatives in the Department of Education that help support the skills and learning of our youth. Programs and services include the development of a youth apprenticeship program, co-operative education opportunities, and a coordinated career development system of the province. As part of our commitment to narrow the skills gap, the skills and learning branch is leading the development of a provincial immigration strategy to attract and retain skilled immigrants in our province. I believe the strategy will ensure that resources are in place to make an easy transition for immigrants.

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Mr. Chairman, we'll be releasing the Skills Nova Scotia action plan early this Summer, and a progress report on the 2003-04 action plan shortly after that. As part of our Skills Nova Scotia commitment, we have established a sector liaison program to ensure that we are working closely with business and industry to understand and meet their human resource and skill requirements.

In recognition that our youth are our greatest asset, we will develop a strategy to help those youth who leave school early to develop meaningful job skills, and then help them to successfully return to the education system. In addition, we're working with partners across the province to develop the labour market information required to ensure that our supply of skilled and talented workers are meeting the demands of business and industry, and that opportunities to start and grow business are highlighted. We will also continue to work with our partners under the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning to provide more opportunities for adults to improve their literacy and numeracy skills and/or get their high school diploma.

Mr. Chairman, one other sector, which I mentioned in passing, that I would once again like to talk about is the private education sector. We have many first-rate private career colleges in this province, and they are an integral part of this province's education system. Indeed, I know of at least one of these institutions whose curriculum has been adopted Canada-wide and has set the Canadian standard, and that is the Commercial Safety College out in Masstown, which is in my colleague's - Bill Langille - constituency. Their truck driving curriculum is acknowledged as the best anywhere.

Mr. Chairman, as you can see, we have an exciting year ahead. We will continue to work towards a high-quality education system, a strong workforce, and a bright future for all Nova Scotians. Thank you very much. (Applause)

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, first, I was wondering if the minister would make available a copy, to the House, of his comments. I realize that for a lot of his speech he spoke from a prepared text, and I would ask him if he could table that for members' interest, if he could, please. Thank you. I assume that will be done.

First of all, Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that this is a unique opportunity for me, because - and I'm sure it's a unique opportunity for the member for Hants East, as it will be for the Liberal Education Critic - as teachers, we have a wonderful opportunity to stand in this House and talk about something that's near and dear to our hearts. We also have the opportunity to bring up things that have been brought to our attention by teachers-teachers who call, teachers who e-mail, and teachers who are regularly in contact, and they want to know about this particular policy or that policy. So many of the things I'm going to bring up over the next number of hours and the next number of days, I'm bringing forward on behalf

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of teachers, parents and, in a couple of cases, students, their concerns about things that have evolved over the past year in the school system.

[10:15 a.m.]

So let's begin. On February 17th, I wrote a letter to Vince Warner. I assume we know who Vince Warner is. For members opposite, Vince Warner is the Director of Testing and Evaluation. At that time, after a meeting that Joanna Redden, from the staff of the NDP, and I had with Mr. Warner, we were given a commitment that we would receive the questions that were deleted from the standardized test in Grade 12 math. Now the February 17th letter was followed up by a phone conversation that I had with Mr. Warner, and Mr. Warner assured me that eventually we would find out - and I think it's important for people who are watching this or members opposite, and I'm going to ask the minister for this comment, I'm going to go on at length on this, because this is a real, crucial issue - did we actually have standardized Grade 12 math tests in this province?

I can tell you the answer, the answer is no, because in certain schools across this province if a particular teacher said we're not going to do Question 50, and you don't have to do Question 12, and don't worry about Question 35, you aren't responsible for those ones at this particular Garde 12 math class in whatever school, but if you went down the road or in the next system, you could find another math teacher who would say you have to do them all, or the math teacher would say you don't have to Question 50, but you have to do everything else. Now, the question to the Minister of Education is this: Is that a standardized test, and secondly, a standardized test that is marked by the teachers in that school? I know that the Deputy Minister of Education, based upon his experience in another province, can tell us of how exams are mailed to the provincial capital, Fredericton, in New Brunswick, and then the results are back. We did not have that in this province. Is that a standardized test? Those two questions deserve to be answered for parents and for children across this province.

More particularly, I'm looking forward to hearing from Mr. Warner, because if Question 50 was deleted in, let's say, the majority of high schools in this province - I use it only as an example, Heaven knows, I don't know what Question 50 was. I saw this math exam. You want an intimidating process, it was an intimidating process, in my opinion, but kids have to meet the standards, so let's go for it - but if Question 50 is deleted in school after school after school, then we have problem. So how many Question 50s were deleted? How many Question 35s were deleted? That's a pretty simple piece of information.

If you have the staff evaluation and we look at the line item, their budget item, which is on Page 6.6, I believe, of the Supplementary Detail for the fiscal year 2004-05, surely Mr. Warner can provide that information to us. This is not rocket science - which teachers in which schools deleted which questions? Secondly, is it a true standardized exam when the teachers are allowed to do that and, furthermore, they mark their own exams? I would like to have the minister's comments on those two points, please.

[Page 177]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I was pleased to hear that the honourable member does support a provincial testing program in his comments. I do understand the context in which he's putting his questions. Testing does help us to be accountable to students, to parents, and it gives our partners information about how to improve student learning. I don't know whether anybody used the term "standardized" for that math exam this year - the honourable member is quite correct, it wasn't standardized and he quite clearly articulated some reasons why it wasn't.

However, the exam was developed by teachers, it was reviewed by teachers, and the validity of the exam as a measure of, or reflecting the intended learning outcomes in the Grade 12 mathematics program in Nova Scotia has not been questioned by anybody. The exam itself is a good exam. You can ask virtually any teacher you wish, who taught Grade 12 mathematics, did that test try to measure the intended learning outcomes, and the answer clearly is going to be yes.

Now what happened - and next year it will be standardized - the reason it wasn't standardized this year primarily was the first thing, but what it does - and I think it's important that people understand this - for a variety of reasons not all students or all teachers covered the same material; in other words, the same amount. Certain topics were left out, to be quite frank. Either they didn't have time to do them, they didn't move fast enough or, in some cases, to be quite candid, I expect it was felt mutually beneficial by everybody not to bother with that one.

The fact is those exams did measure what students were supposed to learn. Teachers were given the opportunity and said if there was material we were not able to cover or whatever it is in our class, for one reason or another, the instruction from the department was don't examine the students on those questions. It's not fair. So what you have is a situation - and I've yet to hear anybody say anything different, including students, the very few that I heard from - is that they were to have been answering questions only on things they were expected to have learned and for which they had received instruction.

MR. ESTABROOKS: The member should understand that if the question doesn't get answered, you ask it again. Will next year's exams be marked in Halifax?

MR. MUIR: I apologize - I would have answered that question, I didn't think you'd asked it. I didn't get that question or I would have answered. The marking of next year's exam will follow the procedure that was done this year. There will be a sample brought into Halifax and marked for comparative purposes. To have a central core of marking, I guess if I had my druthers, that would be the thing but the expense of doing that is significant and right now the feeling is that money can better be allocated in classrooms.

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MR. ESTABROOKS: The issue of standardized provincial exams isn't going away. I continue to hear from young men and women - I can bring up Hayley Osborne's example.

She needed a basic 65, she had 80s in everything else and she wants to get into Saint Mary's. She can get in, but she's not qualified for any scholarships. I thank Hayley for being in contact with me and I thank her mother for being in contact with me.

Are we really getting our value for dollar here when it comes to these standardized tests. I see the line item I referred to earlier on Page 6.6 where $1.487 million is allocated. That sort of number doesn't mean anything to me. Again, I mention the staff member involved, Joanna Redden from the NDP caucus office, contacted through a FOIPOP information on Testing and Evaluation. On April 16th, we received this document and, if it's acceptable - I don't know if the minister has it in front of him, it would be appropriate that he does, it would be appropriate if one of his staff also has that document - I want to look at the breakdown and the background of the Testing and Evaluation Division of the Department of Education. First, for the record, I think it's important you understand what this division in the Department of Education does. The Testing and Evaluation Division is responsible for all matters relating to student assessment, program evaluation, school improvement planning. The division develops, administers and marks provincial, national and international student assessments. It conducts professional development for teachers in the methodologies associated with student assessment practices. The division administers parent, student and teacher surveys in support of school improvements, planning, and publishes reports and guides to support student achievement.

That's a mandate that's worthy when it comes to communication and making sure that all the dollars are accounted for, but when you look at the breakdown - and for people who haven't followed it and for members opposite or members of the Third Party who want copies of it - Salaries and Benefits are listed at $467,000, and then if you look at the next item, it is Teachers Meetings and Professional development - $499,376.85.

Before I go to the other columns - that's half a million dollars. I'm not going to Hotel Rooms, I'm not going to Coffee, and I'm not going to that cheap shot that we always go through. People like to know about that. They spend $47,000 on that stuff? Your predecessor used to say it's the union's fault. It's part of the agreement, we have to feed them or they won't come. Well, I'll tell you something - don't feed them, go to them. So I want to know in that half million dollars there, could you tell me what portion of that was used when we were looking at the Grade 12 standardized - if I use the wrong term again - provincial exams?

MR. MUIR: I'm going to ask the honourable member to rephrase that question because I don't know whether he's talking about pre the period of time during which the exam was developed or the marking time or the in-service for teachers - could you just perhaps be a little more precise?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Could you be more specific, member?

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MR. ESTABROOKS: Well, he's talking half a million dollars, we can be as precise and take as much time as we can, I hope, because if I look at the next column there, I see Teacher Substitutes' Expenses. In fact, probably considering an e-mail I received from a substitute, it should be called, supply teachers, but that's another topic. Teacher Substitutes' Expenses - $160,772 - for staff, I assume, relieved of their duties to come to some kind of in-service work. I hope it's not all in Halifax, because there are more convenient ways to get teachers together. So I guess we could break it down this way - what number of teachers were involved, and at what expense, to put together the Grade 12 provincial exams?

MR. MUIR: We will provide that information for the honourable member. I don't have that and we're going to have to do some further analysis to get it.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The minister has agreed to undertake to provide that information to the member.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I look at the next column that's listed there, and for members and if there are other people watching this, it's including Printing and Shipping Expenses - $197,303. I would assume that cost is to ship exams out and back to make sure that appropriate instructions are included for the people who are receiving them at individual schools, but then I see Operational Expenses of $36,099. I'd like to get some specifics, particularly when it comes to how much of the printing and shipping expenses revolved around the Grade 12 provincial exams.

MR. MUIR: I don't have that detail with me, but we will be pleased to generate the information and see that the honourable member receives it.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Those answers disappoint me. I can be candid with you to that degree I hope, without being accused of grandstanding on this. But we're talking half a million, $500,000, when it comes to teachers meetings and professional development in this department of Testing and Evaluation. Professional development days play an important role across this province, although I know that some parents question the value of them, particularly the timing of them within service days.

[10:30 a.m.]

I'm under the impression, maybe I could be corrected, probably I will be corrected, that these are meetings coordinated and directed by your staff, Mr. Minister, and that these teachers through professional development are dealing with assessment and evaluation and they're coming to a central area, I would assume in a lot of cases, Halifax. Is this after all, one of the big ticket items when it comes down to those columns of numbers that the media and, yes, this member for Timberlea-Prospect is always interested in the hotel bills, or the use of these hotels for these meetings. Is that figure, or those numbers included in that $0.5 million?

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MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, that would reflect professional development costs for teachers' meetings and of course there are administrative expenses in having those meetings. I don't whether the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect has ever been part of a task force for the department in his days when he was practising in the field of education, but he would know that when you bring groups together and you bring people in from provinces or indeed into Truro because I do know that they have held meetings there, you have to find a facility, people have to stay. Certainly the administrative costs, yes, sure, there would be administrative costs included in that.

MR. ESTABROOKS: You see, Mr. Minister, my concern comes down to, on this issue of standardized testing, are we really getting the best bang for our buck? We have, and you said these tests, especially the Grade 12 math test, was a very credible exam this year. I would assume that if it's a good exam and a solid piece of testing of what was going on in classrooms across this province when it came to Grade 12 math, that test could be used again, perhaps not in its entirety this year, but it can be used and recycled, probably the wrong term. Therefore, should there not be a saving over the next number of years when we look at these tests? I mean, are we going to have the same expensive face us again next year with a cost of $0.5 million in testing and evaluation. If we have a good test, it has to be - if I could use this expression - tinkered with, then surely we won't see these types of expenses next year when it comes to another Grade 12 math exam.

