HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 2007
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Wayne Gaudet
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Good afternoon. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now be called to order.
The Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. PATRICK DUNN: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates for the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I understand the member for Timberlea-Prospect was the last one speaking when the committee adjourned last night, and he has 35 minutes left.
The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I welcome you to the Chair and hopefully your health is in better shape than when I saw you last.
Last evening we had the occasion to - unfortunately perhaps for the members opposite - make some rather lengthy comments and I am not going to do that at this time, but I am going to take the opportunity to use some of the notes that were prepared by the Education researcher of the NDP. I mentioned her name last evening and then put her prepared text aside, not because I don't pay attention to what Ms. Glendenning does for me as a researcher, but because the lighting is so poor in here in the evenings it is impossible for this MLA, with one eye, to even go near it.
I want, however, to bring to the minister's attention an examination of the figures, which in my opinion and the opinion of the NDP, is a bit of a shell game because although the grants to the school boards, called Public Education Funding, were up $24 million, the following adjustments took place in public school funding, and I would like to bring those to your attention now, if I may. I know the minister will hear further comments from this caucus and members of the Third Party when it comes to school renovations in particular - school renovations, in this budget, down $500,000. The Nova Scotia School Book Bureau, an integral part of the school system in this province is down $200,000; public school funding is, from the figures provided to me, down $10 million; education program services is down $4 million; learning resources and tech departments down $0.9 million, and student services is down $6.7 million.
Now I hear the numbers and I hear the minister stand in her place - or I know I will hear the minister stand in her place, but I think it's of some consequence that we look at those numbers and over the next few moments hopefully I will have the opportunity to direct the attention to a number of them in particular.
I would like to start, if I may, with the School Book Bureau. I know that as a school administrator, the School Book Bureau is basically that part of the school system that really is the nuts and bolts of what schools are all about. I heard the minister say recently - no, I didn't hear her, I read it - and I know she has probably been misquoted. When we were talking about the need for textbooks, and at that time it was in response to a question which she responded to the media, she did say, the MLA for Colchester North - not to use her name - said most schools don't have textbook-heavy curricula anymore.
She says in this article in The Daily News that it's not like every student has to have their own textbook. It's not like every student has to have their own textbook - I do hope the minister looks at that quote and says that she was misquoted, because there are departments in high schools, there are subject areas in junior high schools - and let me tell you, the key question every parent asks is where is my son's or daughter's math textbook? I will tell the minister opposite, textbook-heavy curriculum or not, it is crucial that every student have his or her textbook, one, that they can show to their parents what they did that day in school and, two, that they can keep up with the lessons that are prepared for them.
So, based upon those comments, I would like the minister to explain how possibly the School Book Bureau will be able to continue to provide the good service that it does by receiving a $200,000 cut in its allocation?
HON. KAREN CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, he is right. There was a quote, that I said not every student needs a textbook. I guess to clarify that I would certainly be referring to elementary schools - I understand that it's important that there be textbooks available for students at junior and senior high school. Yesterday, when I was responding to the comments about - I think maybe to quote the member - it would be the
"wasteland in the Grades 7, 8 and 9s", I was able to identify some of the textbooks that have been placed in the hands of those students and one textbook per student. So we certainly are recognizing the need to have textbooks in our classrooms and the need for students to have their own text.
If I could clarify just a bit the comment about not every student needing a textbook - the delivery of curriculum at elementary is such that much of the information that students are using in their studies and in their programs comes from research-based and the students are encouraged to do their own research. That is one of the reasons that we have a lot of technology in our classroom, because we want students to have those research skills so they can access information from a wide variety of sources. That may help to clarify my comment, but I certainly was not misquoted and the member had the quote accurate.
Something that we are facing in all of our schools, and we know it's significant, is declining student enrolment. In spite of that declining student enrolment we have been able to maintain an increase, in fact, in funding to our school boards. We will not have any teacher layoffs because of that, but declining enrolment does have an impact, and one of the places where it has an impact is in purchasing resources for students. We have about 2,000 fewer students graduating from our Grade 12 this year, so as that number trickles down through our school system, we are servicing fewer students and so the dollars that we have for resources are spread, and the per-student funding for textbooks has not declined but it is a reflection of the number of students that have declined in our population.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I would like to talk about a crucial issue for teachers who have shown some innovation and some inventiveness in the classroom. Often when we are - particularly social studies teachers, but other teachers are also involved - looking at issues that we can bring to students' attention, it is always brought to our attention as individual teachers, either by your principal or by the board, that that book is not on the School Book Bureau list. Like that is the be-all and the end-all when it comes to education in this province - if the book isn't on the School Book Bureau list, don't bring it into your classroom.
Mr. Chairman, you remember - or I know you would pay attention to any such issue because of your previous career - we heard of the furor in the Annapolis Board about the To Kill a Mockingbird session and the difficulties that were faced by that very meaningful book.
Well recently a book was brought to my attention by a member of my caucus, and he encouraged me to pick it up and have a read - this book is here in the Legislative Library and it is written by RCMP Corporal Craig Smith.
The book is in the Nova Scotia Legislative Library, but it's not on the School Book Bureau list, and Corporal Smith in a recent article in the press commented on the fact that he had attempted to get this book on the School Book Bureau list but he had not succeeded.
Now the book is a controversial topic, but I wonder if the minister could explain that if I'm having a class in African Nova Scotian Affairs, if I'm doing a unit on African history during African History Month in this province, it would seem to me that a textbook that I would prefer, or at least a class set I would prefer to have - I would like to have not only Corporal Smith come to my class as a guest speaker, I would like to have them, before he arrives, each of the students present to have read a copy of his book "You Had Better Be White By Six A.M."
There's a book that is of consequence, a book that will make students think, a book that I have over the past number of hours during estimates - we have to use our time effectively in here, Mr. Chairman - I want you to know that Corporal Smith's book is a meaningful way to educate young Nova Scotians, of any cultural background, on the importance of the RCMP and the significant contribution that Black officers have made to the force. Yet this book, "You Had Better Be White By Six A.M.", by Corporal Craig Smith is not on the School Book Bureau list and, according to Corporal Smith, he cannot get it on the list. Can you explain that difficulty to me, to Nova Scotians, and to Corporal Smith?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I am certainly very familiar with the book - an excellent book and a great message, and I agree with the member opposite that it would be a great teaching tool to have in our classrooms in our schools. My understanding from my staff - and I will clarify this if it is not accurate - is that the department was approached by the author with that book. We have a review team at the department who reviews all materials before they are placed on the authorized list, and the discussions with the author at that time were to consider some minor adjustments in language in the book - and we were willing to work with the author and it's my understanding he was willing to work with us.
If that has changed since I received that information, I will certainly clarify for this House, but we certainly are willing to work with him. We want that book in the schools and we want it to be in the schools so those lessons that it does teach can be learned, and the history of the RCMP and all the other histories within that book and the personal experiences within that book can be shared because they are a testament to the RCMP and to its members. We would encourage that being added to our list; we are not objecting to it. If the modifications that were discussed with the author come about, it would certainly be placed on the list.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I have to watch my time as I have other topics, but I can't let this one go.
It's a wonderful teaching tool and it would be of great use on a topic that's of real concern, yet there have to be some words changed - that concerns me. I've read the book from beginning to end; I've shared it with members of my caucus; I've referred it to other members of the House; and it's in the Nova Scotia Legislature. There are no words changed;
there's no white out there like I might get from freedom of information that simply has blacked-out copies where I can't see anything.
I want to persist with this topic at a different time. This is not the time to dwell on it, but it does concern me that this book needs to be edited - if I can use that terminology, to be polite - and that's not something that I'm particularly pleased with to be truthful, but we'll deal with that issue at another time and, hopefully, another place, and hopefully teachers throughout this province will put pressure on the minister and the School Book Bureau to have this book approved, the way it now sits on this Nova Scotia Legislature shelf. If it's good enough for me and the Nova Scotia Legislature, it's wide open enough for young people across this province - but I said I wouldn't go on about it and there I go.
I want to talk about a topic that has been brought to my attention by a young woman whom I know and I encouraged to be a teacher. One day I opened up The Daily News and there she was, a picture of her, a young teacher, and Kathy Walters was bringing forward her concern that the workload is too heavy for teachers.
A couple of days later - and I can table some of these although I know your staff follow these editorials and these comments quite clearly - Alex Roberts wrote in The ChronicleHerald: no time to teach - his words - no time to teach, a profession in crisis.
Then Leo Sears - and if you can stick with me, Madam Minister, and staff - a veteran Sackville teacher has said on this very topic in a March 12th letter, again to The ChronicleHerald that those pushing the incessant record-keeping and a host of other classroom initiatives which require an extensive amount of teacher time and effort, simply must be out of touch; otherwise they would realize the price being paid for most of teachers' initiatives is just too high.
Now we have a young teacher who is saying it is just impossible, I am just on a constant treadmill - I'm putting words in her mouth but I've talked to Kathy about this, and good on Kathy for having the courage, without a permanent contact, to speak up and say the workload is just too much.
Now I know there are viewers at home who are probably saying they have two months off in the summer, what are they complaining about? You know teachers work year-round, they are in classes, they are upgrading and so on, and so on - but I want the minister to comment on the fact that many of the hours in a teaching day have absolutely nothing to do with teaching, the one-on-one between the student and teacher. Sometimes you're doing all kinds of other things that I certainly wasn't trained for when I studied to be a teacher - I'm a policeman most of the time; I'm a social worker; I'm a father confessor. I am all those things - or I should correct, I was all those things.
Teachers are being burned out, and they are young teachers. Many young people, I've talked to them. I was talking to one earlier today who, incidentally, is working for - hold it, wait for it - Geoff Regan, the MP for Halifax West. I said to this young woman, what are you doing working in an office like that? She has a degree from St. Francis Xavier and I said to Bronwyn - Bronwyn Burke - you would make an excellent teacher. But she told me, Mr. Estabrooks, I don't have time to be a teacher, I have so many other things. I think the reason this young woman is being discouraged from being a teacher is because of some of the teachers that she had in the school system who are just going constantly on the treadmill.
What initiatives does the department have - what plans do you have to address the issue of teacher burnout? I'm not talking about the teacher who is two years from retirement, I'm talking about teachers who are young, eager, and ready to go, but I want you to know that they are exhausted when June comes. Does the department have any plans in place to address this important issue?
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to respond in a couple of ways. I'll talk a little bit about my history in the classroom - and it was a while ago - I would come home at the end of the day and I would say if I could only teach for five hours a day. That was back in the 1970s. (Interruption) I was 10.
I certainly recognize that the challenges that face our teachers now have grown since that time. The member opposite is correct, we are trained to be teachers and if we could teach, and the one-one-one that he spoke of would make a significant difference in the outcomes for our students - I believe that wholeheartedly. Some of the things that teachers are asked to do are things for which teachers are not trained, but in the absence of someone else in the system to do that, teachers try to take that on, and they should be commended for that but they also have to be cautious of that.
About one month ago I was invited to meet with the representatives from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, a provincial group who are meeting in Halifax, and the theme of their two-day convention was Time to Teach, Time to Learn. It is exactly what we're talking about here today - the demands that are made on teachers, the stress that that puts on teachers in our classrooms. Every one of the teachers in our classrooms in Nova Scotia, I would be prepared to say, is there because they want to do what's best for the students in their classroom, and they feel frustrated and stressed if they're not able to do that.