MR. MUIR: The honourable member is partially right in that. Clearly some of the basic work has been done and he's absolutely right in that the test is a valid one and clearly the core questions, you can't simply repeat questions from year to year, although obviously, precise questions, but clearly if it reflects what was expected to be learned, then there'll be a question on it next year, so the basis is right. The fact is, is that test is developed by teachers, it's not developed by department staff. Obviously department staff work with teachers, but in the protocols established for this Grade 12 math test, which is really the measurement of school accomplishment or school achievements, is something that is being demanded by the public more than ever before. The costs which are associated with the Grade 12 math tests, there will probably be less this year than there were last year, simply because a lot of the ground work has been done. The costs this year, and I'm talking about putting the test together, I'm not talking about in-service teachers, the physical construction of the test or production of the test should be less, yes.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Considering the staff that are in the Testing and Evaluation Division and considering that there is an evaluation consultant for literacy and an evaluation consultant for English and an evaluation consultant for French, all-important jobs, I know. I'm wondering then, with this math exam, who from the staff coordinated the process?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, this was led by the testing division. We didn't have a specific person on staff for whom that was a full-time responsibility. I would again be happy to provide the member with the names of people who did participate in that process, for

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example, I understand one of the people who was a participant in that process was the math head at Sir John A. Macdonald High School.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I'm aware of that, but the concern is, you're paying this staff, these people to be the leaders, to do the coordination, the teachers are the ones who have the expertise on the ground, if that's the appropriate expression. The teachers are the ones who are delivering in the classroom each day, and I'm aware that Barry Walsh, along with other teachers, was involved in the process, but surely with the credibility and the importance of math because I recall those days when there was a math consultant, there was a social studies consultant, those were good ole days, I guess we could say - so who coordinated the project? Who on your staff was the one who brought this issue together, because at a cost of $499,000, yes, $499,000 just to repeat, these are dollars that someone has to be accountable for and I would assume that a lot of it involves the Grade 12 math exams.

MR. MUIR: The ultimate responsibility is the director of the testing division, Mr. Chairman. I will have to find out if somebody was specifically engaged and paid to lead that process, and it's not unusual for the department, as it has for so many years, to bring in either a practising teacher or somebody who has some expertise from the public schools or recently retired to do that leadership. I don't have the name with me, if there was.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I want to stay with this Testing and Evaluation. I want to look in specifics at the Grade 6 testing. Again I come back to that $0.5 million figure. When we talked about what portion of it was for Grade 12 provincial exams, I didn't get an answer. So I'm not going to go down that road again of asking what portion of it was involved in the elementary school testing.

I want to direct the minister's attention to a column that really quite concerned me. It's entitled, grammar dismissed as "drill and kill", and Steven Laffoley, is the author. I will table this. There's a headline that provoked a few e-mails to my constituency office. It's from The Daily News of April 19th, and in this, this columnist is interviewing or has a comment from a member of your staff, and I've highlighted the part in big print so I can read it, but for the record it says, also, the new Time to Learn Strategy for reading and writing in the elementary schools mandates 90 to 120 minutes of daily instruction. That is certainly commendable. Then the columnist goes on to write, but if students are not taught the fundamentals of English such as grammar, then what are they doing every day for 120 minutes? Then that particular staff member who was commenting on this says, the department dismisses English grammar work as "drill and kill." I was wondering if you could comment on that for me, Mr. Minister?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I haven't read the article to which he has referred. If I could have a copy of that it would be helpful. What I want to tell the honourable member is that grammar indeed is an important part of the Language Arts Program here in Nova Scotia, and indeed it's the Language Arts program that is used in Atlantic Canada.

[Page 182]

He will remember from his days in the public schools when the whole language program was brought in. Certainly I do and it replaced what was then known as phonics. However, you will find that I think the approach to whole language, which he's absolutely right was pretty pure when it was first introduced, has been moderated with a considerable degree of practicality, and I would be very surprised, Mr. Chairman, if you can find a classroom in this province where literacy skills, particularly spelling, grammar, and punctuation, are not part of the Language Arts program of studies.

I happened to be at a Literacy Award Day, I guess it was Monday, at the Redcliff Middle School which is just outside the Village of Bible Hill, in the constituency of my colleague for Colchester North. They had an essay contest on a number of literacy things for Grades 4 to Grade 7. One of the judges, anyway, the person who was there that day, was Mr. Bill Whalen, who was the former Superintendent of Schools in that district and also a very well-respected educator throughout this province. One of the things that he said when he was talking about the results of the essays for the contests, was that he was very impressed with the detail, the language, the syntactical detail that was there. The grammar and the punctuation, the spelling, he complimented the students on that.

Mr. Chairman, when I went to elementary school, we did a lot of drill and we did a lot of grammar and things like that, and I think it's probably done me in pretty good stead over the course of the years, and it's still done. It's just that I don't think spelling is a separate subject anymore and I don't think grammar is a separate subject anymore. As you remember, indeed at Grade 11, for example, in Grade 12 in the old system provincial examinations, and there must be one or two people in this House who wrote those beside me. You used to have an English A and an English B examination. Grammar was a part of, a formal rather than an incorporated part of the English language program right up through Grade 12.

The approach to that, like it did in so many things, whether it's History or other Social Studies courses or Mathematics, we can't live in the past. The new approaches work. I am prepared to say, Mr. Chairman, that the young people who leave our schools today have never been better prepared at any time in our history. Young people in schools learn things in Grade 7 that I learned in third year university. It's amazing. You get into the sciences, what students are being asked to learn and how well the great majority are prepared when they leave high school, is truly amazing.

The issue of grammar and writing skills, I have to say that I perhaps would like to see a little bit more emphasis on that, but I think the time has come, the swing-back has come and there is more emphasis being put on that then there has been for some years.

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[10:45 a.m.]

MR. ESTABROOKS: Well, thank you for that tour down memory lane. I see the Minister of Health, you must have written that test too, did you, or we administered it together somewhere that the Minister of Education is referring to. That's fine, I know some teachers have been called, old-fashioned teachers, and they're young teachers. They're old-fashioned teachers. They insist upon sending home the spelling list when the student hands in the work and they send home the spelling list and say go over this with mom or dad because this is important. There are administrators, not necessarily school principals, but school board administrators saying, don't do that. That's not the way we do it now, but they say that's what the parents want and they are delivering the product that is after all most acceptable to these young people. I do question to you that there are students in Grade 7, Grade 8, and Grade 9, and you can say they are learning the things that you learned in third year university. Many of them can't read the books. Many of them can't handle some of the skills that are necessary that they are being asked for. In fact, if I go back to this article written by Mr. Laffoley, he says if students aren't taught the fundamentals, what use is the province's reading and writing strategy?

When we look at this Grade 6 test, grammar, obviously, was not a big factor in putting the test together. Grammar was not, after all, one of it, and I quote my friend, the honourable member for Halifax Citadel, who said the other day to me, and I know he doesn't mind me using this, he said that if you set the bar low enough, everybody's going to pass, if the first bar, when it comes to a Grade 6 literacy test is not grammar, but it's organization of ideas and how students express themselves. Mr. Minister, I can tell you I've had teachers say that's all touchy-feely. That's touchy-feely, but when you have the opportunity to say to a teacher who has the student in Grade 10, and you're the Grade 6 teacher and the teacher in Grade 10 says to you, did you teach spelling to these kids, because they're in Grade 10 and they can't spell, they can't put a sentence together. But, it seems they didn't do too badly on some of the Grade 6 tests. If you were consulting teachers and if you were bringing, as your staff were bringing people in together to put this test together, as I assume you did, how come grammar didn't play a more important role?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I continue to be amazed at the line of questioning of my honourable friend for Timberlea-Prospect. First of all, the Grade 6 test is too easy, the Grade 12 test is too hard. Teachers are all perfect, yet results are bad, so it's the fault of the Department of Education. He is not really consistent in his approach to this thing.

I want to answer, Mr. Chairman, with your permission. He had asked about the math and I have that information for you now. The math team that led that exercise was David DeCoste, who is a university professor, it says here at Acadia, but actually I think David is at St. F.X., if I'm not mistaken, or he was there. He also was a math leader in the Antigonish school board for some number of years, and I do know that I had worked with him when I was in the Department of Education doing school surveys. The Math Education Evaluation

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Coordinator was, Marg Craig, and also a former Math Consultant with the department, Richard MacKinnon, and also 11 math teachers. I will table that for the honourable member.

Mr. Chairman, I want to tell the honourable member that writing and grammar are a big part of the Language Arts curriculum or the Literacy curriculum in the public schools in Nova Scotia. Indeed, in Grade 4, among the materials that are given to every student is a grammar and writing handbook. I do believe, probably, that the degree of emphasis on writing and spelling may vary from classroom to classroom. It's like the math tests. Some teachers did certain things. Some teachers did not do everything.

Mr. Chairman, I just want to assure the honourable member and this House and all Nova Scotians that literacy for the public schools of Nova Scotia, does include grammar and spelling.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Well aside from the inconsistencies, we're having an exchange here based upon a difference of ideas and whether teachers are being consulted. Teachers are being consulted in part of the process and they were for the Grade 12 math exam, and for various reasons there was a real true disconnect, that students are wearing, students that I hear from wear. Now I hear from parents concerned about this process with the Grade 6 situation. I just want to take you through one of them. This is a parent from Pictou County, who can't get access to the Grade 6 results, who can't see it? That's all in Halifax. It was all sent to Halifax. This particular parent says, well if my son, in this case, did not do well, I want to know why he didn't do well, and I want to have the opportunity to sit down with my son's teacher and go over that result. She has been told by a member of the Pictou board, those results are in Halifax. We don't have them.

When these parents went in to meet with their children's teachers and they were going over the Grade 6 results, the results weren't there for the kids or the parents to see. The results weren't there. So the work that they did which was determining how they did on this test, weren't there. If any kind of strategy is involved at all in good parent-teacher communication, I mean having gone through many of them, the best piece of proof is when you turn it around and say, Dad, Mom, have a look at this, and you have the result that the student achieved or didn't achieve. Then again, you can say to the parent and listen, if you want a copy of this, by the time the parent-teacher conference is over, I'll make a copy and you can take it home and you can go over it with Johnny, because Johnny has to address this and this as issues.

That is not the case with these Grade 6 results. In this case, again, her son did not meet expectations. The results that the parents want to see, to lay their hands on, to be able to say, so what did he not achieve, is not available. I've heard that complaint, from not just this parent in Pictou County, but from other parents in my community, and I know everyone always says, oh I hear from my ex-students who now have children in the school system, but is that the way to deliver the results? That's not the way to deliver the results. I would like

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the minister to comment on the fact that if teachers are consulted and this is a process that the department is involved in, when you lay the results out for the parents and you say, here it is, this is what he or she did not achieve, you have the piece of work that they did in the school system. Could you comment on that, please?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, again, to imply that the teacher wouldn't have results is not, probably, an accurate representation. What you're talking about is, did the teacher have a copy of the test so they could give it to the parent? Is that what you were looking for? Just clarify that for me.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I will, Mr. Chairman. It's a piece of writing that was put together by a student. Why isn't the piece of writing available so the parent can see what Johnny didn't achieve?

MR. MUIR: That's what I thought you were referring to. Of course they did have the results by categories and strengths. It's all broken down into a grid. What I can tell the honourable member is, if you want to give me that parent's name we'll look into it. I can understand the concern. It's not something that's filtered into my office. I think the conference is and, as we know, there was somewhere around 10 per cent of the students and parents who would have had those conferences. The feedback that I've had is that they went very well.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I would like to talk as we continue on Grade 6. We all know the importance of literacy, especially having young people, and the press conference that we attended that day with that exceptional young teacher from Hillside in Sackville, the elementary school just next to A.J. Smeltzer. I want to address this issue because it's a concern that I have when it comes to libraries. Maybe it's just in Timberlea-Prospect, I doubt it, but we have libraries, we don't have librarians, let's be clear on that. We have libraries that sit empty, in the dark, not being used. You no longer have the opportunity when you timetable your staff, because usually you take, if you're fortunate enough, you're a librarian, you would always have the opportunity to teach a couple of English classes. They're very motivated. They want to be involved with the students, but not to have, and I see the recognitions on some members' faces and even the Page for a change is looking and saying, I went to a school that didn't have a librarian. All of us as older men or women are saying, no, that can't be the case. It is the case. Librarians are available in certain schools within the HRM because of supplementary funding, and I'm not going down that road at all. I want you to know, that at one time, there was a real commitment from the Department of Education on the role of the library service in this province.

From what I've heard, from some librarians, there's no problem with getting excuses of why it's no longer important, because after all you allow the teachers to go in and turn the computers on. You allow the teachers to go in and go through the material, but who's ordering the books? Who's deciding what turns these kids onto what particular grade and

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level of reading? Who's deciding that? The expert should be the librarian. The librarian should be the one to say - and this is no reflection on the parent volunteers, this is no reflection on the assistants who work in libraries today - about the ordering of books. The ordering of the materials is vital, because if you don't have a place where kids can drop in and pick up a copy of Bobby Orr's biography, only an example, Mr. Minister, Maurice Rocket Richard's biography, if you don't have an opportunity, that's the sort of book that kids have to gobble up, but you have to be able to go in and get it, take it out, have it back in a week, and Bobby Orr's the next day, okay. Get it back to them in and out, but the role of librarians in this province is now nonexistent. It's a very sad commentary, and I'd like to ask the minister to comment on the situation?

MR. MUIR: I want to say just to begin, I don't know whether that question will eventually end up here or not, or perhaps one of the other members will be, but this department and this minister recognize the value of public libraries, and I know he's talking about school libraries. Indeed, because the public library is about the only agency in this province where everybody has access to it, it takes everybody. It has something for people who read well. It has books on tape for those - anyway we made an additional significant contribution to public libraries in this province and indeed the 2003-04, we were able to give them an additional $750,000 for distribution. Of course the budget amount is up this year. I put that out as a preamble to my response, Mr. Chairman, simply that I want him to understand that probably no government in recent memory has understood and appreciated the role of libraries more than this one.

I'm always surprised, Mr. Chairman, by the honourable member's questions because I don't want to reflect on parent volunteers, and I don't want to reflect on classroom teachers, but when he is implying that good quality books are not getting into the elementary schools of this province, that's exactly what he's implying.

[11:00 a.m.]

MR. ESTABROOKS: That's what I'm saying.

MR. MUIR: That's exactly what he's implying, that the classroom teachers and the parent volunteers aren't doing a good job. But I want to tell you (Interruption) well, I mean, the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, he might want to put law books in the library or something, but they'd be dated too because he's been in the House for too long. (Interruptions)

MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.

[Page 187]

MR. MUIR: Since the year 2000, this government has put over one million books in the classrooms of this province. What I'm going to suggest for the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage - I don't know if his youngster is in school now or not . . .

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: You'll find out in an hour.

MR. MUIR: In an hour? You're going to talk about him? Okay. What I want you to do and I want the member for Timberlea-Prospect to do is go into some elementary classrooms in this province and take a look at the literacy resources that are in there and how they're being used by the teachers and the degree of reading that goes on in schools now compared to what used to go on. It's a tremendous improvement.

I was in Redcliff Middle School last Monday morning. They had a literacy display. Library - a library is a place that holds books. We've 12, 14 libraries in schools. Every classroom has its own library in elementary school now. As I said, I was in Redcliff Middle School last Monday morning and they had a display of books set up in their foyer that - to use the expression, it just blew me away. Every student in that school reads every day. Every day. I want to tell you the resources are there.

I understand that the honourable member is making a plea on behalf of having a teacher-librarian in every school. I appreciate teacher-librarians but at the elementary level right now, if we ever get the financial issues straightened out, then there would be more money and perhaps that's one of the things that could be added. The tactic that is taken by the Department of Education, which is supported by our partners in the field, is let's get the resources into the school. Resources right now are more important so they can be there and they can be administered by the very able classroom teachers that we have.

For those that are fortunate enough to have a teaching librarian, that is a good thing. On the other hand, I just want to tell you that the classroom teachers, in terms of getting reading material into the hands of students in our elementary schools, are doing a good job.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect, with approximately nine minutes remaining.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Come out to the junior high schools sometime. Come to the wastelands. Come to those Grade 8s that are getting nothing because of the neglect of curriculum leadership across this province when it comes to junior highs. All the fancy books and all the decorations in elementary school, when you get a little guy in Grade 8 who really has no interest in the school system, you have a problem. He's a discipline problem, he doesn't want to come to school, he doesn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let me tell you, middle schools and junior highs across this province would benefit from having a library that's open, an opportunity for them to actually come in and see what's going on.

[Page 188]

However, I have another topic and I don't want to get on one of my personal vendettas. I have a fabulous daughter who works for CBC in the Yukon. She told me one time she wanted to be a teacher. I said, are you out of your mind? Then she told me she wanted to be a lawyer. Then I told her what I really thought. But, let me tell you, this fabulous young woman is a journalist. My second daughter who is now planting trees somewhere up there in Northern Ontario, is thinking of becoming a teacher. My first reaction to that is, where are you going to go for your B.Ed.? More importantly, if you can't get into a number of B.Ed schools across this province, you're going to go to Maine. You're going to go to the University of Maine, to the various campuses where they offer degrees.

The question is a very simple one. What are we doing having Nova Scotian kids - they don't like to be called kids - having Nova Scotia young men and women training as teachers in the United States of America?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I suppose I could get philosophical about this, having done some of my training in the United States of America and I thought it was very good. Indeed, they have very good programs down there, quite seriously. We fund about 400 seats in the Province of Nova Scotia. The number of people going into education programs seems to provide, with the exception, as the honourable member well knows, ever since I've been in the business, we've had those problems. The number of seats that are funded in Nova Scotia is really enough to meet the demand.

The question is, they've been through this and I went through it because I was on that other side at one time - do you treat education as a liberal arts subject or do you treat it as a training program? If you're treating it as a training program, which it really is, the same with medical schools and dental schools. If you ask doctors and dentists, they talk about training and all of these things. I think we have to be honest about that - some of the very finest young people I know have gone down to Fort Kent or to Carlisle. I wish there would have been space for them in Nova Scotia, they're certainly quality people and they will get jobs.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I'm not disputing the quality of the programs - based upon your own experience at the universities in the United States. My concern comes down to the fact that with young people facing the opportunity of jobs in other parts of the country, as young teachers returning to this province, I have been told there have been some concerns about the fact that in certain situations, the Department of Education - those members of your staff that certify these young teachers who have training in the United States as opposed to graduating from universities here in Nova Scotia - at times it's more difficult to get that teaching certificate and to get that teaching number because you do come from one of the campuses at the University of Maine. Could you confirm that?

[Page 189]

MR. MUIR: The honourable member is correct - I would encourage any student who was going out of Nova Scotia to do their education studies to check with our department. Rightly or wrongly, I believe we have the highest education standards for teacher training in the country.

MR. ESTABROOKS: I know my good friend, my colleague for Cape Breton Centre, his son is attending Acadia. He has a close friend who is attending a university in Maine, taking a similar education degree. The comment was passed on to us and I'm always interested in this when my younger daughter makes the choice of her career - as if she might consult and ask me- where should I go? Should I go for a two-year education program? Or, should I go to the United States where it seems I can get a comparable program in a shorter number of months and it doesn't seem to be that when it comes down to it, there's not much difference in the programs. If I look at them both, I can weigh them both, but I can get the degree quicker and I can get a comparable degree at one of the campuses at the University of Maine. Based upon your experience and looking at even where you were last evening at Mount St. Vincent University, is it necessary or in your opinion, perhaps I'm out of line here asking the Minister of Education this, but you can see the option that these young men and women are facing. They can get a similar degree quicker and cheaper with less number of months involved by going to the United States, yet, Mount St. Vincent keeps plodding along with the two-year program. I'm wondering if you could comment on that opinion of mine?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, one of the problems that sometimes arises in Canada is the fact that education is primarily a provincial responsibility. The requirements for teacher certification, they aren't consistent across the country. Indeed at the last meeting of my Atlantic colleagues, I suggested that we should look for a national teacher certification standard. I don't think the honourable member would disagree with that, or at least certainly one in Atlantic Canada. I want to tell you I did put it on the table, and I also put it on the table at a national meeting.

We have good education here. The universities in terms of their scheduling - that would be a matter for the universities to determine. We have four institutions in Nova Scotia that are offering teacher education: Université -Sainte-Anne, Acadia University, St. Francis Xavier University and Mount St. Vincent University. They're all fine schools, but to be quite candid, I would be happy to see them streamline the program. If they can do it in less than two years and want to reschedule to do it, the fact is there are certain requirements that have to be met and that scheduling would be up to the institution.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate some of the comments that we've had during these exchanges, and I can assure you that I'll be back at a later time to pursue some of these thoughts. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

[Page 190]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I have now some of the information which the honourable member had requested and I will - if you would make copies of that so I could retain one, and give one to the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect, I'd be grateful.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings West.

MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, like my colleague, the member for Timberlea-Prospect, with an education background, it is indeed a great opportunity to be here and to take a look for the first time at the Education estimates, also, of course, some of the policies, plans, programs surrounding public education in Nova Scotia.

This time last year, in fact, I was a vice-principal and before that, a teacher. My commitment, I must state very clearly, that for public education there is no question of its enormous value, and I would also say an enormous responsibility to be part of the forming of the next generation of Nova Scotians. In fact, the requirement to produce solid citizens, is certainly incumbent upon the education system.

[11:15 a.m.]

I know also, however, that there are enormous strains, when we take a look at the financing of education. Also, different regions and different schools and different school boards, also have a number of challenges that are constant, ongoing and some of them, in fact, complex to bring about a quick resolve. Possibly today, I will share a little bit of time with one of my colleagues, just as part of our opening. I thought that I would start off with probably what has been I guess the most asked questions, or the most e-mails and commentary that has been brought my way in regard to public education this year.

I would like to find out first from the minister, based on a recent conversation that I had with Mr. Sweeney in the Department of Education regarding the Grade 12 math exam, because without question, that produced the most phone calls and the most comments from around the province. There were a lot of questions surrounding the Grade 12 provincial exam.

First of all, I would like to know from the minister, is there in fact going to be a definitive statement from the minister that all of the marks stand where they may, and there'll be no asterisk or whatever by the math mark because we know that at the end of the school year, come June, for those students who do year long and also second semester math, there is going to be once again, a different math exam. The first exam given in January does pose real problems. With the current mark, it will affect acceptance of some students and possible before the end of the House sitting, I will bring a few of those students here to the Legislature. In fact, top-notch quality students who failed their very first exam ever, and have been told, and in two cases they happen to be unfortunately, Grade 11 students. They have been explicitly told that they would not get into a science program with that drop in the math

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mark. I'm wondering, is the minister going to let students' parents in Nova Scotia know finally, definitively, Mr. Sweeney said, perhaps in a couple of weeks is what he gave me, and I hope that is indeed the fact. Mr. Minister, a comment please?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, we talked about the Grade 12 provincial exam with the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect, you're right, a number of the students who wrote that exam in January, were Grade 11 students. Another thing that happened in that January exam, is that there were more students by number in the top math course, than there were in the second level one which was the standard academic math. I guess I would like to ask Mr. Glavine, and I don't know if he even wants to answer the question, if he were the minister what would he do, and how can he account, as a former school principal, for the fact that there are a disproportionally large number of students, clearly people who have no business being there at all, and you understand that, there's no question. How do we cure that? How do we cure that? How do we get guidance counsellors and students and parents to say, hey, that honours math class is not for me?

MR. GLAVINE: I didn't expect to be challenged during the estimates, I would have to say right from the start here.

AN HON. MEMBER: Go for coffee.

MR. GLAVINE: Probably this is a topic that could maybe best start over a coffee. Certainly there's no question that this is an enormous challenge in each school and for each student and parent to make the best selection of courses. It's part of a course constantly challenging students to remain in the full academic program as long and as far and so on as possible. There's no question, there were some students who were perhaps ill-placed in the academic math program. However, that being said, that still comprised a segment of students and a percentage I would not be able to comment on. I could find out perhaps from guidance counsellors, in fact, what kind of percentage was there.