So because they are so committed and because they are dedicated to their students, they find some of the balancing act a challenge.
At that particular conference I received, as did everybody in the room, a brainstormed list that teachers had put together of things that they do that they believe were added on and make their burden heavier. As a result of that, I made a commitment to do two things: one was to sit down with the President of the NSTU, Mary-Lou Donnelly, and to review that, she and I together, both as educators and both with a vested interest in what happens with the
students and with teachers in our province; and the second thing was to put together a committee which includes department staff, union representatives, people on the ground, in the classrooms, to look at that list and to see what on that list was reasonable, what was an initiative, and what was something that had already been institutionalized and was part of the way of doing things in the school.
That committee will certainly look at that list. There were, I recall, seventy-one items on the list that I saw. One of the first tasks, of course, for the committee and for Mary- Lou and I to do is to look at how some of those could be clustered together. We also were looking at what ones were board initiatives, what ones are department initiatives, and we also looked at where the repetition was and which ones would support the other.
So in answer to the member's question, those are two significant steps. I think it is acknowledging that this is a concern, sitting down with the head of the Teachers Union, and the Minister of Education to give their personal attention to that, and having the committee that includes representatives from the union, the department and the schools, to sit down and look at how reasonable is this list and what can we do to try to ease the pressures and the workload of teachers.
The other area that I want to speak about with respect to this is co-operation with Health, Community Services, Health Promotion and Protection, and Justice. Those departments, as we all know, have come together as a result of the Nunn Commission. I think the coming together of those departments, we're all serving the same clientele and if we can all put our ideas and our initiatives together and not work in isolation, we believe that's in the best interests of the student and the client. So those are some of the things that are currently ongoing and we want to make sure that teachers understand that. That message was given at the conference when I was speaking, at the Time to Teach, Time to Learn, and it was well- received, but they are waiting for some action and we want to deliver on that.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, and I look forward to following up on that initiative. I know that Ms. Donnelly served for a period of time at Sir John A. Macdonald High School, and she's a committed professional and she's one who will speak with passion on this topic.
A pretty simple question - and I keep waiting for it because I know, predictably, I think it usually comes in April - when are we, parents, and of course legislators, going to receive the Report to Parents this year? It is always something that makes for good bedtime reading. It must be closing in on us pretty soon, maybe sometime after April 13th, which is Budget Day, but I'm just suggesting it would be appropriate anytime, if we could see the Report to Parents.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, yes, it is that time of year. It would have been last week that I reviewed the final document. It has been printed, and it will be ready for distribution. I would be glad to have a signed copy for the member opposite.
AN HON. MEMBER: Oh, an autographed copy.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I want it clear for the record that the minister is related to the coach of the Boston Bruins, and she promised me an autographed picture from that gentleman. I don't know how much longer he's going to be the coach of the Boston Bruins. I know by signed, how you refer, but I'll take your autograph anytime.
One of the things though, Madam Minister, that probably will not be included in the report - there will be lots of numbers and I mean it with a degree of thoughtfulness, too, I know there will be lots of really important statistics included in that report, but one of the things that concerns me is an issue that I have brought up a number of times when it comes to statistics, and that is the concern about suspension numbers across the province.
I look forward each year to the Report to Parents and I look forward to it because of the scores that are reported and various other things. I can tell the minister opposite, I look forward a great deal more to the Report to Parents than I ever do to the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies Report on how they rank high schools - and "rank" is the correct word because in my opinion that current system stinks, it has absolutely nothing to do with what is actually going on in high schools. Some of it must be because of the person who puts it together, but let me tell you that as far as I am concerned AIMS isn't worth the paper it is written on.
Yet to the credit of Mr. Cirtwell - and he has in the past been the coordinator of that report - he constantly requests the suspension numbers for boards across this province, but to be able to get some form of consistent numbers when it comes to suspension numbers seems to be impossible. That's a concern - and again I mention Ms. Glendenning who put together the suspension statistics for the NDP caucus - the lack of consistency when it comes to being able to look at suspensions, whether it's a physical assault, a verbal assault, or weapons or whatever else, parents, educators and of course legislators, want to know about the real statistics in schools.
I am not going to be an alarmist, I'm not going to say that we have more dangerous schools now than when we were teachers - back when you were 10, as a young teacher - but let me tell you those numbers that I have presented recently are alarming to me as an educator. We are in a situation here where if we are going to realistically look in a report card on how our children are doing, should not suspension statistics be included, and should not the department show a great deal more leadership than it has done by insisting that the boards consistently report in a manner and according to categories that are acceptable to the Minister of Education?
Our difficulty in this caucus, or the difficulty that Ms. Glendenning ran into when she was putting together these numbers, when she was calling various boards about them, there was a lack of consistency when it came from one board to another board. The last thing that I will say on this topic, before I allow the minister to respond, or I encourage her to respond, under no circumstances are we, in the NDP, interested in school statistics when it comes to suspensions. We are interested in board statistics, we're interested in statistics that reflect difficulties that we are having in schools these days, particularly when it comes to the repetitive nature of some students - that number is never included.
How many children do you see on a repetitive basis? How many of them are in Grade 8? How many of them are boys? How many of them are girls? Those consistent types of numbers and the categorizations of just a few things I have mentioned, it takes the Minister of Education to step in and make sure that the appropriate board of education officials across this province are consistently addressing, collecting, and making these numbers public to parents. I'm wondering, could the minister respond to those comments at this time?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the collection of data information is important to have so that you have the ability to report and to share that with parents and all other stakeholders. As the member would know, any of those systems to collect data and share information are costly. We have costed a student information system, approximately $10 million to develop and implement that system. We have spent about $950,000 on that at this point in time. That system is one that would do as the member has indicated, allow schools to report to boards and boards to report to the province on those statistics, and the categories would identify the frequency, the grade level in school and out of school, and all of the detail that we would want to track.
At this point in time we have those statistics at the school level and we have them at the board level. There is one board that has developed a database that allows schools to report to that board - we want a system that all boards can use and that it can be universal across the province. We have no capital dollars in our budget this year to continue that - again that would be one of the areas where we had made some tough decisions as to where we wanted to put the limited dollars that we did have.
It is interesting that the committee that has been working on that has looked across Canada to see what systems are in place in other provinces, and the information that they have received through that scan is that British Columbia has started down the road with a universal, province-wide system, but beyond British Columbia most provinces do not have a provincial system in place. New Brunswick has in fact approached us to see if there is any interest or willingness to share information, so perhaps combined efforts can translate into lower costs for both provinces rather than each one doing it on its own.
The need is there, the initiative has started, the collecting of the data is important, so to go back to the original reference to the minister's report, no, there will be no data in that
report this year. When the student information system has been implemented and those figures can be generated, that's exactly what we would want to do with that information, to share it with our stakeholders.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member has approximately four minutes left.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Four minutes, Mr. Chairman. Time flies when you're having fun. I have one question of course that I will have to save to the last, because it deals with football and I know the member for Cobequid will share that question because the previous minister and I have an interest in football for another reason.
Ms. Mary-Lou Donnelly, President of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union is quoted in the press recently saying that she was sorry to see no money in this budget for more school psychologists, guidance counsellors, speech pathologists, and social workers. Now we're talking nuts and bolts issues, we're talking meat and potatoes here - teachers who are suffering burnout need these sort of support people available to them. The wait times, and I'm not talking medical wait times, I'm talking about wait times for some high- risk students to be able to see a school psychologist, a speech pathologist or social worker is an issue - and guidance counsellors in particular. Can you explain why there is no money in this budget for those particular positions in the system?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, before I begin with that I would like to remind him that I have not forgotten about the commitment to give you the autographed picture of my cousin, and at some point in time we'll make that a special occasion.
With respect to our core professional services and our supports to our students, the department had set some ratios, some goals that they wanted to achieve with respect to the numbers of resource teachers that we had, school psychologists and speech language pathologists. Up until this current year we have added dollars to our budget to help move toward that target.
I'm pleased to say on one hand that we have achieved and exceeded our target in resource teachers and school psychologists - we have not done that as well with speech language pathologists, but we have reached those targets, and we recognize that with speech language pathologists it's not always that we can find qualified people to fill those positions - the demand and supply just do not line up on that particular profession. But we have achieved those ratios that we targeted and have not put any money in the budget this year to add to that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect has approximately one minute left.
MR. ESTABROOKS: And one minute on a real important topic. The Sir John A. Football Flames have met with great success very early, and unfortunately they play on a football field next to a wonderful new high school and the football field is not built correctly - it isn't wide enough, it's not long enough, because it's a CFL football field. I know the minister is aware of that. Can you reassure football fans and high school football players who attend Sir John A. Macdonald High School that the team will play its home games on the field in Tantallon this Fall?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I could give a short answer and say, yes, but I'd like to give a little longer answer and say that that was brought to my attention last year and when I went back to staff to determine if in fact there had been some shortcomings when the school was built and the field was built, I was made aware of the situation, and my direction to staff was that those players at Sir John A. Macdonald should be on the field, ready to play September 8th. I've made that commitment.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The honourable member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I'm certainly pleased to have the minister, the deputy and staff, available for estimates for Education. I want to start off with a few preliminary remarks and certainly in my view, and in the view of our caucus, there are two or three areas in Education that perhaps may be more over the life of two minority governments, since 2003, which I've been here in the House to see unfold and be part of the process, and certainly compared to 2003, there have been some advances made and especially, just in the past year, in regard to university education.
I think that's an area that was perhaps most in need when I came to this House, and the idea of asking about multi-year funding was certainly one of the first question areas that I did spend quite a bit of time on. Just for the minister's and deputy's interest, these are just kind of overview comments, this is not an area that I'm going to specifically talk about at the present time.
Bringing tuition relief to Nova Scotia, I think, is really some of the work that all MLAs and all Parties need to engage in. We have met certainly a crisis situation when you see enrolment statistics this past September, down by 800 students, and to make initiatives around tuition reduction, widening the needs-based grants, also some change in the student loan criteria around parental contribution, post-university tuition relief with the tax credit, and the increase in the budget of an additional $1,000, so certainly there has been some progress made in that area and hopefully government will stay on track, to meet that wonderful target of 2010-11, when Nova Scotia students throughout our high school system
can take a look and say that our tuition costs are about average with Canadian universities. That certainly will be a milestone event, and I certainly hope to see continuous progress along that line.
One of the areas, in my first year as Education Critic, I came face to face with was school closures and that was perhaps one of the most agonizing events that I went to on several occasions - not just in my riding, but in a number of other ridings. I was asked to come in and participate and be part of what was taking place, and it was a very difficult situation because many times a decision was already made or in the process of being made. So I think the school review legislation that is before the House is a real step forward, and I think small communities and boards that have many schools that will come under that review, in coming years, will gain from the current legislation and the work done on that file.
The other area that I certainly feel government has been strong on is the cap on elementary classes. Certainly, again, that was an area that in my first year here in the Legislature was hearing about large elementary class sizes. It was a topic of questioning the minister, it was a topic of late debate, and it was a topic that I received from schools and school boards wanting to see some initiatives in that area. So I think the cap on elementary classes as it stands now, up as far as Grade 3, is certainly a good initiative.