However, the fact remains that some very top students in some schools across the province, did have a result totally out of context, out of character for their normal achievement. There certainly are a number of questions surrounding the exam. The problem that I have and my colleague, the member for Timberlea-Prospect pointed out is that, in fact, there were anywhere from maybe 15 to 20 or perhaps even more different exams that were written all at the same time. There were questions that were omitted, depending on the school. So we no longer can even compare the results from school to school, but yet, the student mark is there. Some students have been told that, in fact, that math mark will not get them into a top-level science program.

Also, and I have one case to follow up on. I had a parent come to my office. Their daughter was applying for ROTP, a national program. Up against some of the best students in the country, and a drop of even two or three marks on her math would, in fact, possibly

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make the difference. So you can imagine the stresses that they have been under. Of course she doesn't know her final determination yet as to whether she will get in. I know there are many considerations, but that change in a math mark for her was enormous. That's why I thought there should be a very clear statement that while yes it did measure outcomes - we know that the construct of the exam, the length and the language of the exam - I would also ask the minister here as well, when they talk about teachers who were consulted, was it their language that was put into the question, or was it indeed one final preparer of the exam who in fact, made the final determination of this exam, because that's a critical component as well. We know that the language of instruction for some teachers, and the language that ended up on the exam was problematic. So I would like to know, again, from the minister, about those two particular areas, about whether it truly is going to stand as is, and whether or not, in fact it was one author of the exam or a number of teachers who formulated this first exam?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to probably take a little bit of time to answer your question if you don't mind. First of all I want to say that we're finally getting results and really getting a chance to take a look in more detail at this. Across the province for students who wrote the exam, the question was, was there any difference in the number of students who passed the course this year or received credit for it, and there was no difference in seven of the eight boards. In terms of pass-fail, basically the results were about the same.

Another thing which I should mention is that the communication I've had from some of the university people, and again, we haven't sought it, is that they would say that the results of the provincial math exam were no great surprise to them, because what they see at the university level would match what the results of the exam were. I want to say that. The other thing is and I want to tell the honourable member, I mean he knows this as well as anybody that's been involved in high school education in this province, is that our universities here in Nova Scotia know what marks mean from school to school. The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect pointed that out, what does a Grade 11 chemistry mark mean in St. Patrick's High School, what does it mean in Sir John A. Macdonald high School, what does it mean in CEC or West Kings District?

Universities, they won't come out and say that, but simply to make good decisions, they have to exam that data and from a historical perspective they know what marks mean. A number of years ago when I was involved in the department as an inspector of schools and we used to go around and do these things called school surveys, and we would take exams and exam papers and do comparisons about, you know, what were the differences actually within a school or among the particular schools in the district and clearly, if we're saying that the mark that comes from West Kings District High School, and I believe that's probably the school your speaking of is it? (Interruption) I beg your pardon?

MR. GLAVINE: I'm actually speaking of a number of schools. The one example I gave regarding the ROTP . . .

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MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The minister has the floor until I recognize you member, but thank you.

MR. MUIR: That you will find, and we all know this, that the marks from school to school and all of these things are going to differ. When you start making these types of comparisons, it's awkward and this is one of the advantages of why the department, with public support by the way, is basically reinstituting a system of and has reinstituted a situation or provincial exams.

I can tell you that after talking with people within the department, that the results in the math test are very similar to the results of the first physics test, and you may very well know that. That physics test is now an accepted part of it. I can also tell you that the math test counts 30 per cent. The overall effect on a student's academic mark will be mixed. If you agree that the test does measure what was supposed to be learned. The degree of those learnings varied from classroom to classroom, but everybody tells me that it was a valid examination. In other words, it did measure and try to find out if students learned those things they're expected to learn.

I can tell you that the new Grade 12 math curriculum was implemented in September 2001. I guess it was September 2001. This would be third year for it. In the previous June, teachers received an implementation guide and a teacher resource, and leadership teams for every school board were trained to lead the implementation of the new curriculum in their schools, and indeed the honourable member was there. He may indeed be much more familiar with that than I am, because I wasn't in those days. Anyway, a text book was custom made for students to teach the curriculum. They were purchased for every student. This thing was custom made is what I'm saying.

As the implementation began, the department received considerable feedback from the teachers, that there were too many outcomes to accomplish in the number of teaching hours. The department's response was to provide documents showing how to fit all of the outcomes into the allotted time, but teachers said, still too much. As a result, the department then decided to review every single outcome in Grade 10, Grade 11, and Grade 12 math courses. Most outcomes are still required, but because of the feedback from the field - I mean this was not an arbitrary decision made by people in our curriculum division - because of feedback from the field, a number of the outcomes were removed, and still others were made optional. A package of information to communicate the changes to teachers was provided at the beginning of the school year. A larger package was sent with more detail on September 23rd. This Grade 12 math exam was scheduled to be administered across the province for the first time on January 27, 2004. It was developed and field tested and based only on the intended required learning outcomes from the curriculum. With the adjustment in outcomes, some teachers may have spent time in September teaching things that were no longer required, which meant that they had limited time to focus on the things that were required. To be fair to the students who may not have been taught some of these actual outcomes, the department

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instructed teachers to remove questions and topics that hadn't been taught. A math professor from St. F.X., his education faculty and three math teachers who weren't teaching math 12 in the first semester reviewed the final exam, and they all agreed it was fair.

[11:30 a.m.]

The Department of Education's testing staff met with every Grade 12 math teacher last Spring and again in the Fall, to review the exam. Teachers received a sample exam in October and thorough guidelines for administering the exam, including a form to complete and submit to the department if they decided to omit questions, and we have that data by the way. They were allowed to review the final exam a week in advance of the exam date, which is normally not permissible.

I think the honourable member would agree that the process that was used to construct the examination and the involvement of appropriate people in the field and the guidelines for administration that in some ways it went over backwards. That he also agrees that the exam was a valid one, in other words, it reflected what students were supposed to learn. We do know that for improvement, the public wants more accountability. I think there are some reasons that some students didn't do well. First of all, quite frankly, we cannot absolve students in this, we cannot. This is the tendency for everybody. If something doesn't work out well, blame everybody else but don't blame the students. You agree with that. Clearly, some students didn't take the test seriously and they don't take exams seriously at high school. One of the reasons for that is that with the marking process, I was there, I did it - the cumulative exams, the cumulative tests and all this, when you're asked to do sort of a summary exam and you are not practiced in that, it's difficult. I mentioned earlier, the fact is that there were students who were taking levels of math courses that they should not have been taking.

Mr. Chairman, when you have statistics that indicate that more students are in the honours math than in the regular math, I really think there is something the matter when that happens. I mean math is like many other things. Not everybody can make the varsity basketball team. All schools have a selection process for this. Not all students can make the varsity hockey team or the varsity field hockey team, or the varsity soccer team, yet there is something that says simply by the right of attending the school, you have the right to make the varsity math program, or the varsity chemistry program, or the varsity physics program. There's something wrong with our system when that happens. We know that people are different, and those honours courses are intended for roughly around the top 20 per cent of students, and when you get 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the students in a school registered in an honours course, there's something the matter there and you know as well as I do what's going to happen to the course in most cases. It's going to drop down to accommodate everybody. That's my little rant for today, by the way. Now I have another one coming too. I might as well get that off my chest too. (Laughter)

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The other thing that has happened, and I probably was guilty of this too when I was in the classroom. We have many, many exceptional teachers in our school system. We have some teachers who quite frankly aren't exceptional. We have exceptional MLAs, we have MLAs that aren't exceptional. We have exceptional doctors and doctors who aren't exceptional. I mean, it's the same thing like the varsity basketball team or the varsity hockey team. Some people can make it and some can't. This is different. However, one of the things that happened when we upped the requirements for teacher education and said that if you're going to teach school you had to have a degree, and you had to have a master's degree or whatever it was that we require, is that the more we know, the less we like to take direction. We had a lot of teachers in our public schools, and it has been this way for years, although I think it's better now, if you ask to see the Department of Education curriculum guide, they wouldn't even know what it looked like. That's worse, by the way, at the secondary school than it is at the lower level because you're getting the more academic content.

One of things that I'm pretty sure happened with that math exam, among other things, is that some teachers, and some, I'm not talking about them all, because we have many good teachers out there. When I say this, the other thing that happens in school all the time, is that you have a marvellous teacher, and we're indeed fortunate we have so many, who teaches topic A. Now the problem is that the curriculum is on topic B. The student was taught marvellously. Had a wonderful learning experience, but was the problem? They didn't learn what they were supposed to learn and somebody says, okay, we're going to give you a test on topic B. It doesn't mean you weren't well taught. You just weren't taught the right things. What I think, there is a message in this, is that teachers have to pay attention to the curriculum guidelines. In talking about the Education Act, it says, shall teach the course of study prescribed by the minister. I must admit - I probably shouldn't - that when I was in the classroom, I did take some liberty with that.

When you had provincial exams, which I actually did teach for, your liberties were somewhat limited. You found that if there was a provincial examination and the results were going to be disseminated or distributed, then you started to probably pay a little bit more attention to what it was people were going to be examined on. Well that was one way and my honourable colleague said you paid attention to the old provincial exams, and I want to tell you I did, because if it was good enough for previous years, it was probably good enough for my students to learn too. I think you're going to find that's going to happen.

This, no question, I was disappointed in the results. Schools were disappointed in the results, but it's not any one factor. There were a whole variety of things that happened. I can tell you, I really expect the exam results in June to be a lot better than they are right now or than they were in January. I empathize with any young person whose mark - and you cited the one who had never failed a test before in his or her career. I can remember the first time that happened to me. On the other hand, I haven't given you the direct answer to your question. I won't be making that final decision until next week.

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MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, I'm certainly glad some exceptional MLA backup came in because I was getting quite a lecture and I would have to say the only thing missing was your chalk. (Laughter) I do thank you for those comments and a general overview of where things have a disconnect with this particular exam. Before I go along any further, I must say I do want to go on the record as saying that I've been very pleased with the deputy minister in terms of my meetings with him and the background that he has provided me with. In fact, probably a little fuel as we go into the next couple of days that will in fact help a few of my questions and so on as we do go along.

There was at least one further comment that I do want to make in regard to the Grade 12 math exam, and having been in the school when physics and chemistry were rolled out as provincial exams, I use those too because I can't remember at the moment about English, but when they were implemented, the very first year they were presented as an option for teachers to use that 30 per cent from the provincial exam. I wonder why the math exam was not used in the same format? Why wasn't it put out as a pilot to be used or not used? Were there pressures there that dictated that it would be implemented this January, and not in fact piloted through?

MR. MUIR: I thank the honourable member for that question and it is indeed a good one. I cannot give you a definitive answer to it right now. My history doesn't go back that far, but we will endeavor to find that information for you.

MR. GLAVINE: A second area that I've had probably at least 10 enquiries that I can document, I've kept the correspondence, I've had 10 enquiries since September of this school year about tuition agreements. I know you've talked about it at length today, and there is a new direction that the department is going. I did check with Landmark East, Bridgeway Academy and the Thomas Aquinas Centre, and there are currently no tuition agreements in those three institutions and in fact I guess we could say that the boards just have not been granting them.

What I'm worried about here is that we know that there are students in the public education system who have a number of developmental difficulties, whether it's global developmental problems, dyslexia that in some of our, not just schools, but perhaps school boards, they are not able to give the true special education that these students require. We certainly know that interventions can indeed work and work very satisfactorily, and as a classroom teacher I'm aware, in fact, a little bit of where the modelling of this new agreement really can work. I remember a student leaving a class in Grade 9 to go to Landmark East for two years and come back, I would have him again in Grade 12 and have a substantial improvement.