Over the past three or four years, as the minister well knows, education perhaps is the passion of a number of MLAs in this House; in fact in all Parties the teaching profession is strongly represented and there's no problem getting the commitment for the time around estimates on the budget when it comes to education. Certainly university issues, tuition agreements, class size, school fees, these have been some of the issues that I've been directly involved in and engaged in.
Over the course of today, probably we'll be involved in a couple of hours of questioning and certainly three areas that are of concern, of interest, and ones that I think will really shape some of the coming years in education in Nova Scotia, are the areas of pre-school child care and early learning. I feel that's an area that the province has obviously made some initiative with, with its pre-Primary pilot and it being extended this year - I'm looking at the long term of what will happen in this very, very important area which many jurisdictions now across North America are taking a strong look at and taking action on it.
The other one, and it is one the member for Timberlea-Prospect raised last night - I hadn't quite used the same term that he refers with his curriculum wasteland and so on, but the junior high area I think remains an area that I feel some new approaches and new initiatives would serve the Nova Scotia population well. Nova Scotia, if we look back in history - and it's not the time perhaps for a history lesson and for one who has been in the school system for quite a number of years - certainly the junior high years have always been challenging to teachers, administrators and the school boards, but you know our province has been a leader in many areas of education. No question. We've been leaders and it would be
nice to see us develop some approaches here, and it's a topic that I will ask the minister about in the coming hours.
The other area that I will put some emphasis on in my questioning is around teacher training and where the province will be going in educating the next generation of teachers - and I say that at a point in time where over the next five to six years we're going to have about 40 per cent, and I mean it's quite a staggering figure when you think 40 per cent of your teaching complement of around 10,400 teachers is going to be moving out of the profession, so we will have a new generation and where we will go in that particular area in replacing the current complement of teachers.
So while those are some of my preliminary remarks, I guess perhaps one of the areas I think that I will go to first, because it came as a bit of a surprise in some ways to see the Nova Scotia School Boards Association make some critical comments about this year's budget - usually we don't see that approach - but anyway, I was going to take a look at the Lead & Achieve document and the priorities that the Nova Scotia School Boards Association has established, and get the minister to comment on some of those priorities because I think the minister and the deputy would agree that the Lead & Achieve document was a valuable addition to educational topics of interest of concern and moving a more positive agenda forward by the Nova Scotia School Boards Association.
Their five-year plan was to increase real new funding of $150 million at the rate of $30 million each year. And very often the increase in the education budget is really the inflationary factor, the increase that goes especially with wages, which as we know does take up a significant part of the budget - I know generally it's in the range of 75 to 80 per cent. So I'd like to start there and have the minister's comment about meeting that target, which I thought was a reasonable one. And I know the minister, in her opening remarks, made the statement that the amount of funding per student should not be just the sole criterion for making, very often, a very strong judgment statement about the state of education. Certainly, we do have a low level per student, there's no question about that, but also I do concur with the minister that it's not the criterion necessarily to judge excellence in the education domain.
I want to know, is that goal of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association - are we meeting some of the real requirement around the five-year plan of $30 million per year?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite and I appreciate his comments, and it certainly is obvious to those of us who are educators that there are a number of us in the House and my experience, to date, is that we all work well together in the best interest of students. So I enjoy the presence of educators on all sides of the House.
With respect to funding to school boards - and I'm not going to go to a number of things that you mentioned, but I was pleased to hear the member talk about some things that we've done and some things we have in this budget that are good for Nova Scotia, whether
it's our public schools or whether it's our universities, and to have that acknowledged by a fellow educator is certainly appreciated.
With respect to school boards, I want to begin by saying that school boards play a very important role in our province and have a major responsibility to ensure that the delivery of curriculum to all of our students is done in accordance with the directions from the department. I commend the school boards for their resourcefulness. I've reviewed the funding to boards over the last number of years and it's true that this year the percentage is not as great as it has been - I think we were looking at between 4 and 5.5 per cent over the last three or four years, and we're looking at between 2 and 3 per cent increase this year.
But I want to say to the member opposite that with the funding that is going to the boards we have certain standards and certain expectations and curriculum that has to be delivered, and our department is committed to funding those initiatives and those programs. The reference to the $30 million would be what boards obviously were able to use to support some of their local initiatives, or to enhance some of the department initiatives, and we at the department certainly appreciated what boards did with those dollars because it did provide quality to all of our students.
What we're talking about this year across the boards is probably $8 million to $9 million of that money, and that's not what they wanted, but it's certainly the best we can do at this point - we still have a target of $30 million. We want to work with the school boards on that and help them achieve the priorities that they have set, and in this one in particular it is with funding.
Some of the new funding that is gone, and if I could just perhaps for the member, read this, some of the new funding initiatives that are out in the board this year and the dollars that we have attached to those - so we're not expecting boards to do this without sending the targeted money - is the math, literacy and guidance expansions with the International Baccalaureate Program; bringing up the three boards to the level that was recommended in the Hogg report are physical education, both at our elementary and our mandatory high school; the Gaelic language course; the vocational composite, I think, it's $1.3 million we've put into that; and the extension of O2. And those are all programs that are either in existence and being expanded, or new, and so the dollars that support those have gone, targeted money, so boards do have the dollars that they need. The amount of money they have beyond that is the issue of the $30 million.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Madam Minister, for that overview and early remarks. One of the areas that the Nova Scotia School Boards Association wants to have government and the Department of Education focus on, I guess, and certainly one of the new initiatives that I think is one of the strongest - I meant to actually mention this one in my opening
remarks about new initiatives - is the O2. I know the deputy appeared before the standing committee just last Wednesday, and we also had witnesses from the Nova Scotia Community College at that time and certainly the vast majority of comment was around very, very positive results to date.
While perhaps the criteria for measurement is still a little bit early with that program, but to have it in 27 schools, five more this year and it is moving from Grade 10 to Grade 11, this was one of their expectations. I wonder, what is the plan from the Department of Education in terms of getting it in most of the schools across Nova Scotia and will there be a natural step movement from Grade 10, Grade 11, to Grade 12, and are those plans in the works?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the member has identified one of the most exciting initiatives in our department, the O2, Options and Opportunities. I think perhaps one of the things that makes it most exciting is that it does meet the needs of a population which, for a number of years in our public schools - perhaps if I dare say - has not been as well served as could have been. The students who take advantage of this particular opportunity are getting a chance to realize that public education, and going through regular public education, leads to more destinies than university, and there are a lot of opportunities for students where they can be successful and get the training and get the skills they need without going to university, and I think this is opening up the opportunity for them to have a look at that, to see what's available, to try their hand at some of these skills and then make an informed decision - maybe they will go on to university, but at least we've given them the opportunity to explore and to make an informed decision.
Our ultimate goal with the O2 Program is to have it at every grade level, Grade 10, Grade 11 and Grade 12, in every high school. That's an ambitious goal, but that's where we ultimately would like to be. Every student in the province deserves to have that opportunity regardless of where they live or what school they're in, and so that is our long-term aggressive goal.
We have made progress. Last year we had 27 schools across the province where we offer the O2 Program - that was offered at Grade 10. This year, in those 27 schools we are expanding it to Grade 11 - that's a major commitment - and we are adding five new schools. So we will have the O2 Program in 32 schools, and 27 of those will have it at Grade 10 and Grade 11.
One of the most important aspects of this not only is that we provide opportunities for our young people to make some choices and to make informed choices, but it's that if they choose to go on in whatever particular area they have a special interest, and obviously an aptitude, they move right into the Nova Scotia Community College system - and that's where working together, the community college and Department of Education and schools work together so it's a seamless transition for those students. And, as you know, the
community college is growing, and it has grown significantly - I think 591 new seats coming on this year. They will have almost 10,000 students in their population across the province, and those are 10,000 students who will be going out into our workforce, or going on to university, because community college is often a stepping stone to university.
So the connection that we have here between O2 and our high schools leading seamlessly into community college, and a goal of making that available to all students across the province, is something that I am very proud of - and, as I said, it's an ambitious goal, but that's where we want to go.
We have put $1 million more into that this year. Last year, we were looking at $2.24 million. This year that's up to $3.24 million and I think that's a good indication that that's where we want to go and we're prepared to put the dollars to make that happen.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Madam Minister, for that perspective on the O2, Options and Opportunities and, as the minister has said, no question, a very timely program in our school system. Certainly the traditional industrial arts and shop courses were sometimes, perhaps, a little hastily replaced by computer technologies and associated courses, so it's great to see this occurring.
A little bit aligned with that is often hearing school board members in my area, and a few have written to me, and many do have a very good pulse on what's happening in their school systems and the kind of needs that they have, and again one of their priority areas has been requesting more non-targeted funding for school boards, because there are some areas that perhaps would like to have a career access program in each of their high schools, or a little different version of O2, where a number of students may spend a considerable amount of time in the community college setting and these obviously require dollars - or local courses that are developed relating to forestry, or fishing and agriculture. These again, do require investments, so I'm wondering what is the minister's thinking, and the department's thinking, around the non-targeted funding that I think boards can creatively, but also responsibly, put to good use in our system?
MS. CASEY: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, this goes back to the earlier question about the $30 million.
As the Minister of Education, I have a responsibility to ensure that we provide opportunities for all students in all of our schools across the province, and that we have some standards and some consistency with the program and the curriculum that we deliver. It's important that we maintain that consistency. It's also important for students who are transferring from one school to another, from one board to another, across the province that when they move from one area to another they can expect that the program, the curriculum and the delivery will be consistent with the one that they were just in. So we have to make
sure that that happens, and one of the ways to do that is to target the money and provide the dollars to support the curriculum and the initiatives that we want delivered in those schools.
We value the work that the boards do in taking those dollars and implementing the initiative and taking that targeted money and making sure that the expectations from the department are realized. What that does, of course, is maintain that consistency and standard. That's not to say that board initiatives beyond the provincial initiatives are not valued - they're excellent, and some boards have developed some very positive and very successful board-based initiatives.
The non-targeted money is what boards would use to go beyond what the province is expecting them to do and, as I said earlier, when the boards had approximately $30 million they used it wisely and they certainly used it to the students' benefit. That number has decreased this year, but that's not to say that when resources are available we'll not strive for that $30 million again.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and Madam Minister. Again I'm just going to touch upon a couple more of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association priorities. In regard to reviewing and revising the PSP, I'm wondering, just how might that take place on a year-to-year basis? What kind of consultation goes on? Is there an advisory group that would take a look at this?
And of course within the PSP we have curriculum, we have school structure, we still certainly have some controversies around the offerings of year-long versus semester, and because of the nature of school structures we often have Grade 9 as part of the senior high. There are quite a number of school structures, Grade 9 to Grade 12, and I've been hearing and I'm sure the department often will hear concerns around semestered classes for Grade 9s. So I'm just wondering, what kind of process is there in place to review the PSP, and within that the school structures that do exist in the province - and especially those years of middle school, upper elementary, junior high, there certainly seems to be a lot of issues around that particular area, so if the minister could comment on that, please.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I really see two questions there, if I could address them. The one about the review of the public schools program, there is an advisory committee that reports to the deputy on curriculum change and how that is reflected in the public schools program. That's an ongoing active committee, so any changes that are recommended for curriculum have to go through that committee and to the deputy, and then are reflected in the public schools program.
With respect to the grade configuration - and your question is timely - I have not seen it, but I understand the report has been completed. A report that an educator well known to the province, Jim Gunn, was commissioned to do, a review of the grade configurations across the province. We know that some of our boards have moved toward the elementary, middle
and then high school, and others are still elementary, junior, and senior high. So we really do not have any consistency across the province on that, but the purpose of the review was to look at what we do have, to look at what works best, and is there a need to move toward standardization or consistency. We know there's a whole body of research out there to support middle school philosophy, and again we have middle schools that are Grade 4 to Grade 7, Grade 5 to Grade 9, Grade 6 to Grade 9 - there are a variety of grade configurations within the middle school.
So that whole grade configuration thing is something that, as I said, the review has been completed. Once that review is ready for sharing, it will be shared with boards and with superintendents to get their reaction to that - and recommendations out of that may well address your first question about what impact will grade configuration have on the curriculum course of study as outlined in the PSP. So they can't be separated - you've brought them in one question, and rightly so. I think the grade configuration report and recommendations could very well drive the changes to the PSP.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, and I'm certainly pleased at the direction the department is going in this regard, and I'm sure it will be a well-researched document and it will have an impact on the future delivery around the PSP and especially the junior high, middle school years. So I'm very pleased and perhaps at some point along the way we'll be involved in some feedback on that particular topic.
One of the other priorities - and this is one that, again, school boards any time funding is short - is around maintenance. The deferred maintenance question of boards. We know that timely maintenance, both short and long term, will go a long way to extending the life cycle of a school. I'm wondering if this is driven by the Department of Education through the funding formula, or is this something that is more concentrated in the decision making of the board and central office around the maintenance of school buildings, because now with declining enrolments and the formula still heavily based on per pupil funding this could become one of our concern issues.
I've heard in this House a description, for example, around Dartmouth High School. Dartmouth High is a school that many would say has not probably had quite the level of maintenance that it should have been given along the way. I was in a school for a period of time where regular maintenance was not carried out and it certainly caught up to that school, and then all at once it needed tremendous amounts of maintenance. So I'm just wondering, is it basically driven by the department or are school boards the ones to determine what schools, what level of maintenance is carried out?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the question of maintenance in our schools and deferred maintenance is of concern. However, we have recognized that maintenance and repairs up to the $250,000 are the responsibility of the boards and the boards do make the decision what the priorities are within their board, how those dollars are allocated and their maintenance and operations staff would be making those decisions. Of course, once it gets beyond the $250,000 it becomes capital and that's what comes on to my list of alterations and additions.
With respect to the funding this year, last year it was $2 million, this year it is $1.5 million that is allocated to boards, as I said, at their discretion to use to address the priorities in their board - and that funding to those boards is based on student population. So it goes to them, it's their money to use to address the outstanding issues and concerns that they have. They determine the priorities for that.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, and, Madam Minister, thank you again. That is a piece of information that I wasn't familiar with in terms of the level that boards did have control over in terms of maintenance.
The last area from Lead & Achieve, and I think it really was the central part of their document, was taking a look at the performance of our students, the standards of achievement. Of course, there were a number of recommendations developing a system of tracking student success - for example, in school in the post-secondary period, of course, again, taking a look at how our students perform in relation to students across the country, the reporting of students in terms of the internal school review and the external that is now done by Grade 12 provincial testing.
One of the areas that they touched pretty heavily on, and I remember when the document was presented, and being at the news conference, and again it was one that the member opposite has raised so far in estimates, and that is the level of expertise that a teacher will have in a subject area. I know very often there are many circumstances that can determine what a teacher is teaching. Certainly in a small school a teacher is going to have to take on a whole wide range of curriculum areas and be well-prepared, well- backgrounded, have all of the strategies and the plans in place.
Again, it's an area that, based on my own experience with evaluating teachers, I feel pretty strongly about and I feel that perhaps in some of the areas, of math and science in particular, I think perhaps some of our students have met with some difficulties because of the level of expertise that teachers have come into the classroom with. I'm wondering, again, with the minister's comments on this, around how that gap may be narrowed in terms of the university minor or major and the professional development that goes on to enhance the teaching, especially of challenging subjects and especially we know and we almost worry about the next report regarding math in particular, so I would like to hear the minister's comments on this.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, thank you for the question. The Minister's Report to Parents was referenced earlier and the question was would there be statistics in that on suspension rates and the answer was no, but in response to the question that has just been asked, the Minister's Report to Parents does include all of the results of assessments that we conduct in our schools because we do want to track student performance, and we know that there is a link between student performance and teacher performance. One of the things that has become obvious to us, and we've called for the audit to determine the degree of that problem, is teachers teaching out of subject area. We have a very dedicated and well-qualified teaching staff in our schools and as an administrator I'm sure the member opposite knows the challenges of matching the most qualified teacher in the subject area for which they are trained, especially if you're in a small school and you don't always have the choices that you want.
However, in spite of that I do believe that teachers do the best job they can with the assignments that they're given. We've recognized over the last number of most recent years that we do have a great need for teachers in our high schools who have a background in math and science - and in all schools in French. We've certainly tried to address that, and one of the ways we tried to address that is when boards do their early hire practice. When we have students coming out of universities who have the math, science, or the French background, boards can do an early hire, which achieves three things: it allows boards to get teachers on staff in their complement of staff who have the background training they need, and that translates into a better delivery of program for students and it also translates into those teachers staying in Nova Scotia because they're highly sought after all across Canada in the math, science, and French background.
The early hires is one way that we're trying to make sure that we get the people hired who have the qualifications, but the challenge exists in small schools. I did make mention of this earlier with respect to small rural schools and what some boards have done. I used one that I know personally and that would be in the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, a very rural school in Advocate, and a very small school. Staffing the high school part of that school with teachers who have backgrounds in all of the major subject areas is impossible. What the board has done there is to, again, with the what we talk about untargeted money - it would be the dollars that the board would have that they could enhance and complement the staff allocation to that school to try to get the teachers there with the backgrounds so they can deliver programs for which they are trained.
One of the things that the member mentioned in some of the introductory comments had to do with teacher certification. We're hoping that as we conduct our review on teacher certification that we may be able to have dialogue with universities about the majors and the minors in the courses and how we can link that to our teachers who are going out into our classrooms. We recognize that it is a concern and addressing that is a challenge - we also have to recognize and work closely with our Teachers Union and contractual obligations that we have there.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you Madam Minister for reviewing those areas of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association. I wasn't sent here to be a voice and so on or to check out how things were going with your document, but I think it's one I felt has contributed to the discussion over the past couple of years. It truly identified some areas that did need to be addressed, that are still in the process of engagement by the department as we all work towards better outcomes for our students, stronger school communities, so I do applaud the work of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association.
To move to another area, and it was one of the first times that brought me in contact with the deputy minister, and that was around the tuition support agreements. It certainly was one that I felt very, very strongly about and the challenges that are faced by parents who need to send their children to one of the three schools which, we certainly would all agree, have a number of specialty areas in dealing with learning disabilities.
Just perhaps for a little bit of a clarification here - and I know the program has been extended to the third year and basically we've been going through a process of renewing one year at a time - I guess what I'm asking first, is it renewed up to three years, one time for a student, or is it just renewed for this year? This is really what I would call a kind of a neutral cost factor for the government, for the Department of Education, since this is really money that would have gone to the public school system if the child remained there and was basically being transferred through application and through meeting certain criteria. I'm just wondering where that program stands and the long-term place for this particular program.
MS. CASEY: The question of tuition support takes me to the whole issue of individualized programs for students with special needs in our schools. We recognize that we have a broad range of abilities in our schools and that every student deserves to have an appropriate program. The individual programs are developed at the school in consultation with parents, teachers, any outside providers of services, whether that's health or community services. Together they sit down and look at what program best meets the needs of that child. We have supports in our schools to help deliver that program or provide support for the student as they go through that program.
There are situations where the school is not able, for whatever reason, to help that student progress. For the last number of years, we have worked with the tuition support initiative. What that does is, if a student has been on an IPP in a school and if it's deemed that their needs cannot be met there with the supports that we are able to provide and with the IPP that's developed, there is an option for that student to attend one of three private schools. The intent of that tuition support program is to provide the student with the skills that they need in order to transition back into public schools. That was the design of that program.
Initially it was for two years and parents identified for us some concerns that they had that perhaps all students, or their student in particular, was not ready for transition back after two years. So our government made a commitment to extend that, so it is now possible for students to be involved in the tuition support program for three years, with that third year focusing on transition skills so that the intent of the program can be met and that is that the student does transition successfully back in to a regular school system. We have put $350,000 into that this year to make sure that third year is available and we will have numbers to indicate how many students have taken advantage of that and I would be prepared to share that at another time.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm wondering, however, not asking for a commitment here, but basically asking the minister what her views are or where the department does seem to be heading in terms of the future of this program. We all know that some children can go to a school like Bridgeway Academy or Churchill Academy or Landmark East and perhaps one year, two years, may be sufficient, while there are others who need four or five years, their intensive high school years, or even the beginning years since we are now hearing of more identification of learning problems actually in the very early development of, for example, literacy. We are hearing of three- and four-year-olds who are identified as having a learning disability. Some children may need more than the three years. I'm just wondering, without a commitment here, how the minister feels about the future of this program and its needs and also the fact that we do have a couple of parts of the province, Cape Breton and the western part of the province, that aren't served by any such specialty school. So the future of this program, I guess, is kind of a little bit of a perspective on that.
MS. CASEY: As follow-up or continuation I guess, with respect to tuition support, one of our concerns is exactly as the member has identified. The locations where students can transfer for those one, two, or three years, do not have the geographic representation that we would like - two in Dartmouth, one down in Kentville - so students in Cape Breton and other parts of Nova Scotia are disadvantaged because of that. We have, as I announced earlier, a committee that's being formed, a team that's looking at the special needs programs we have across the province and how effective they are. Are we getting the best outcome for the dollars invested in those?
One of the things that team will be looking at is the tuition support program along with other services that are delivered in our schools and other programs that we have. It's something that we believe does meet a need, but I'm hoping that the outcome of that special education review will identify some of the concerns with respect to it. It may well be the length of time, it may well be the geographic location. That report will come to me with some recommendations and we will certainly look at those recommendations and try to act on them. Certainly, even without that report, it's our department's goal, and mine, to make sure that if that program is going to continue, that it's more accessible.
MR. GLAVINE: Just a quick question. Certainly I was very pleased to see this review get underway. I think again, the whole area of special education does need some change, some revamping, perhaps right from the teacher education around dealing with special needs, looking at what our resource rooms and resource teacher specialists are able to do, and what some of the gaps are, the mainstreaming versus, of course, attending to a small group of students in a special needs class. I think all of these need to have some review, so I'm pleased with that process that is now ongoing. I'm just wondering, is there a timeline being established by the department for this to be accomplished?
MS. CASEY: Yes, in fact that committee started its work in February and I have asked for that report to come to me by the end of May. They have set aside a time for public consultations, those will be held in April. I'm not sure, do we have a schedule of where? Okay, we'll table a schedule of where those public consultation meetings are going to be held - locations and times. They're looking at the month of April to do that and they have been and will continue to talk with folks on the ground, the teachers and the teacher assistants, the parents and in some cases, the students. I want to make sure we hear from those people who are at the centre of the whole question and that's how effective are we in delivering services to those students.