However, there are some students who I feel do need a longer period of time of special intervention. Also, to be looking at 40 or 45, I worry a little bit about almost a lotto system here or those who will be able to avail themselves of these tuition agreements. I know

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it's still a bit of a work in progress, but there are a lot of parents out there and when I went to Thomas Aquinas Centre, as they were looking at closing back a month ago, it was an important connection there that they stay in business to start to form the new Churchill Academy. On that day I had some insights from parents that I wondered about over the years. I met parents, for example, who have remortgaged their homes, who had called upon all their family members to help their child and many of them in situations truly genuine whose needs were not able to be met in the public school system. We know that's not necessarily a condemnation of the public school system. We will always have a group of students, and to say that 40 or 45 is that magic number for now, I do have some real concerns about that. I would like a little bit more enlightenment if possible on where the department is going to go, and will there even be a longer period of a phase-in that will connect with more families who have a truly genuine need?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member has raised an issue that has gutted a fair number of decisions made by government in the past two or three years. I'm going to answer your question about the tuition agreement. That was something from the school boards, and the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas and Bridgeway and Landmark East, this was something that enabled the school boards to basically contract with these agencies to provide subcontract education to one of these private schools and they've opted not to do that this year. I'm told that last year, that would be in 2002-03, that the Halifax board did have some tuition agreements. With whom they were, I don't know.

I think that's one of the reasons, Mr. Chairman, that after serious consideration, the fact that the tuition agreement arrangement wasn't working really well, that government made the decision that if it wasn't working they were going to have to do something a little bit differently, and this is where the tuition support program originated. The tuition support program, basically will enable certain students, such as some of those whom the honourable member was speaking about, to apply for what we'll call tuition support, so they can attend a more specialized school. I want to tell you that I do know in the case of Landmark East and Bridgeway Academy that they have really done great things for a very select number of students. They do things a little bit differently. It seems to work for people.

On the other hand, I want to tell the honourable member that this tuition support is not something that is new. Back in, I would guess it was in the 1970s and 1980s, back in the mid-1970s, the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority used to make money available and parents applied on an individual basis, and in those days basically it was just Landmark East and Bridgeway may or may not have been there at that time for a grant so they could send their child to those schools.

The difficulty with it is, and I guess maybe we aren't going to solve that this year, the only people who applied to those were the people from down the Valley, because they could drive into Landmark East. The other thing that happened with that too, to be quite frank, is that education systems did not have the special education resources that they have today and

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the honourable member for Hants East would know that, but there was also the odd tendency simply to try to put a student, to get them through APSEA, they had to be recommended by the school board and all of this stuff too, because they didn't want them in the school system. It wasn't that they really needed to go to Landmark or Bridgeway, but they were maybe a little hyperactive or something like that and this seemed to be a good place.

[11:45 a.m.]

Anyway, government somewhere made a very good decision to really invest in special education in the school systems and, indeed, I guess you can see that some of the things that we've done in the last three years, for example, this year we give $48 million to school boards for special education, that's targeted, and the school boards spend a considerable amount over and above that to serve special needs students. So the tuition support I guess is in recognition of a couple of things. I guess one is recognizing that really whatever we do in the public school system, if a person has got a severe learning disability, we just might not be able to help him and, secondly, is that the tuition agreements don't seem to really be going any place at this time.

MR. GLAVINE: I guess just a short question as a follow-up here. That is, Mr. Minister, will there be by this September, or certainly, you know, by August, as parents start to make final plans for their children this year, will there be a definite number of agreements and will the directives as to how they can be applied for and what kind of assessments will be needed, will that be in place let's say come August?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, in terms of the specific number, the answer is no, but we will have the criteria developed and, hopefully, out in the public domain by the end of May.

MR. GLAVINE: Just following along the line then for at least a few moments now and maybe come back to it next week, on special education, I did note at least on two occasions this year when boards talked about the need for special education teachers, and what I'm wondering about and what I guess maybe first of all, as a preamble, I have a little bit of a strong feeling about this, or thinking that has developed over the last little while, and that is as we have developed, you know, the inclusion model and the IPPs and we've brought in a lot of support people into our classrooms across the province, but I would have to say that not as many fully trained special education teachers, however, have come into the schools.

We seem to be hoping that quite an amount can be accomplished by our DEAs and EPAs and I know the Strait School Board, for example, this year called for the need for additional special education teachers. I would have to say that over the years, some of the great heartening moments, of course, are when a student makes a dramatic change over a couple of years and so forth with special education intervention. I really do have to say perhaps that we are shortchanging ourselves here in Nova Scotia with not putting sufficient,

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fully trained special education teachers in the classroom and I would like a comment on that, Mr. Minister.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I just want to say, and the honourable member has raised a very good question, that the amount of resources that have gone into special education in recent years has, well, if you look at the increase in the budget lines, I guess, you would see it's significant. Unfortunately, when I've met with school boards, one of the big items that they really have to wrestle with because it has become sort of a right of passage in some ways, is this idea, what did you call them, educational assistants or teaching assistants, or whatnot, whatever, there are a variety of names for them, and they provide a very, very good service and they're very competent, but I think the number of those, and I'm going back to something, I think two ministers ago, Minister Purves said it had gone from something like 700 to 1,800 over four years, or something like 700 to 1,800, a tremendous increase in these things, in these positions and you're right.

On the other hand, trained special education teachers, and we have programs in the province and, of course, as part of the undergraduate studies for teacher certification, you have to do work in special education, but there are a couple of things. I'm going to speak a little bit personally here now. One of the finest special education teachers that I have known of was a person who had a one or two year program at Teachers College. She worked in a segregated classroom, but she had a compassion and a feeling and an understanding of those young people. By the way, I will give her name, her name was, she used to be Mary Witham, Mary Stairs now, she lives in Dartmouth. She's retired. She had just such a marvellous way and I think we're talking about special education teachers. It's not necessarily the training that they're getting at Mount Saint Vincent, or Acadia, or St. F.X., wherever it is, it's this sensitivity to recognize strengths in people and to try to bring those strengths out.

It's a combination of training and understanding but, as importantly, it's being a person and being able to relate to them. When we select during the process of teaching, you know, I don't think when I was teaching, I would have been real good at that. But there are others who can do it. So I think we have to, rather than looking at the special education part, we have to look at the can-do part and one of the things that somewhere has been lost in the great movement sometimes for integration has been when you get into that other world, you're competing with others who are a little different and the can-do gets lost and the coping sets in.

MR. GLAVINE: I did get some philosophy on that answer and experience from the minister and maybe it's something I will come back to when I actually have a few statistics as well to put into place.

The next area that I would like to ask the minister about is school autonomy. I have some real, real difficulties with the cookie-cutter model road that we are going down and I just want to take up one area in particular today and that is semestering versus non-

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semestering. We know that there are schools across the province that are going through tremendous struggles in this regard. There are big implications for some schools. I believe the deputy minister was at a meeting in Bridgewater to that very effect. We see, however, I think a trend in some other provinces to allow schools, school culture, school structure, to come forth and deliver the best possible program that they feel under their circumstances that they can deliver.

I just wonder, do we have to go the way we're going? Can't we allow the administration, the schools and even the school central office staff who have some great insight and knowledge and statistical data to support what they are doing. I know colleagues at Horton who did everything they possibly could to hold out against semestering and there are two or three teachers there who I would categorize not only as the best in AVRSB, not just the best in the province, but perhaps the best in the country and who feel absolutely that they are not delivering their best teaching and the best processes through semestering.

I know they're only into it a short time. I have a bit of a call here and I wonder is it de facto that the whole province will in fact be semestered and certain autonomies in schools will be lost?

MR. MUIR: I'm not sure whether I thank the honourable member for that question or would ask him to withdraw it. It has been an item that has been drawn to my attention quite a number of times since I've been Minister of Education. Most particularly, at the high school in my community, Cobequid Educational Centre and the one in the honourable member for Hants East's community, the Hants East Rural High School. They are big schools and probably their opinion would be similar to that of some of your friends in Horton. Having said that, the department has moderated its stand on semestering during this year.

I'm going to ramble on a little bit about this. It's a perplexing issue for me, quite frankly, as minister. I had never experienced semestered high schools when I was in the business. I had experienced split shifts, which when I think of it, I guess were pretty close to being semestered. Indeed when I started my teaching career, we had split shifts at the old Truro High School. Being a new teacher, I had the privilege of teaching both shifts - you know it's a junior seniority thing and you can all appreciate that. But I learned and that was an excellent school.

What we have asked schools, if they don't want to become fully semestered, then to submit a plan where they can implement partial semestering. There are some classes, I think, even in the instructions that went out two or three years ago on this thing that said certain courses probably didn't lend themselves to semestering.

On the other hand, I have to say, I have a provincial student advisory group, I met with them and this was a real concern to me because it was different for me. They had, simply because they had come through high school and gone on to university, a good many of them

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had come through both semestered and non-semestered high school classes. To a person, the students preferred the semestered courses and that was encouraging to me. They really liked them and they could have told me they hated them, I didn't try to lead them.

Secondly, there are about seven or eight schools left in the province that haven't gone fully semestered at the high school level. One of the things that is clearly a question for school boards is, do we want to be consistent across our districts? There are districts where there are schools that are semestered and other high schools that aren't. That's an issue for school boards. I guess my advice to school boards, when it came up in the Chignecto Central, we explained what our policy was because Hants East was in that and CEC and I think conceivably Pugwash was in that group too. Larger schools, there's no question that semestering may be in terms of scheduling, is not the benefit it is to smaller schools. When students are taking 21 courses, in smaller schools semestering works.

[12:00 noon]

The other thing, not that I'm supporting the AIMS thing, people can pass this out, whatever they want to, but, when the AIMS study came out and they ranked high schools in the province, like everybody else I didn't read it and didn't pay any attention to it, but I did ask a question of my staff about it. Of the top 25 ranked schools - I'm not indicating I'm supporting the rankings by any means because I happen to think the school I used to work in was probably as good as any - of those, I think 24 of them were semestered schools. I don't know what the criteria were but that was one of the questions I had. I'll tell the honourable member, I don't know what that means. That's what it was when I looked.

MR. GLAVINE: I guess partial semestering and that whole area, I think part of our problem and part of the solution to dealing with what I called the two basic courses of math and English. I have a profound belief that students should take these for the entire year. I know that there is some piloting and work going on through St. F.X. in particular in the math initiative. I'm absolutely wondering, is the department, especially in how we stack up in the national scene with our lower scores there's no question about that, with our math and English, I believe if we had them across high school - 10, 11 and 12 - full year courses, or it could be divided, even semestering, but I think we absolutely have to have those in place. I'm wondering if the department is taking a serious look at this and doing any kind of research to address this particular issue?

MR. MUIR: The department has been following that position for some time. Indeed, it is the recommendation of the department that, at least in Grade 10, that English and math courses be full year.

Individual schools would have to make the adjustments beyond that. Of course, some of them aren't doing the full year courses there. I can remember a number of years ago that QEH and St. Pat's - at least those two, Halifax West I can't remember, but I can remember

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Grade 10 English probably reinforces what you said. Whatever their cycle was, they worked it so you had a couple of extra periods of English and math at the Grade 10 level. I think we would recognize that it's probably desirable to try and have the people have those four year courses in English and math at Grade 10.

MR. GLAVINE: One of the topics that comes up a lot, whether it's in the staff rooms, around schools across Nova Scotia still is the inclusion model. I don't think philosophically among teachers, we find any great disclaimers and so on as to where we are with that in terms of the philosophy. However, the practical implications here, I think, still have some questions surrounding them. With only a few minutes remaining, I would just like some comments from the minister as to how he feels about the implementation, where we are with it and where we need to be going to get the best standards of education for all students through this model.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I can tell the honourable member that since inclusion became the norm in the province, it has probably been the number one issue for teachers and I agree with that and it continues this year. When I've met groups of teachers, it continues to come up. The fact is that that is a model that is here to stay and the philosophy, or whatever you want to call it aside, it has been, you know, the court said you're going to have it and every jurisdiction in Canada has it.

Mr. Chairman, I think it's a good model for a large number of students. On the other hand, I think there are certain students who could be much better served if there was a separate situation. But having said that, our Learning for Life plan was developed primarily to enrich the resources that schools have to assist students with special needs. We have some pilots and I think this year, as you may have noted, the honourable member for Kings West, there is $500,000 this year for funding for release time for teachers so they can get better in-service, but that wasn't what I was going to talk about.