But, the schedule of public consultations is in April, report to me end of May and response after that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings West has approximately six and one-half minutes.
MR. GLAVINE: I'll get started now on what will be the topic that I will conclude this hour on and pick up in the next hour and that is class size. The class size issue was one of the first ones that I had to deal with when the new minister came into office. It's an issue that continues to be one that is, I think, challenging for individual schools, some school boards and some areas of the province, due to their geography and so on each year. This is an ongoing issue.
The Learning for Life document and the plan to cap class size at 25 with Primary to Grade 3 certainly has been very welcome and I think we're going to derive a number of benefits from that initiative. Sometimes they're not always seen in the first year or two. It has created a few little difficulties as these groups then move through 4, 5 and 6, but overall I hear positive comments. I'm wondering, when budgets allow this to be advanced, what would be the hope of this government and the Department of Education in moving the class size agenda beyond Grade 3 so that we could see a continuum?
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, the whole issue of class size is one that has been discussed and debated. I'm sure there's a body of research that will support whatever position you want to take on class size.
However, our government did recognize the need to cap class sizes and began that in Primary, Grades 1, 2, and 3, keeping the Primarys and 1s at a lower level than the 2s and 3s. That certainly did create some challenges for principals in the schools as far as facilities and staffing and translating into split grades or combined classes or whatever. But, overall, the reports we're hearing from that is that in spite of the challenges that presented, educators believe it translated into a better learning environment for students.
As you know, the government's commitment was to take that cap in class sizes to Grade 6 and that's still our intent. We did not cap the Grade 4 class size this year, but that doesn't mean we're not continuing with our commitment to move on into the upper elementary - Grades 4, 5 and 6.
We believe it's important as you move through these initiatives that you monitor to see the success of it. What we're hearing, as I've said, from the early elementary, Primary to Grade 3, is that it does make a difference. We're also hearing it presents challenges. So, we're prepared to take that, but keep our commitment to take this eventually to Grade 6.
MR. GLAVINE: With just a short amount of time left, recently in B.C., Bill No. 33, perhaps the deputy or the minister knows about this bill right off. Bill No. 33 was passed and it required teacher consent before teaching in classrooms with 30 or more students. I'm just wondering, not so much implementation of something like this in our province, but as a former educator, I would like the minister's comments on this bill and is this perhaps some of the direction that we may be looking at. We certainly hear from our teaching staff across the province about the difficulties and the challenges when our class sizes do get too high. So I'll end with that to the minister.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member, I'm not familiar with the particular situation in B.C. that you're speaking of, but I do know that some contracts do have class size in them. Our contract with our Teachers Union does not have that, but if there was any move to that, it would have to be in consultation with the union and during contractual discussions.
MR. GLAVINE: I thank the minister for this hour and the answers provided and I'll pass it now to the member opposite.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, it's a pleasure to get up here again and to ask the minister some questions about the estimates. I'll say again what I've said before, I have a great deal of respect for the way in which she has taken on this responsibility. I know the many times I have contacted her, she has always been on top of her file and where she hasn't been, she has been willing to look into cases and to review policies that, you know, don't work at the moment. So I very much appreciate what she has been doing with this file; although the nature of the job is to be critical and to ask questions, pointed questions as the
Health Minister says, I do very much appreciate the rigor that she has brought to her job and her prompt and courteous responses to our requests for information.
I want to begin also by talking about some specific issues, issues that are specific to Halifax Citadel, but by and large I'm going to confine myself, in the time I have here today, to talk about post-secondary issues and later I'll talk about things related to my critic's role in the youth area. As far as Citadel issues go, again, I would like to thank the minister for getting involved in the school closure issue and for acting so promptly and so decisively on it. We're very much looking forward to the committee stage where we'll get some clarification on the regulations that she plans on introducing there, or discussing there, but I do want to thank her for the work that she has done on the school closure issue.
One issue in Halifax Citadel that continues to draw a lot of attention, certainly at the level of the students and parents, is Halifax Citadel High School and the lack of an auditorium there. As you know, St. Pat's and QE both had wonderful theatre auditoriums and put together a variety of arts and cultural events and they served as a great resource to the community as well. As she knows, arts and culture is very important to Halifax and those students who are nurtured and those arts that are incubated in those auditoriums tend to feed our tourism. They tend to feed our larger arts and cultural economy that we have here, a very successful one, and I'm wondering if there is any possibility at all that the school board and the Department of Education will consider revisiting this decision of the auditorium at the new Citadel High School, because it is important to the community.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, thank you for your kind words in your introduction and, as I said earlier, I value and appreciate the educational expertise amongst all members in the House with no exceptions. I'll just make a comment with respect to the school closure and I know the member opposite did work closely with me on that. I was very pleased that the review translated into recommendations that we could put into amendments to the Act which do address some of the specific concerns that came from that member.
With respect to the specifics of Citadel High, and it's my understanding that when the steering team would have - and I was not part of this - but when the steering team would have looked at the programs base for that school and the facilities in the area that might complement that school and that school, in fact, complement other facilities in the city, that there would have been decisions made and the design would have been developed based on those decisions.
To go back and revisit, I'm not sure what implications that would have on the design as it now exists. I know I had a chance to go through that school and it seems that it fits
pretty tightly on the current piece of land and so that would be a challenge to go back and make changes to that design.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As I understand it, the design for that auditorium has already been incorporated into the design of that school. So there is every possibility of including the auditorium in that school, but it's a question of whether or not the auditorium, as it stands, is going to have a stage and seats and all those other things that are essential to an auditorium. But I'll come back to that.
I would like to move on to talk specifically about my principal area of responsibility and that's post-secondary education. I'd like to ask some more specific questions about the estimates. On Page 7.2, of the Nova Scotia Estimates, Supplementary Detail, operating funding under Grants to Universities is slated to be $212 million, in 2007-08, yet, looking at the MOU, and in documents sent subsequently by the former Minister of Education, the province has committed to providing an operating base of $246 million, $246,295,347.00, to be exact. It is a very specific commitment that the minister has made and the department has made, for the fiscal year 2007-08, and the commitment there seems fairly clear. Yet we see on Page 7.2 of the estimates that only $112 million has been committed. I wonder if the minister could explain that discrepancy and say why that commitment appears not to be kept?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite. The explanation that I'm getting here, I will share it, and if it needs to be corrected we can correct it, but it's my understanding that the 2006-07 and the 2007-08 commitment to the MOU were paid out of last year's and that's why you would see a difference between the $212 million and the $246 million.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We had this discussion last year, when we were looking at this issue of providing funding through the back end rather than the front end and I'm wondering what the exact difficulty is in actually just saying, in this line item here, that the commitment to the universities for 2007-08, the base funding will, in fact, be $246,295,000. Why play around with figures that way?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I wouldn't suggest it's playing around with the numbers because the explanation is obviously forthcoming whenever the question is asked. But, the money was available. It was an opportunity to give those universities their money in advance. They were pleased with that and the explanation as to why it's not shown in the numbers, as you've suggested, is the explanation that I've tried to give.
MR. PREYRA: Well, I'm not sure if all the universities see that as money coming in advance. Some see it as coming at the very end of the year and they're not exactly sure if they're going to get it from one year to the next. It would be more helpful if the funding was stable and guaranteed and in fact appeared as a clean commitment in the estimates.
I would like to move on to another question. In the Budget Speech, which I listened to very carefully, it says that tuition will be frozen for most, and I took note of the word, most Canadian students, and they'll be frozen at the September 2006 level and there will be an equivalent reduction for professional and international students. Does that mean that the department is going to provide funding for these students, including professional and international students, at the September 2006 level? In the MOU, the professional and international students are excluded from those commitments, so we're wondering where the money would come from to cover those international and professional students, on the assumption that they are going to get an equivalent reduction.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the reference to the freeze of the 3.9 was for all students. The reason most is there is because there were some studies that were outside the MOU. Dentistry, law and medicine and universities could, if they wished, raise that tuition, so that is why the word most is there, they may choose not to, but they have the opportunity and the option to.
MR. PREYRA: Just to be clear, what is the commitment in terms of tuition fees for professional and international students? Are we saying then that those fees in fact will not be frozen?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the 3.9 per cent freeze is for all students. If universities chose to raise the tuition for those students who were outside of the MOU, dentistry, law and medicine and international, they could do that, but the government's commitment was to hold the 3.9 tuition in the MOU and compensate the universities for that 3.9 per cent.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, I will have to have our accounting department look at how that would work because I'm still not clear, but I don't want to pursue it any further. I would also like to know how the government intends to provide the $500 bursary to the universities. Will it be handled in the same way as the $440 contribution made in January? Also, if I could tag on another question to that, some universities get more of their funding from tuition fees and I'm wondering if those differential ratios are going to be calculated into the provision of the bursary itself?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, as you will recall in the January allocation, those dollars showed as a credit on the individual student's invoice at the time of their second semester payment and the $500 that we're giving to students as part of this tuition relief will also show as a credit on their invoice.
MR. PREYRA: I want to go on to look at some more general questions starting with the promise to lower tuition fees to the national average. I did have a question earlier this week in Question Period about the difference in fees between the national and the provincial level and the minister said that that gap had been closed by $1,000. I'm wondering if she
could explain to me how the department came to that conclusion that in fact the differential between the national and the provincial average has been closed by $1,000?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I believe my comment was that at the end of 2007-08, as we started the next year, the gap would close by approximately $1,000. We calculate our figures based on a projected increase in tuition across the province and we take the national average and work toward that.
The tuition that we started with when we first started to make our commitment to bring it to a national average, our tuition average was $6,200 and the national average was $5,100. We have addressed that in the $440 for the first commitment, the freezing of the 3.9 and the additional $500 and if we continue to do that for another year, we would be closing the gap by approximately $1,000. In 2006-07, the gap was about $2,000, so we will be halfway there in another year.
MR. PREYRA: So the bursary in fact will be counted as part of that reduction, as part of that strategy. I'm wondering if you could tell us what process is being used to fill the rest of that gap and how much funding will be provided between now and 2010-11, to address that? What is the course of the process and what resources will be devoted to closing that gap?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, when we made the commitment and started looking at the calculations for this, we were calculating an equal amount over the next four to five years to take us to the national average in 2010. We are holding that commitment and we will do that as our resources become available. I can't predict what the budget will be next year, but it will certainly be our priority to again address the tuition reduction and move us closer to our target.
MR. PREYRA: I thank the minister for that response and I'll take that as an assurance that in fact the government will meet its commitment to 2010-11, but again, our accountant is going to be very busy to look at how that $1,000 figure was arrived at.