We now have reading recovery in all boards in the province. The school boards, when we were giving out some of this money last year, HRM didn't have the full reading recovery program so the other boards in the province generously, I should say, said, well, look, put that extra money into Halifax because they need it the most to get that reading recovery program in place. The reading recovery program works very well and it really has done wonders for a good many students.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen, the time has elapsed for the Liberal caucus and at this time I would like to thank the member for Kings West for his questions this morning and this afternoon. I would like to recognize the member for Hants East from the NDP caucus. Member, your time would be one hour in turn and we're going to mark you now at 12:13 p.m. and you have the floor.

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MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister and his staff for being available, not that you had much choice. I thought the member for Kings West raised some very good points, some of those I will come back to, but one of the things that is on my mind right now, Mr. Minister, it seems to me that back in 1993 when the province was trying to deal with liability around the teachers' pension, unfunded liability, and I think it was after 10 years there was supposed to be a review of that. I think your government has said, once the review is done we're willing to look at whatever dollars are necessary and so to this point the review, to my knowledge, hasn't been done. So I'm wondering when is that going to happen? We're in 2004.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, there is an ongoing pension management committee, I think the honourable member is aware of that, and it does review that situation and circumstance annually and, of course, we have a director of the pension. There's no question that the Teachers' Pension Fund is not the healthiest. I asked yesterday, in anticipation of this question, and I think it's funded right now, the Teachers' Pension Fund is about 77 per cent and it was down a little bit from the year before where it was 86 per cent and, of course, that reflects the general market condition. As you remember, a few years ago the Public Service Superannuation Plan in the good years, they had a pension holiday among government employees because the fund I think was at, the legislation said it could only be at 110 per cent.

Now, the fact that it's only 76.5 per cent, you know, I can understand why it is a concern, but you can remember what it was, probably when we had those good years to bring it up, and I can tell you that, again, in my experience both sides have to wear this. There was a pension management committee that was made up of teachers, people from the Teachers Union, and representatives of the government, both sides, and I don't know for what reason you want to call it, everybody knew what shape the pension fund was in and everybody knew that the contributions should be increased on both sides, but nobody would do it.

I think, when was the top-up made? About 1998 there were additional monies put in the fund and that's the reason it's what it is now, but it was a situation, to be quite frank, that happened and both sides have to wear it and, of course, the investments are in there for the long term. So, you know, maybe next week it will be up to 90 per cent.

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, the annual review you talk about I guess with the management committee, or whatever, but that's not really the review that was supposed to occur in 2003. That's my understanding. So that's the review I'm talking about. So why are we having a disconnect here?

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[12:15 p.m.]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, your comment could be absolutely correct. Neither I nor my support staff know about that review. So we're going to have to look it up and, hopefully, we are not delinquent.

MR. MACDONELL: I will try to bring some documentation that I know I have in my office around that and it may be after Estimates and I will bring what I have to the minister. I do want to touch on semestering. The minister certainly would be aware of concerns I have in that regard. My colleague, the member for Timberlea-Prospect, raised the standardized testing issue and the math scores. So at that time, when those tests were done, I don't think the schools in my area were done, I don't think (Interruption) Not semestered, you answered my question. So I think what we tended to believe was that the scores were not really where we would have liked to have seen them and I guess the point I'm trying to make is I think that's related to semestering and I would like your comment.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I guess we'll perhaps find out a little bit more in June. Now, on the other hand, I expect the June results to be better than the January results and I think we're going to have to probably try to find out - if there is a significant difference between results - what caused it. I have every faith in our young people to learn things. I think we will find that schools, students will take it a little bit more seriously, and that everybody will see that their learning is perhaps a little bit more curriculum focused than it might have been in some of those schools that wrote in January.

MR. MACDONELL: Well, I never taught in a semestered school, but I have thoughts about what my colleagues who are still at Hants East, or even those in Hants North, are going to have to be anticipating in the upcoming year if they so decided, because it seems obvious, I think, from the minister's previous answers that there is some flexibility, but it looks like they're going to have to semester something. You're not saying, okay, if you don't want to semester, don't semester.

So it looks like you're going to have to semester something and I know from conversations the minister and I have had on this issue that there's not really anything about this process to move towards semestering that actually is related to educational outcomes. It's related to administrative goals, budgeting goals, whatever, and I would say the big one here is trying to reduce dollars. If you're not going to invest more money in education, or at least significantly - and this comes to the issue of inclusion, which I will get to later - but if you're not going to make appropriate investments in education, for heaven's sake don't be cutting it and I would say that semestering allows for that.

The whole question is around teachers and what teachers teach in relation to standardized tests, or quasi-standardized tests. It comes down to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. You have teachers with 10, 15, 20 years experience and all of a sudden,

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you implement semestering or some other feature for administrative efficiencies and the next thing you know Mr. Jones, who has been teaching industrial arts, is now teaching math. If the minister is going to try to convince me that that doesn't happen, well, I want to say I might have been born at night, but it wasn't last night.

So there are lots of things that happen within schools and where administrators are forced to juggle what kind of comes down from the board, which kind of comes down from the department, and in terms of trying to meet the educational outcomes that are planned by the curriculum, it's great to say, you know, teachers aren't meeting the curriculum, but there are reasons for that and the least of which actually are the choices of the teacher; teachers do what they're told. Sometimes what they're told makes absolutely no sense whatsoever in regards to trying to meet educational outcomes of the curriculum. They couldn't do it if they were three people and I would say that semestering, if you're a top-notch student, you can probably do well enough in a semestered system. You may actually not notice much difference between their performance in the semestered system and a non-semestered system. If you're an average student, you're probably not going to do quite so well. If you're a poorer student, you're going to fail and the logic after that is, oh, well, you can take it in the next semester.

So you might spend two or three semesters trying to get the course and part of that is just the volume. If you're going to do math, you have to do math. You have to do the problems. You know, the teacher teaches you that day and then says, well you've got to do these 30 questions tonight to be ready for tomorrow. You might say they're only taking three courses or four courses, well, that's still a load for students to do and I would say that going down this road is not where you want to be. If you really want to take a look at what the results of those tests are, I would say you really should read into that that semestering may not be the right place to go. I'm definitely hoping that whatever results you get in June, you will pay attention to for that and I would like to know because if there is one thing I do believe, Mr. Minister, it is that you have enough experience in the classroom, in the system, to actually know that there's some validity in what I'm saying. So I would like your comments.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I think probably there is some merit in it but, you know, there is merit on the other side, too. You had mentioned early on in your comments about taking a course for three semesters in a row. I guess that would maybe be better than taking it three years in a row, which is the other thing that literally could happen. I would guess, I don't know, the department may have this date or something, but I'm thinking in my high school in Truro and I expect the two that you have in your area, you probably find a number of people who graduate and come back for a fourth year.

Now, whether in a semestered system that would be lessened because if somebody looks and all of a sudden, you know, gets a revelation or something and says, gee, I really didn't do as well as I would like to do with this, then I will take it again next semester which

[Page 206]

may or may not be possible, I mean that's the entire thing. One of the interesting questions, you just tweaked something for me which I hadn't thought of before and, of course, with the Grade 12 math results which you alluded to, and we are going to take a look at that, is how many of those students who were disappointed with their math mark in the first semester are retaking it. It would be an interesting thing because they would have that opportunity, I think in a number of them and, again, I suppose perhaps we would find that out in a semestered school.

The other points that you made re semestering, the information that I have read, and including the research, is that basically it is inconclusive about which system is better. For example, I did meet with Mr. Wheelock who is principal of the Hants East school and he came in and he expressed the concerns, his personal concerns as well as those of his staff. I met with representatives from CEC, Mr. Barrett who is the Principal there, and a couple of other teachers, not with Mr. Barrett, but at a different time and, you know, there's no question that part of the difficulty with semestering is because it's different for teachers and we all know when you're very comfortable in a comfortable situation in a good school, then why change. If it's not broke, why try to fix it?

I was thinking back, you had a young woman who graduated from Hants East last year who, if I'm not mistaken, got a whopping big scholarship and did extremely well at Dalhousie University and really she may have led the first year class or something like that but, you know, I tend to think of a young woman who was such an able and interested student like that, that probably she would do pretty well regardless of the system. Some people are going to react perhaps better to one system than the other.

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, part of that I agree, I mean I can think of students that I've had, you know, I taught Grade 10 biology for a number of years and had a reputation for pouring on the material. I can think of a student who did very well in the course, was on the basketball team, was in the band. If she was away on a school trip for either one of those, you know, come Monday morning she was in my classroom - what did I miss? I mean there are those students who thrive on that and they're ambitious, they're talented, and they're able to carry that in whatever situation. It's something that I noticed certainly, prior to 1998 when I left teaching, was that we had more and more students coming back after Grade 12 to upgrade, or whatever, which was a new phenomenon. Actually there was one or two for awhile and then you started to notice you were getting 10 or 15.

[12:30 p.m.]

I don't really want to see the system using semestering to say, you know, that this will make it easier for that. I mean I don't want to be planning a system based on failure or lack of initiative and, gee, semestering will help facilitate these students. I want to see a system that actually makes it maybe more difficult to come back, you know, if you want to plan to do this year over again, well, that's a pretty big step. So maybe it's more of an incentive to

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actually do the work while you're taking this trip and try to do the best you can instead of making it easier to come back.

Another issue I want to raise and that was around the P3 schools, and that's certainly in my area, and the difficulties that some of the community and actually I think the school advisory group has raised some concerns for me. You certainly would be aware of Mr. Walter Farmer who is on the Enfield school advisory and he raised this issue with me. I know the bill before the House doesn't address P3 schools and access to them and I know the minister has stated, you know, we're working to try to find flexibility so I would like to know, looking over the horizon, what you see coming because it seems to me that this has kind of already been decided with P3 schools, that there isn't much room for manoeuvring there.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, the issue of the P3 schools has been on the floor of this House on quite a number of occasions and I guess I've stated my feeling about them, you know, the communities that needed schools when the previous government built them, if they had been built under WD-40, the community would not have minded. They needed a new school and that was the prime thing. Now, having seen how they work, I think most people now understand that it may not have been the best system, but it was done I guess for bookkeeping reasons. It kept the debt off the books of the province or something, there was a reason for it, but the thing with P3 schools is people got very good quality schools. I mean some of those schools, you know, they don't take a backseat to anything.

So the issue is not the school. I mean the schools are good schools, they were well constructed. The facilities are good, they're equipped and all of that thing. The contractors did what they were supposed to do, and the owners. I'm not hearing anybody criticize one of these structures and I understand why. The difficulty came because these were business people and they entered into a business agreement with the government and they signed contracts. I mean they didn't do it because they were interested in education. When they build an apartment house, or whatever the dickens it is, that generates revenue. So they negotiated agreements with government that gave them probably greater decision making than we who look back now say should have been given to them and I think I was among those who said, you know, it's unfortunate some of the decisions that were taken then in the negotiation.

However, we are looking at that, Mr. Chairman, and we're trying to come up with a number that would enable government to fix that. I mean it's - I don't know what it is, but we're trying to get that number now and, hopefully, would be able to incorporate that number into our future budget.

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that and I encourage whatever you're able to do. People in my community are not complaining about the school, I want to be clear about that. The Auditor General I think, you know, made the most definitive statements about the schools and I think as elected representatives with the taxpayers' dollars,

[Page 208]

you know, we could be considered responsible to heed his advice and that's what your government has done.

I want to move on to two or three things very quickly. I know your deputy can respond and help you respond. It's around the adult learning facility in Elmsdale. I met with the board and my colleague, the member for Pictou West, and it seems to me that that issue has been resolved, that the adult learning facility is staying in the Elmsdale District School. So I would like to have that confirmed, please.

MR. MUIR: Could I ask the honourable member to repeat the question, please?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Certainly, that's within line, Mr. Minister. Would the honourable member repeat his last question for the minister?

MR. MACDONELL: Yes. There's an adult learning facility in the Elmsdale District School. There was a question, I think, around whether it was an appropriate use of space. I tried to make the case that in Hants East we lost or had given up the Walton School, the two Enfield schools, the Lantz school, Milford school. So, you know, I think we have done our part as far as divesting ourselves of buildings in East Hants. This looked like a really good initiative that had been taken on there by keeping this adult learning facility in the Elmsdale District School. So it seemed to be a bit up in the air as to what was going to happen with it. My conversation with the board indicated that they thought it was resolved, that it was going to stay, and they were going to look at perhaps renting out a little more space there, whatever was available, but on a dollar basis it looked like good value for their money. So I would like to have it confirmed that that facility is okay there.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to go back to his opening comments. I know when the Walton school closed, the parents made that decision and moved the young people into Noel, but I also want to make the point - you mentioned Lantz, Elmsdale and Milford - if I'm not mistaken, the reason that those buildings disappeared is they were replaced by brand-new structures. So I just wanted to make that point so people understood that.