I do have some general questions about students who are eligible for the tuition fee reductions and freezes. It appears from the minister's responses today, and the general policy direction, that we're going to continue to penalize Canadian students from other provinces, that we're going to continue to put the burden of tuition and the lack of revenues that universities have on students from away, on international students and on professional students. I'm wondering if there's a larger logic to this and whether or not the minister has considered the implications of that strategy for the educational system as a whole, for the industry, if you can call it that, a very successful industry that our post-secondary institutions have turned out to be, and for the longer term interests of our province, whether or not that
policy of penalizing out of province students, other international students and professionals is a short-sighted policy?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I would like to clarify perhaps, or repeat again, that the freezing of the tuition is frozen for all students. The opportunity for universities to charge more tuition for international students and for medicine, law and dentistry is an option that is there. To give an example, the tuition for a student from Ontario who wanted to come to a Nova Scotia university, the university has been given the 3.9 as part of the freeze, so that student will pay the same tuition as a student in Nova Scotia.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, I had understood; I thank the minister for that clarification, but the $440 rebate that was given last year didn't apply to those students. I'm wondering how that gap will be closed next year if the minister intends to bring them all into line. But again, I'll have to look into it and I'm not sure, I know the minister has come back to this question and maybe I will since she has. She says that student fees will be frozen for all students at 3.9, yet universities will be able to raise fees for medicine, dentistry and law. I'm just not clear how fees for those professional schools can be frozen if the universities can be allowed to raise them to whatever level they feel the market will bear.
MS. CASEY: I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to ask the member if he could repeat that question.
MR. PREYRA: Well, it was a two-part question, but I'll repeat the second one because I would like to get some clarification. The minister said that tuition fees for all students will be frozen, but if the universities want to raise fees for medicine, dentistry, and law that they could. That's effectively not a freeze, because universities have been using those programs as cash cows to feed the shortfall in other areas.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite I sound like I'm repeating myself, and either I'm not understanding the question, or he's not understanding the answer. I will try again. The 3.9 per cent increase in tuition that was part of the MOU has been covered by this government so that the increase in student university tuition will not take place for any students coming to Nova Scotia universities, except the opportunity is there if universities choose to raise the tuition beyond the 3.9 per cent. We're covering the 3.9, if they choose to raise it beyond that for dentistry, medicine, and law they can do that.
MR. PREYRA: I will pass on that, but I thank the minister for trying again. I want to ask a question about infrastructure. Universities have been complaining for a number of years, and rightly so, that their infrastructure has been crumbling. Many of the granting agencies like the IF and CFI don't fund buildings. It has been very difficult for them to continue to do the great work they've done, the great teaching and research, without money for infrastructure. I'm wondering if the department has a plan for this year to deal with the infrastructure deficit. The universities are looking at some desperate measures, issuing bonds
and a mortgage. I'm wondering if the minister has any plans for addressing this infrastructure deficit in the coming year and where that figure is in the estimates, or if there is a figure that you can cite.
MS. CASEY: Last question first. There is nothing in the estimates to target infrastructure for universities. However, I can tell the member opposite that the Atlantic Provinces Ministers of Education did come together during a previous minister's time and put together a proposal to the federal government to work with them towards addressing the first $500 million in infrastructure costs. That proposal has been in and we have not had the money delivered to us at this point in time.
MR. PREYRA: I'm wondering if the minister can tell us whether the universities can expect anything in the MOU process that's currently under way.
MS. CASEY: As the member would know, the second round of discussions for the MOU are currently under way and that may well be something that is part of those discussions.
MR. PREYRA: I'd like to move on to look at a number of issues related to the federal budget. There were a number of promises made in that federal budget, many of which referred to provincial policy and collaborating with the provincial governments. I wanted to start with the figure of $800 million that was mentioned as part of the social transfer that would be devoted to post-secondary education, and maybe start with a general question. It appears to be the beginning of a dedicated fund to post-secondary education, is the Nova Scotia Government, is the department willing to support this idea of a dedicated fund for post-secondary education?
MS. CASEY: We were delighted to see that figure of $800 million. Would we support that? Absolutely.
MR. PREYRA: I'm sorry, I believe the minister didn't hear my question. The question was whether or not the department and the government were willing to support the idea of a dedicated transfer of funds to post-secondary education?
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, same answer.
MR. PREYRA: I take that to mean no. The federal transfer of money, the $800 million, has a string attached to it and the string is accountability. The federal government clearly states in the address as well as in the budget documents that it will not transfer these monies until they have established an accountability mechanism. I'm assuming it means that federal standards will be set. Have those discussions taken place or is the department willing to forego that money without establishing those mechanisms?
MS. CASEY: I would expect that any level of government that's making a commitment of millions of dollars would want to make sure there was an accountability clause in that. So it's no surprise that they would want that, it's no surprise we would be willing to accept that.
But as to the second part of the question, there have been no discussions with my department on that.
MR. PREYRA: I'm glad to hear the minister's willing to accept federal standards in the post-secondary education field because that is something that our Party has been calling for for a long time and we hope that in time her department will change its mind about the question of dedicated funding for post-secondary education. We firmly believe that if those monies are going to be transferred, we need to ensure those monies will be spent for post-secondary education.
There's a concern the money can be transferred to other uses and it would certainly make it easier for the federal government and for stakeholders here in Nova Scotia to know exactly how much money is coming in for post-secondary education and how that money is being spent. If the quid pro quo is the acceptance of standards, we would be willing to accept that as well. I believe the minister is saying that she would not accept dedicated funds, so I'm interested in seeing how this statement in the federal budget that says we will only transfer this money if we can see it is being used for post-secondary education with standards that are agreed to, how we can abide by this position of not accepting dedicated funds but establishing standards to ensure that money is being used for post-secondary education? This seems to be a contradiction in there.
MS. CASEY: If there is a contradiction, I'd like to correct it, because my comment was that I would be prepared to accept that and work within the standards that may be established in co-operation with the federal government.
MR. PREYRA: I'm glad to hear that. The other question I had, also related to the federal budget, is about the Canada Student Loan. The federal government has clearly stated and students have been asking for a number of years to have some kind of harmonization and simplification of the student loan process. The federal government has clearly indicated in its latest address that it is going to engage in a discussion with the provinces about student loans and setting standards and just an easier policy. Have those conversations taken place? I know I asked the minister last year if she would be willing to initiate such a process and she said she was interested and they would look into it. It appears the federal government is now saying the same thing. I'm wondering if those discussions have taken place since last year and has anything been done since then about harmonizing and simplifying the student loan process?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, yes, I did make that statement and following that I did have a conversation with the federal minister. Further discussions have been held at the deputy level and we will give our full participation in the review that the federal government has called for that.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Are there any timelines or any guarantees set for this process? Is there a decision date? It seems to be a question that has come up a number of times over the years and both levels of government have said that they would like to harmonize and simplify it, yet we've seen very little in terms of concrete accomplishments in that direction. What is the sticking point? Why is it taking so long to arrive at a resolution to what seems to be a reasonably simple issue?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I can't speak for the federal government, but I do know that the mechanism is being finalized and once it's formalized, then we will, as I said, take full advantage and participate in that process.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to move into a related area, about student loans. As you know, we have far too many students in Nova Scotia, and potential students, who don't go on to university or who don't continue in university, largely because they are worried about high tuition fees or they're worried about taking on a high debt. There appears to be a great deal of promise, both at the federal level and in this most recent budget, about dealing with student loans.
As the minister knows, the Millennium Scholarship Program will expire in 2009, and I'd like to know if she could tell us what provisions the department is making to deal with the expiration of the Millennium Scholarship Program in 2009.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, we recognize that there are a number of ways we can support our students at universities. One of them, of course, is to look at needs-based grants, which we have taken some C-48 money to do that, and also to top up the Millennium Access Grants because those were one-year grants and we have put money in to add the second, third and fourth years, so students are not left after one year without that financial support.
We also understand that discussions have begun with respect to an extension or a continuation of the Millennium Agreement and we would welcome any contribution that we can make, to make sure that those dollars get back into a fund that is accessible by our students.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Through you to the minister, Bill C-48 money and Millennium Scholarship money, as we know, are tied to a very specific time
period and there is no guarantee that those monies will be there after 2009. In particular, not to be too partisan, but the Harper Government in Ottawa has shown no interest in continuing Liberal programs. I suspect that they have no interest in continuing the Millennium Scholarship Program, so I'm not sure that establishing a loans program or a scholarship program, in the hope that the federal government will continue to provide those funds, is a realistic expectation.
I'd like to ask also a question about direct lending. The minister mentioned, in her opening remarks, that the department is moving to a direct lending strategy. That, too, was something that was promised last year and shortly after the department signed an agreement with the Royal Bank. I'm wondering, how is this going to come about and when can we expect to see this direct lending strategy? Not just how will it happen, but will the government be funding this or will the bank still be involved? Are there timelines or is this just a declaration, or hopeful declaration, that we'll have a direct lending plan in place?
I must say that I approve and agree with the notion of direct lending, especially if it means that students can get preferred rates and that there will be other provisions for hardship cases and things like that. I wonder if the minister could comment some more on what exactly is intended in the direct lending area.
MS. CASEY: It is correct that I did reference direct lend. We recognize that we want to give our students every possible break when it comes to their student loan or having to borrow money to support their education. We believe we can do that better with a direct lend model, rather than going through a bank.
We have prepared an RFP and are waiting for responses to that and that will give us some direction as to who is interested in working with us and making sure that any interests that can be gained becomes a benefit to the students.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I very much appreciate the minister's declared intent to establish direct lending, but are there any timelines? Can we expect something, for example, in September 2007?
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That timeline would be January 2008, as opposed to September 2007.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, I would like to move on to another question in this area. The minister, in her opening remarks, also talked about, again apropos to student loans, that there will be a new way of calculating parental contributions. Again this is a very difficult issue for families, that the figure was set too low - too high in terms of meeting those standards, that very few families could afford to contribute the amounts that they were expected to contribute and many deserving students and families didn't get any help at all.
I'm wondering how the new parental contributions will be, what's the formula for calculating parental contributions? Could she tell us a little bit more about that?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member, my understanding is that having reduced the parental contribution, we anticipate that there will be more students who are eligible to apply and be successful applicants for their student loan. To that end, we have set aside $1.2 million in this budget to try to address that.
With respect to the eligibility, the parental income does factor into that and I believe there is a reduction of about 25 per cent in what that parental income is, which changes the threshold there.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, one last question in this whole area of student loans. I know the minister and I have worked over the past few months that we've both been in the House on a number of hardship cases relating to students who have fallen into difficult times because of family breakups or health-related reasons, and she has been willing to provide some help in individual cases. I'm wondering if the minister has any plans, in a general policy way, of dealing with these hardship cases, both in terms of the involvement of collection agencies or coming up with different repayment options. It seems, at times, that provincial policy and federal policy impose an additional burden on these students who are already facing great hardship.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, yes, we have worked on some difficult situations and I've been pleased to provide support and through our staff to try to resolve those so students are not left with some difficult choices to make with respect to their ongoing education.
At this point in time, there is no change in policy anticipated. We will deal with them as individual cases, but the opportunity for both lower and higher appeal certainly is there to look at the particulars of any situation that comes in. At this point we believe that those have been successful means of addressing individual concerns.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and again I don't remember if I've said this before, but I very much appreciate the minister's help on those cases and those students who got that help appreciate it as well and it touches on what I said in my opening remarks, that I very much appreciate her attention to some of these individual cases and most of what we're talking about here are maybe policy changes that need to be made in light of the number of individual cases that we have had. I know I said this was my last question on loans but there is a big question related to the promise of establishing a needs-based grant system.