In the case of the Elmsdale school and the Adult Learning Centre, that is a decision for the board. My understanding is that there's not likely to be any change this year. As the honourable member knows, the Chignecto-Central board has a very difficult problem with excess square footage and the issue with that is not the adult high school, it is the excess square footage. They have a lot of excess square footage.

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I want to make the point there's not a lot of excess square footage in Hants East. I recognize that we have new schools and I'm appreciative of them, but the board hasn't kept a lot of extra building space there. The tuition agreements, or the tuition support program that you mentioned, I would like to know more

[Page 209]

about that, actually who makes the determination if somebody was to apply for a tuition agreement because my experience of dealing with the board on this has been the board makes the decision and it looks like it's board funds that are going to go to pay for the agreement. I think the board is probably finding things tight enough from my conversation with them and I can't be thinking that there's a great incentive for them to be paying for students to get programs outside the system. So I would like to know actually how that works.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, the tuition agreement - and the honourable member used that, I guess, unintentionally - that's the agreement between the board and the school. The tuition support program, it will be a decision of the parents and the board and they will make that decision and that recommendation and the funding will follow them. If they're in dispute, then the Ombudsman would be the person who would become involved.

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I'm thinking I only have about two minutes, how much time do I have?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Your time is finished at 1:13 p.m., so you have 33 minutes. Lots of questioning yet.

MR. MACDONELL: My intention is to share with my colleague, the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, and I don't intend to infringe on his time any more than I necessarily wind up doing. I just wonder if the minister could tell me, what are you allocating for that tuition support program?

MR. MUIR: The money that's been allocated for the administration of it right now is $200,000. Now, when I talk about the administration, the Ombudsman, obviously, is part of that, but then the tuition at some of these schools would not be covered by the per-student grant. We don't want people to be denied because they can't afford it.

MR. MACDONELL: That program is up and running when the budget is approved?

MR. MUIR: It's our hope to have the criteria for the program established by the end of May, and we hope to have it running by September.

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister. I think that's an important step, I have to applaud you for that. I do have parents who would be very interested in looking into that.

The last thing I want to mention is around the issue of inclusion, as the member for Kings West did. I want to tell the minister that this is an area that if this is a road that we're going down - the minister indicated the courts have said that - then I can only ask the minister to give it the resources that it needs.

[Page 210]

From my experience and from talking to my colleagues, not only do we have the special needs students who are falling through the cracks in this system, but we have students who would have not been regarded as special needs students who are as well, because the teachers don't have the resources that they need and if you're doing individualized programs, if you have a class of 30 students, which I might have had in a Grade 10 biology class, and then you have six special needs students, perhaps, and you had an individualized program for those six, plus the program for the 30, you have seven programs. I would see trying to accommodate those students and their needs and to do that in a way that justifies putting them in that situation; in other words, this system has to work for them as well.

I don't know if there are any winners in this situation. I can see that without funding this properly, if this is our only road that we can go down in terms of trying to meet the needs for special needs students, then I can only say to the minister, if this is not supported with the resources that it requires, you're going to have both special needs students and those who are not special needs failing in this system, because it's going to be too difficult for a teacher to give the program and the attention to all of those students in a way that really does address their needs.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member for Hants East has made some points that I would find very difficult to disagree with. On the other hand, this government has recognized that this year, there's going to be somewhere in the vicinity, from the government, if you count up all the initiatives, the targeted special education money plus the Learning for Life initiatives, which totals up to over $37 million, and then the school boards, I suppose we probably have that someplace in our department, how much they, additionally, from the $5,700 funding that they put into special education - it's one of those things. To be quite frank, it's kind of like health care, there's probably never going to be enough money to do what we think everybody would like to have done.

MR. CHAIRMAN: We will recess for three minutes.

[12:43 p.m. The committee recessed.]

[12:46 p.m. The committee reconvened.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: I call the committee back to order. We will extend the time for three minutes.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

The honourable member for Hants East has the floor.

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MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I just want to take an opportunity to thank the minister and his staff. I appreciate their information. I know that people in my area will at least be interested if not pleased to get the responses from the minister in this regard, and I hope that he'll consider some of my comments. Thank you very much. I will hand it over to my colleague.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I'm glad to have this opportunity to take a few minutes on Education. There are a few areas that I wanted to particularly bring up. I guess I wanted to start with the Supplementary Detail Estimates Book. I want to start with issues around funding of Francophone education in Nova Scotia, more clarification than anything else.

If I look under Education, Page 6.8, Acadian and French Language Services, I see that last year, the estimate was that we would be spending $334,000 on Acadian and French Language Services, that's the Forecast, and that included $622,000 for French First Language, and $363,000 for Administration. This year I see Administration has actually gone up, but French First Language has practically been cut in half, and Recoveries, which I presume is from the federal government, has also been reduced. Then the final number is almost half of what it was last year, $191,000. Can the minister explain the differences in the numbers, the forecast for this year from what it was last year?

MR. MUIR: What happened this year is there was a reorganization in the department, and a number of the staff in the Acadian and French Language Service section were transferred to the Acadian school board; therefore, they're going over there and that is basically why there are reductions in those numbers. We were kind of duplicating efforts in curriculum development and some other things, and we felt it just made sense. They were prepared to accept that responsibility, that we would use their expertise rather than duplicating it.

MR. DEVEAUX: Is curriculum development not a provincial responsibility?

MR. MUIR: The answer is yes, Mr. Chairman, it is a provincial responsibility. What we did was set up a four-year pilot, and the department still maintains responsibility for approving everything that's happened. Technically, we do contract - if you want to look at it as contracting out - in other subject areas as well. This simply means that we're using the expertise of that particular school board rather than someplace else, but we still maintain control in terms of the final product.

MR. DEVEAUX: Okay, so you have fewer staff now, because some of them have moved to CSAP, and recoveries have gone down. Is that because some of that recovery money from the federal government has now been moved over to the Acadian school board?

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MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to report that money will be going directly to the board.

MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, can the minister explain - he said there was a reduction in staff - last fiscal year, how many staff did you have working in this program, and how many do you have this year?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, while we're waiting for that information, if the honourable member so desires, I have the breakdown and I would be quite happy to table it, if you would like that done. We are down 6.5 staff this year, in the book. Three of the French language people were transferred to the public school branch, and two of the secondments end on July 31st. So they will disappear. Two positions were eliminated. We went from 12 to 5.5.

MR. DEVEAUX: Madam Chairman, so it begs the question, though, why have administration costs gone up by $40,000, if your staff has been cut in half?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, administration was not really reduced by that much. The people who were transferred were the program people. So the administrative costs for the oversight, it might remain roughly the same. The increase, I'm going to say, was related to salary increases and that type of thing.

MR. DEVEAUX: On Page 6.10 of the same book, under Net Program Expenses, Other Grants, French Language Grants, I see that for the last three years, including this year, we projected or estimated a little over $4 million. The Actual in 2002-03 was actually almost $5.4 million; then last year it was $4.7 million, which is about $700,000 more or $600,000 more. This year you're going back to a little over $4 million. Can you explain the discrepancies in that? I guess the second part of that question is, does it really matter? Because it seems like it's always covered by a recovery from the federal government anyway, no matter how much the actual amount is.

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, that money is a flow-through. What we get is what comes from the federal government. It's not a number over which we have any particular control, other than through the signed agreements.

MR. DEVEAUX: Madam Chairman, my last question with regard to the French Language Services is, a couple of years ago Heritage Canada had actually done an audit, I think the first time an audit had been done of a provincial department on how they were spending the money they were provided. I guess I'm trying to get an understanding of, what was the final result of that audit? Has it been made public? Can it be tabled here in the House?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, I'm delighted to report that we went through the audit with no significant problems. If that report is not already in the public domain, we would be pleased to do it.

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MR. DEVEAUX: Madam Chairman, I wouldn't mind a copy myself, if it isn't actually in the public domain. I want to turn to another subject, which I brought up because of an issue in my riding, back about a month and a half ago. I will start with the caveat that I understand that this isn't just an Education issue, it's a mental health issue, it's an issue that I have seen throughout my area, and it is children. I've had people come into my office with children who are eight years old, who have serious mental health issues that manifest themselves as behavioural issues. As a result, I've had people with children who are eight years old who have been kicked out of school, suspended indefinitely, because the school cannot control them.

There's nothing that seems to be available for them, either in the form of alternative schooling, which we see in the Dartmouth and in the Halifax former cities but not in the former county. Indeed, my understanding, in some cases I'm familiar with parents who actually had children in these programs in the schools in Dartmouth, Shannon Park, who happened to move to Eastern Passage or Cole Harbour, and that program is no longer available for them. Now, I'm not going to get into the supplementary funding issues - maybe I will later but not right now.

I recall that at the time I raised this issue, you had suggested that there were pilot projects currently going on in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board right now. I was curious if you could give us some sense of whether or not there's an interest in expanding that, and what is your intention of expanding those programs so that there is something for those children, as alternative schooling, if their behaviour is such that they cannot be in the classroom?

MR. MUIR: The honourable member has raised a very real issue. Indeed, we had made money available last year for pilots to deal with that type of thing. The only board that accepted the challenge was the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. The money is available again this year, at least there is money available this year should the Halifax Regional School Board wish to pursue that on a wider basis.

I can tell you that it's not just in Halifax. I had a call from a grandmother the other day, who had a junior high student, and eventually they had the boy privately tested. There was a learning disability, but he was out of chances in the school system.

[1:00 p.m.]

MR. DEVEAUX: I have a couple questions flowing from that. I will start with how much money is available this year if the Halifax Regional School Board was interested in accessing it?

MR. MUIR: This year there is $0.5 million for the province so Halifax would get about one-third of that.

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MR. DEVEAUX: Now, the other question is around mental health because the story you hear from schools is that mental health is dealt with by the Department of Health up until the age of five, but when the child enters the school system, it's the school that is responsible for those mental health issues. I'm not an educator, but my sense is that that may not be the best place. These people aren't mental health experts, there may be some who have some training in it. How and what is your department doing to address the ability to both assess and deal with mental health issues amongst children in the school system? By children I mean up to Grade 6 or Grade 7?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, I just want to clarify a response that I gave. The $1 million that we had for that special needs pilot last year went into this year's base. So the amount of money this year that is available is $1.5 million as opposed to $0.5 million.

The other thing, Madam Chairman, that I would like to point out is that there were some commitments made through Learning for Life and, for example, last year we provided $2.5 million for school boards to hire additional professionals such as school psychologists and speech language pathologists and resource teachers, and we have enhanced this by a further $3 million. So it's going to be a matter of finding appropriate people to meet the needs and that's going to have to be a system decision because they know their population.

MR. DEVEAUX: Madam Chairman, I want to clarify that then. Has the Halifax Regional School Board in the last year accessed any of that money with regard to extra support for resource teachers, speech therapists or, quite frankly, psychologists or social workers? Is that part of that and, if so, has the Halifax Regional School Board accessed any of that in the last fiscal year?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the money was available and Halifax did get approximately one-third of it and, indeed, I expect some of their additional staff came from that money.

MR. DEVEAUX: Well, if that's the case, I can be frank then - and maybe the member for Timberlea-Prospect may also agree with this - I haven't seen any of it in the former county. With supplementary funding, funding it in the former cities, I've got to be honest, there's not very much of it trickling down to the former county area and I still use these designations because in the Halifax Regional School Board, these are still legitimate designations. I hate to use the word former county and former cities, but we're still in a system and, frankly, it is a two-tier system, and I've got principals in my area who tell me they would be desperate to have a social worker who could work either in Eastern Passage or in Cole Harbour for the whole family of schools - junior high, elementary schools, or even the high school. I guess I will have to take that up with the school board as to why that wasn't brought more into the county area and maybe they can rationalize how it was brought in, that interests me. Thank you for that.