We have been calling on this now for a number of years and obviously access to post-secondary education, which is now just a basic human need, is so critical both for individual development and for the development of our province and the economic future of those
families that needs-based grants have to be established so that we can get students who are academically qualified into post-secondary institutions. It's a huge gap in our post-secondary policy that 40 per cent of our students are not going to universities and colleges because of this fear of debt and high tuition. I applaud the minister for promising and I applaud the government for promising that they will establish a needs-based grant system but I'm wondering if we can get more than a declaration on this and is there something specific that's being contemplated with specific timelines?
MS. CASEY: Yes, I did make a commitment and yes I'm prepared to give some details on that. We did put $6.1 million into a needs-based grant. The criteria for that will be the same criteria as for other loans and we expect that students will access that coming September 2007.
MR. PREYRA: Will there be a granting agency and have those standards been set and are they open for dissemination now? Do we know exactly when those funds will be disbursed? In other words, from a political science point, who's going to get what, when, how? Have those standards been set yet?
MS. CASEY: That will be administered through our student loan division at the Department of Education. As I said, the funds in that will be accessible by students based on their application. There will be an application process and when they go through that application process and it is judged as to whether they qualify or not, that will all happen through that division within the department, same division that is currently there for student loans.
MR. PREYRA: That is good news. The minister didn't say so, but it sounds like we're very close to having that. Will that be in September 2007?
MS. CASEY: It is our expectation that students will be able to access that for September 2007.
MR. PREYRA: I would like to move on to another set of questions relating to community colleges. The minister talked in her opening remarks here yesterday about 591 new student seats that would be created in the community colleges to deal with the skills shortage. I didn't hear her say at that time where these seats would be created, for what programs and within what time frame.
MS. CASEY: I have mentioned community college in a number of my remarks and it does play an important part in the overall education of our students in Nova Scotia. The community college has been growing and continues to grow. They have a major growth plan and our department is funding that growth plan because we see them meeting a critical need to provide training for students once they leave high school.
We have 13 campuses around the province and the 591 seats that I've mentioned will be dispersed at various campuses around the province. That would be an administrative decision as to what programs needed more seats or what new programs are being introduced, but that would be an administrative decision. The total that we have funded for them is 591 new seats.
MR. PREYRA: When the minister says that this will be an administrative decision, does that mean this is a decision that would be made within the department or within the Nova Scotia Community College system?
MS. CASEY: No, the Nova Scotia Community College has a board of governors and in consultation with the board of governors, that would be an administrative decision made by the community college, based on the needs that are identified through their network.
MR. PREYRA: Of that $4.84 million that has been devoted to the creation of these new student seats, how much of that will be for faculty, or is there any breakdown that we can have for that?
MS. CASEY: I don't have a breakdown of how that would be disbursed within the college system, but I think it goes to - I would expect those dollars would be to support new programs and new programs would require faculty.
MR. PREYRA: Related to that, the community college system has had a huge investment and infusion of money and infrastructure and much of that money was deserved. We really do need to develop the community college system. One advantage the colleges have is that they have great locations in rural areas. I'm wondering if the department is using any of its good offices to ensure that students from rural areas have access to a larger range of post-secondary courses in colleges and universities and whether or not that infrastructure can be shared in any way. Have there been plans to develop a sharing of infrastructure in rural areas in particular?
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, when Nova Scotia Community College started to develop their growth plan and it was in consultation, obviously, with the Department of Education, there was an expectation that there would be 2,500 new seats established across the province. We had an expectation, and clearly communicated that to the community college, that they would be dispersed across rural Nova Scotia - 1,500 of those is what our request was, that 1,500 of those new seats would be in rural Nova Scotia and 1,000 of those would be in metro. The community college is working within those expectations.
MR. PREYRA: I think it is important that we make post-secondary education more accessible, especially to students in rural Nova Scotia where the community college can be used to develop economies, it can provide skilled workers and bring other spin-offs into the community.
I had a question about apprenticeship training, which is part of this community college budget; $3.6 million is allocated for apprenticeship training. I'm wondering if this $3.6 million is in addition to the $13.5 million for community colleges, is it separate and what is the total amount of money that's being allocated now for apprenticeship training?
MS. CASEY: It is additional money towards apprenticeship.
MR. PREYRA: Just to be clear, it's $13.5 million plus $3.6 million.
MS. CASEY: That is correct, $13.5 million plus $3.6 million.
MR. PREYRA: If I could move on to another series of questions relating to teaching certification, at the moment there's a huge demand for additional spaces for teachers and teacher training, particularly in Halifax and Sydney. I'm wondering if the minister, or the department, has any plans for increasing the number of spaces available and also making those spaces available in a broader range of locations, particularly in metro Halifax and Sydney?
MS. CASEY: One of the other areas that I've called for a review is in teacher certification qualification. As recently as last week we were putting together the three people who will lead that review. Recognizing that there are a number of concerns that we have across the province about teacher certification, location is one of them, the duration of the training program is another - where it's delivered, how it's delivered and the length of time.
We recognize that at this point in time there are a number of students who, and to use teaching as an example, wish to become teachers in Nova Scotia and are required to do a four and two - four years of undergrad degree and then their B.Ed. program. We recognize that that is six years, we recognize that it is costly to go six years to university, and we also recognize that right now supply and demand is suggesting to us that we perhaps can't wait six years for those teachers to graduate.
Another issue that is of particular importance to me, and one that I hope to change, is that Nova Scotian students have to leave our province to take a degree in education. We know that some students, because the seats in the universities that give B.Ed. programs are full, are having to go to Memorial or to Maine to get their degree in education. I can make a comment here - I believe that that is fundamentally wrong; I think Nova Scotian students who wish to study in Nova Scotia should be able to do that here. So I am hoping that the
review that we have called for will help us address that problem. So the location, the duration, and the program itself are all under review.
We recognize that there are a number of good things happening in Cape Breton at Cape Breton University. We also know that the quality programs that we have in all of our universities are valued, and it's not to suggest that there is any criticism of the quality of the program, but it is an opportunity to ask the questions about how we meet the need, how we do that in a reasonable way for our students, and how we provide for our students at home.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, I know from working with the minister in the past, if she says she is conducting a review it will be a thorough review and it will, I hope, lead to a serious reassessment of the policy in terms of the number of students eligible.
The minister will remember that earlier on this year we had a situation which seems it would be funny if it wasn't so serious - we had students studying in Sydney through Memorial University who graduated from their teachers' program there. These are Nova Scotian students working in an environment where we need students and yet these Nova Scotian students could not work in Nova Scotia, even though they had been physically studying in Sydney - they couldn't actually practice their craft here in a time where there was a shortage of teachers. I'm hoping that those kinds of anomalous situations will be examined in light of the review and they will be corrected.
Saint Mary's University has a similar program with Maine, I believe, that raises the same kinds of issues. I don't know enough about teacher training, but it seems that a number of teachers have said that Nova Scotia's requirement of a two-year degree also needs to be re-examined because most provinces have only one. I'm wondering if that question will be included in the review itself - I should say those questions, the two-year requirement, as well as the treatment of Nova Scotian students who are studying at other universities.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite. It's true that we do have at our universities a very rigorous course of study for a Bachelor of Education, a very high standard, and that is something to be very proud of, and there is no suggestion that we want to lose any of that high standard. However, there may be better ways or other ways to deliver that high standard of teacher training through perhaps an integrated program, or a four in one or a four in two, or a five. We are not sure what the outcome of that will be, but I think it begs question for review.
You did mention Saint Mary's University and, yes, Saint Mary's University is affiliated with the University of Maine and, again, we want to take a good, hard look at that. We certainly need more spaces in Nova Scotia and, as to where they are, that remains to be seen. We have a need in Nova Scotia for students and the need is such that our students are having to go outside to get trained, and we hope that that can be addressed.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Speaker, I think this is an important issue where there is a huge demand for getting into teacher training. It's sad that so many of our Nova Scotian students have to go elsewhere because there aren't enough spaces, and they have to leave their homes in Sydney and other places to go to a particular university.
I have a much more specific question. I know I don't have a lot of time but I had a question about the physiotherapy program at Dalhousie University. I know the deputy minister has been involved in this before, but can the government - and I don't expect the minister to know this issue but apparently, if I can summarize, they have a master's program that requires certain skills training and skills development and that program has just not been funded. It has certainly not been adequately funded. At the moment there is no commitment for funds for that physiotherapy program and, if this current situation holds, that program will not be able to meet the needs of the profession itself. I'm wondering if there is some way of putting this program on a more stable funding, so that students in that physiotherapy program will know, from year to year, or practitioners in that program will know whether or not that particular need will be met. Certainly the university is very keen to have that assurance, because these programs can't survive on the instability and students can't make a commitment if there is instability.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, he's correct. There are no additional dollars in our budget this year to support the program at Dal, but we have made commitments to that department, both capital and operating, and we will be working with the staff at Dalhousie, the administration at Dalhousie, to see if they are able to continue that program with the allocation of capital and operating that we have given them, but there were no additional dollars in our budget for that.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, I do thank the minister for that assurance. The problem seems to be the lack of stability. The university has developed an expectation that some of that money will be here, but I'm wondering if that money can be guaranteed in the long term so that program can be continued.
The chairman is signalling me that I have I think about two or three minutes left, and I have two quick questions.
Last Fall we had a quite a vigorous debate, if I could describe it as such, over the Degree Granting Act which would allow the department to establish, in effect, new universities and new standards for universities. I wonder, can you give us a progress report on the status of the Degree Granting Act and where you are with the regulations?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite. All I can tell you is that we are working on the regulations, but I will be able to get a definite time for their completion and I would be glad to share that and let you know the timeline for that, but it's currently in the works.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, one last series of questions relating to career colleges. Career colleges, schools of cosmetology and other such colleges fall within the ambit of the Department of Education. Again, as I was saying earlier to the minister, these cases and the number of cases that have come forward suggest that maybe there is a need for a policy review. These career colleges have been established, some of them are little more than fly-by-night operations that don't adhere to any particular curriculum. Students have complained that they have no recourse. Tuition fees are almost as high as community colleges and university, I might say. They undergo tremendous costs. Many of these students have come through social services programs as well, I notice. I am wondering, could the minister use her good offices, and really it is her responsibility as the Minister of Education, to review career colleges and the standards that are set there, the enforcement mechanisms, things that are really very important to these students who generally are fairly weak and vulnerable in their discussions with career colleges.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, yes, we do have a number of private career colleges in the province. That's obviously an opportunity and it's also a decision that students make and we want to make sure that they're not at risk. We do regulate the career colleges, we review their curriculum, we check through their financial situation to try to ensure that they are not, as the member opposite said "fly-by-night", that they have some stability and credibility. Their tuition, it's true, is very high - higher than universities I would say, and at the present time we have a process in place where if in fact there is a complaint from a student who feels that for some reason they have not been served well by that career college, then they come through our department, we investigate that and determine whether there has been any wrongdoing in that. So the students do have an opportunity to do that. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has expired for the honourable member for Halifax Citadel. We will take a few minutes recess for the minister and staff for a short break.
[4:59 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[5:05 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much and I'm pleased to continue. When I left off I was dealing with class sizes and this continues to be an issue, an interesting one in that there are a couple of boards now in the 2006-07 school year that actually had no classes over 35, but we have the anomaly of the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board with 32 classes of 35 and over, and HRM, the Halifax Regional School Board, with about 80 classes.