[Page 215]

I guess my other point was around the mental health issue, around how we deal with the mental health aspects beyond, I understand, funding of programs for the school boards. You know you sit three seats over from the Minister of Health and these two departments are silos in many ways. How and what is your department doing to ensure that our schools are not the only ones having to deal with mental health issues, that there is some way of breaking down that barrier to ensure that mental health is some form of a team process that's able to be addressed so that the schools aren't left on their own to have to deal with mental health issues?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the honourable member has raised a very good question and one that has been a topic of discussion when I occupied the other chair and he occupied this one. There used to be something in government called the HESS Committee - Health, Education and Social Services. Certainly the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley would remember that, but right now we have the CAYAC Committee and that is the medium that we use.

MR. DEVEAUX: So there are minutes of meetings at CAYAC that show that this issue is raised on a regular basis and that there has been progress between the two departments in ensuring that mental health issues are being addressed?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, there are provincial CAYAC meetings and regional CAYAC meetings. I haven't looked at the minutes for some time. I can't give you a specific answer, but that's part of the mandate of the committee.

MR. DEVEAUX: Will the minister undertake to ensure that those minutes of those meetings would be accessible, at least with regard to what issues of mental health were raised?

MR. MUIR: Yes, we will see that those minutes are made available. I think they're probably fairly easy to access.

MR. DEVEAUX: I want to turn to a different subject which is around school construction - well, you knew I had to raise it at some point, correct? Last year you came forward with a long list of schools to be constructed. There was one area specifically that was not addressed, an area that's growing at a fairly rapid pace, and I'm not talking about Eastern Passage, I'm talking about the whole Dartmouth side of the harbour. There are no schools announced for that area and I know I've talked to people in - the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley's area, Prince Arthur is a school that is probably in desperate need of some work, and look at the area of Portland Estates where it's burgeoning with young children and it has a new elementary school. What is your plan with regard to school construction in the greater Dartmouth area with regard to both junior high and the need possibly for a fifth high school in the Dartmouth area?

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MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage has raised a question which I know is very near and dear to his heart and undoubtedly he probably hears about that in his community and his constituency because it's one of those issues that we all have in our areas, that people remind us of from time to time. The capital construction requirements do come from the school board and when the list was last constructed, there was no facility in your area. I understand that the board member from your area, Grace Walker, and you are meeting with our staff later on and I think that's the topic of discussion and I think that's probably a pretty good thing to do.

MR. DEVEAUX: Yes, it's May 6th, downstairs, actually, I believe. I'm trying to get a sense though of the process and the deputy minister knows I sent him an e-mail with regard to this, because I read in the corporate plan for the coming year that school construction will continue. I wasn't clear and I guess I would like you to put on the record, when you talk about the continuation of school construction, is it the continuation of the announcements from last year, or are you seeing another round of consultations with school boards as to their need for new construction? Can you clarify which of those is the case?

MR. MUIR: The answer, I guess really to both, is yes. The list as currently constituted will be going ahead and, in addition, the school capital construction committee will reconvene in January and a second list at that time will be generated. The other thing, I guess, in terms of these lists - and people say whether they're cast in stone or not - we have had occasions where school boards wanted to change their priorities because of shifting populations. For example, for the construction of a high school out there, or the announced construction, that came from the board and we were able to do that. So, you know, if the board can work that all out, it's not something that we're not overly concerned about.

MR. DEVEAUX: So in January 2005, the school construction process will be re-initiated and when do you see the school boards being asked and consulted? Would that be in the Spring of 2005 or will it be prior to that meeting in 2005? When do you see the meetings taking place with the school boards or the letters being written seeking a further list of construction projects?

MR. MUIR: Well, I think there are a couple answers to that question. First of all, the committee will reconvene in January 2005, and will be communicating with boards for new construction as well as major renovations, but I do know that all the boards do know that that committee will reconvene in January. So I would expect that they will probably be fairly well advanced by the time January comes and the capital construction committee will start to review submissions and to construct another list, I guess.

MR. DEVEAUX: Madam Chairman, I recall the last time, it actually took a couple of years between the first letter being written to the school board, your department sending back a letter with a proposed list, which I think is around what that was, and then the school board sending back its revision of that if they wanted to, and then you finally making the

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announcement. It was more like an 18-month to two-year process. So is that the same timeline you see occurring in this case and that same sort of process of a letter requesting proposals, a draft list, a response from your department, and then a finalized list from the school board?

MR. MUIR: I expect that that process which you have just described, we don't have any plans to significantly deviate from it. If you remember, I think 33 new schools came out of that last list. So there's a fair bit of work, but the process actually seemed to work pretty well. I mean, obviously, some people were disappointed, but the process itself was good.

MR. DEVEAUX: Madam Chairman, I understand the process will be the same. The other part of my question was, do you still see it taking from January 2005, 18 months to 24 months before another round of announcements?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, if the province's fortunes do improve financially, and we all hope that they do, but we've got a significant amount of money committed right up to 2007 and, you know, if I, as Minister of Education, or whoever happens to be occupying this, can squeeze more money out of their colleagues, then clearly there are some construction projects that I would like to see go and like to see speeded up.

MR. DEVEAUX: So for the record though, your presumption is 2007 before you see another round of construction, unless somehow a big pot of money drops into the Department of Education, is that correct?

MR. MUIR: I would think with the school construction list, if we're talking January, 2005, with an 18-month process, this takes us to the middle of 2006 and it would be in that next year, yes.

MR. DEVEAUX: So we're looking at 2007 before - 2006 may be the announcement, but it will be in the 2007 fiscal year that we would see that form of construction. So we have a three-year process at this point given that January will be when you'll be starting it. I have a couple of minutes, I think at 1:16 p.m. my time is up, so I have two minutes. For the record, I will make my pitch, you've heard it before and I will make it again next week to your deputy, but Eastern Passage is a community with over 12,000 people. By 2007 it will have probably 13,000 or 14,000 which makes it bigger than Truro, I may note, and will make it bigger than probably almost any other community in Nova Scotia.

As I've said in the past, if we were in any other school board outside of the metro area, now with 500 students busing 45 minutes a day to Cole Harbour, 500 students, in a couple years time it will be 600 students, and I have no doubt that in a couple years after that it will be 700 students, and I know for a fact that there's a school board in Halifax, Millwood, with only 650 children in it. So, obviously, it's very difficult for our community to understand why in these circumstances it is not something that has been a priority. I understand the

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minister's response, part of it is the school board, that's the politics of the board, I can work with that, but from your perspective I want you to understand that it is a priority in my community.

[1:15 p.m.]

It's one that I think deserves a full review and on top of it, I think there's also a bigger issue, which is the amount of growth in the Dartmouth area. From the studies of the school board, we have seen that Dartmouth High School and Cole Harbour District High School are going to be over the maximum amount in the next 10 years and as a result we're in a situation where I would suggest there's probably a need for a fifth high school in the next few years. I understand that numbers generally are going down in enrolment because of population demographics, but in the Dartmouth area, given its development, given the amount of construction going on, that those numbers are slightly different in our area and I think, as a result, it's disappointing that nothing was reflected in last year's announcement and I hope that in the next round we'll have an opportunity to make sure that the Dartmouth area is being addressed with a fifth high school.

MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Preston.

MR. KEITH COLWELL: Madam Chairman, I've got some questions for the minister on funding of the Halifax Regional School Board. It appears on the surface that the per student funding in the Halifax Regional School Board is reduced almost exactly the same as the supplementary funding the municipality is putting in.

Now, when you look at the numbers, they're almost exactly the same and there has been a lot of discussion around that. As everyone knows, or most people know, I'm not a very big proponent of supplementary funding. I've fought against council raising taxes for supplementary funding because it always seems like the province reduces the funding as soon as you put the supplementary funding in place and there has been some misuse in past years of supplementary funding by the school boards that now has pretty well been eliminated because finally council realized that this misuse was going on and they started asking the relevant questions. Some management changes at the regional school board have been very positive in that regard, so that's positive.

I would just like to get the minister to give me an answer on that and I want a direct answer because the numbers sure indicate that if the supplementary funding is $80 million, the budget for the Halifax Regional School Board is reduced by $80 million. Now, I didn't say reduced, but not bring it up to the $80 million that it probably should be. So I would just like to get the minister's view on that.

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MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, there is no relationship between supplemental funding and the way the Halifax Regional School Board is funded. They're entirely separate. I do know that I think His Worship would like to make that connection sometimes, particularly in an election year, but they are divorced totally and anybody who tries to tie the two together is misleading.

MR. COLWELL: That was a neat shot at the mayor and I didn't ask the question on behalf of the mayor, I can guarantee you that. (Interruptions) Well, see, we're of the same mind probably in HRM, but he's politically the same as your Party. So that begs some question there, but he and I have had some discussions like that but, anyway, he has his battle to fight and I have mine and the minister definitely has his difficult job to do, but what about funding? How is the funding different per child?

I'm going to ask this question a different way now, in the different school boards in different areas, and the reason I've heard before is transportation. I don't buy that because the Halifax Regional School Board has a tremendous amount of transportation they've got to go through, probably more than any other school board, and as my honourable colleague has said, you know, we've got some students being bused 45 minutes. That's a standard in my area, people being bused that far, and trying to get to work in the morning when all the school buses are on the road. That's another issue. So it's a real issue. What is the per student funding in each of the school boards province-wide and how do they compare and why the difference?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the funding formula is fairly complicated. At one time, to be quite frank, I could stand up here and I could tell you exactly how the Halifax Regional School Board got its funding. I could take a piece of paper and a calculator and I could multiply it out and show you, but things have changed since I was able to do that.

I do want to tell you though, you did mention transportation and certainly transportation is a big thing. I think Halifax transports about one-third of their students. Their transportation costs are, on the average, about half of what the other typical boards would be. There are some boards that transport up to 90 per cent of their students. I do appreciate that you live in a rural area, the Preston area, where a lot of kids are on the bus in the morning, and you run into it, but if you come into the City of Halifax or into the City of Dartmouth, you don't see too many of the yellow school buses.

MR. COLWELL: Well, we talk about funding, and I understand that the formula is very complex, but my argument is that each child in this province deserves a good education. They can't get a good education if the funding isn't in the classroom to provide that education. We all know that, there's no argument with that from anybody. When you look at the difficulties that are happening in the Halifax Regional School Board, the ones that I have been informed of and I'm very limited in the area I work, of course, and other people in other areas would have similar stories, I'm sure, but when you talk about assessment on

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a child who has a learning disability, it takes five years to get done. Five years, sometimes longer. By that time, it's too late to help the child. It's definitely too late.

That kind of funding shortfall cannot be tolerated. For whatever reason, the shortfall is there. Maybe it's not proper management of funds by the school board, that very well could. I've always said that the school board could probably do a lot better job administratively, although I believe the schools do an excellent job, with the teachers and the principals and vice-principals, on an individual basis. What can be done by the Department of Education to ensure that that sort of thing can take place, when you can intervene with a child early, get a plan, put the plan in place and then review the plan to make sure the child is properly looked after and they have an opportunity to get to the maximum level they can possible get with their education?

MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the issue of early intervention is an important one, and the department has recognized that. For example, as I responded to, I believe it was, the honourable member for Hants East, we put $2.5 million, additional, into school boards last year to hire professionals, like speech language pathologists and school psychologists and resource teachers. If you have a situation, if the example that you gave is a real one, then there is a problem. Quite frankly, I would tell the honourable member for Preston, I think that problem is not something we can solve.

MR. COLWELL: I'm sad to hear that it's not one that you can solve. I would like to enquire, now this is just one example I have here, which is the sad part of this, one example of maybe somebody who slipped through the cracks, but I have several, several different schools, several different circumstances, but all very similar. Is it something that the department can address in the future, or is it something they can demand that the school board addresses properly, with the proper use of their funds? There are many demands on the funds. I'm talking to schools that don't have any paper left to do photocopying with. That's ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.

At the same time, we have to save every child we possibly can and make sure they get a good education. Is there anything the department can do to ensure that those resources are there, that these early interventions are done? It doesn't mean, to me, that they have to have staff hanging around doing these assessments in the Halifax Regional School Board, if, indeed, they get them all done . . .

MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted has expired.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Madam Chairman, I move the committee do now rise, report considerable progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.

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MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.

[1:24 p.m. The committee rose.]