I know the minister is concerned about this issue. Very often it certainly can impact and impinge upon the quality of education in our classrooms when simply there are too many
students. In fact, very often I have said that probably one of the major differences between the private school and public education is that the private school is committed to a very low teacher-pupil ratio, and I think it is one of the major factors when we start to measure quality and do an assessment of the standards which are achieved, especially at a time when here in Nova Scotia we have come under criticism for doing poorly on national test scores on a number of occasions. I know last year we did register some improvement in regard to where we fit into the national rating.
I'm wondering, is the minister and the department working on a strategy that will see our province reach a time perhaps not down to 30 per class, but where we could say there are no classes now over 35? I believe that, you know, in our compulsory courses in particular, we have a number that are at 35 or over 35. For example, this year there were a number of 36, 37 and 38 classes in AVRSB, and it will take a concerted effort, I think, to reach a goal like that. Just simply to reflect once again, I know it is an issue that I think the minister hopes to make a difference in this regard and I'm just wondering about a strategy to achieve that.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, thank you for coming back and asking some education questions. As I mentioned earlier, we have made a commitment to cap the class sizes up to the end of Grade 6, and 25 was the cap that we were looking at. We still maintain that commitment. We are reaching that and we are bringing down our average class sizes, which is encouraging.
Your specific question about Grades 7 to 12, there has been no commitment to cap those. There was some review of that at the time when the Primary to Grade 6 decision was made, but there was no initiative to address that at that particular time. That's not to say that we can't and won't and shouldn't go back and have a review of that. We do recognize what the research is telling us about early ages and keeping class sizes at elementary small, but we also recognize, and I guess perhaps we tend to think there's more one-on-one when we're dealing with the lower elementary students. However, that's not to say that one-on-one is not and should not be important at all grade levels. So we will have to go back and look at the success we've had with Primary and up to Grade 6 when we get there and also what initiatives, if any, we need to take as we move into Grades 7 to 12, but it's certainly a question we've not answered but it's still a question.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the budget this year, and looking at an area in particular that I identified in my preamble, which was the junior high-middle school years, that's an area where we continue to see a high dropout rate. Now, actually for some boards, this is a higher dropout rate than what they experience at the high school level. I know that certainly a couple of boards have made an attempt to reduce class size there but sometimes French immersion, perhaps a music program, may skew the numbers; also of course the challenges around some of our small rural schools and, once again, I'm wondering, is there any targeted funding for junior high class size with the vulnerabilities that we currently experience there?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, we did not put any money into junior high to address specifically class size but we certainly did put money, $2.8 million in fact, into junior highs to address some of the supports, resource, guidance and other core professional services to support those students who have identified needs in the junior high, Grades 7 to 9 years. So that $2.9 million, I guess that was a priority for us to do that as opposed to looking at a cap size. We felt the individual attention to those students who had identified need would be a good return on our investment. So the $2.8 million at the junior high level is there this year to support those services.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you very much, Madam Minister, for that comment.
I'm wondering also about the junior high years in terms of the O2 program - Options and Opportunities - and perhaps a comparable program at the junior high level. This year there were a number of teachers who spoke very strongly, positively about that initiative, but said that perhaps we need some of that type of program at the Grades 7 and 8 level. In other words, if we have a high dropout rate, and we have an identified group of students that could benefit from a more experiential, more tactile type of curriculum, perhaps that would in fact solve or help reduce and deal with a couple of our major concerns - a reduction in dropouts, students experiencing a higher degree of satisfaction, improving attendance at school and also the behavioural area of having a reduction of behavioural problems because students like what they are experiencing in terms of curriculum.
When I talked about the junior high to middle school years as needing some type of restructuring, of revamping, I think that may very well be for that age group one of the initiatives that I think would be a positive. I'm wondering if the minister and the department are looking at anything along those lines.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I go back to my comment in response to an earlier question you had, with respect to grade configuration. We know that with the middle school philosophy, we may be looking at a Grades 6 to 8 and then your Grades 9 to 12 being another configuration. That would give us an excellent opportunity to include those Grade 9 students in that O2 initiative if that happens to be the outcome of the review and where we go with that.
But as with our junior high program, we have undertaken a review of the technology program at junior high as well as food and nutrition. I think there are two opportunities there within that curriculum to try to capture the attention of those students who, as you've so rightly identified, are disengaged for some reason. If we can capture them through something that is kind of a hands-on approach and still keep their attention on the academics, we may
be able to parallel the two and overcome some of those inattentive, absentee, suspension, behavioural kinds of issues and keep them focused.
So there is a review of those two programs, the technology and the food and nutrition. In that review, one of the things we'll be looking at is what do we need to do to this particular program to make it a more positive experience for students and have outcomes that are meaningful to them. So I'm hopeful that will happen. As I said earlier, we have put a lot of resources into our junior highs and it is a difficult age.
One of the things that we try to do in the early ages, Primary to Grade 6, is to identify those students who have some special needs or who may be on their assessments low in math or literacy, so we can try to address that before they hit junior high. At least they've been identified and some work has been done to help them with those areas of difficulty, so they enter junior high without anything to hold them back. As I've said, and you've said as well, there are a lot of pressures - social, developmental and tough decisions that they have to make - so what we need to do is identify any needs they have and have the supports there for them and also have a curriculum that's engaging and of interest to them.
MR. GLAVINE: Just to hear from the minister, perhaps reflecting maybe where the department is going and thinking along the lines of Grade 9. Should Grade 9 as a transitional year be more aligned with the high school, should it perhaps have more of the philosophy and the practice that I think middle school is working towards?
I hear, for example, in my riding about Pine Ridge Middle School and this year in particular where they made a substantial improvement in the teacher-pupil ratio and the advantages that it has created and solved some of the problems that I just actually commented on in the last question. I certainly am not a proponent of Grade 9 students doing semestering, and I think that structural change may be very advantageous for a Grade 9 student in their preparation for senior high. When we talk about the need for having math and English year-long, and when I see Grade 9 students making that adjustment into senior high, I do have some reservations. It's certainly not just a comment, it's a very strong belief of mine that Grade 9 students should have year-long programs. I'm just wondering if the minister and the department have any thoughts on where Grade 9 will be in this junior high, early adolescent or adolescent conundrum that we're often facing.
MS. CASEY: I just want to make a comment, and I know the member opposite will fully understand this as an educator, but the whole philosophy of middle school is certainly different than putting the name "middle school" on the side of a building. I think that whole philosophy is what makes it successful, and if that approach to team work and fewer class changes and those kinds of parts to the middle school approach are more meaningful to students, then we certainly need to make sure that we consider that when we're looking at any grade configuration.
To go back to the earlier comment, and the focus of the whole question is what can we do at junior high to try to keep those students more engaged, and whether it's a Grade 9 in a middle school or a Grade 9 in a junior high, Grade 9 can be a very difficult year and lumping them in with grade configuration that's a Grade 9 to Grade 12, I think we definitely have to give them special consideration because they are not Grade 12 students, they are Grade 9 students. To adjust from having two or three teachers to have either 9 or 10 teachers is a major adjustment for those students. If the grade configuration is such that they would be housed in a building with Grade 10, 11, and 12, I think the approach to their curriculum delivery would have to be given serious consideration and distinguish them from a Grade 12.
MR. GLAVINE: Perhaps the review is well in progress, because I do share that comment and belief very strongly, and hopefully again the department can come out with a very strong stand and statement around that very crucial year. I hear parents in the past and now making those kinds of statements very often that perhaps their grounding for high school, in particular in relation to Grade 9, was not what they had hoped for.
I'm going to go back to an area that I'm certainly gaining interest in and backgrounding more and more, probably some of it came about with the pre-pilot initiative which was introduced October 25, 2005. I was certainly pleased with the change of school entry date which will pick up more of our 5-year olds and give them the opportunity for a universal experience with Kindergarten.
I know that the pre-Primary pilot will continue for certainly this year. It's very early to say what the future of the 4-year-old program would be but, for the record, I would like to hear the minister's comments on what the pilot has revealed, so far. What are its strengths? What are some of the weaknesses, and this is truly what I would call not a cost, but a great investment in education, and I'm just wondering if there is any thinking around a stand-alone 4-year-old program. Will we do early-childhood education in the context of an expanded child care program? I know this is an area that will receive lots of evaluation, lots of thought and review in the coming months.
I'm wondering also, with the 4-year-old program, are there criteria to evaluate what has gone on in that program? I know there will be lots of subjective remarks from administrators, from the two teachers who are in the pilot classroom and also, I'm sure, from parents. So I would just like some comments and feedback on where the minister sees that program at this time.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I know how strongly he feels about early childhood, and we've discussed this many times about the value of capturing those young minds at an early age. We do have the commitment to continue the 19 pilot sites for 2007-08. That involves about 280 students in those 19 sites, and we have certainly done a bit of an evaluation of that program, as a pilot, and it was those preliminary responses in
that evaluation which confirmed that it was a program that we needed to continue, at least for one more year.
The responses that came back, and of course there were - the success of the program was based on a couple of different groups of students. We had the students who had been pre-Primary and had gone into their Primary year. So there was actual, concrete evidence given by teachers as to how those students were able to adjust and adapt to school life and Primary. And the responses from those teachers were that it was overwhelmingly a success. Students coming through the pre-Primary were better prepared to become part of a class and a large group in the classroom. Their social skills, their ability to share and to co-operate, as well as some of the academic skills they would have picked up, although pre-Primary is a play kind of environment, it is a learning environment.
So teachers are telling us that all of that translated into those students having a good grasp and a good start in Primary, and with that kind of evidence, you know that it's worth considering and determining what we do with that particular program.
We do have a curriculum that's been developed and it's being used in the pre-Primary, and that curriculum is designed for 4-year olds, and it's designed by people who understand 4-year olds. The staff who we have in those classrooms are early childhood educators, who have been trained in early childhood education. So all of the things fit together to make a very positive learning experience for those students.
We know that some of the criticisms, I guess - or weaknesses, perhaps, better than criticisms - some of the weaknesses of that program, because it was a voluntary program, we know that some of the students who could best benefit from that early childhood experience, and could have benefited from those skills to prepare themselves for Primary, did not access that program. Transportation is an issue there and the fact that it was voluntary, unfortunately, some of those students, for whatever reason, the circumstances in their own home environment, were such that they did not get the opportunity to take advantage of that. So that has to be considered when any future for that particular program is discussed.
The other thing that I wanted to say was that we had those geographically distributed around the province and most principals are telling us that those 4-year olds did adjust well to a school environment in the larger school population. That's important to hear that from administrators.
It's particularly important because now, where we have made the decision - pending budget approval - to change the date of entry, we will have 4-year olds coming into our schools in September, and I think the evidence that we have from this will support that 4-year olds can adjust and can adapt to a large school environment. So that's another positive and it helps with those parents and teachers and administrators who might be wondering how a 4-year-old fits in a Primary to Grade 6 school of 400 or 500 students. What principals are
telling us is that they did adjust well to that school environment. So the comments from teachers were positive, comments from parents who had students in that program were positive, and from administrators.
We recognize, and I've already begun discussions with my colleague in Community Services because this is an audience, a population, I guess, that we both share. At this point in time, in the pre-Primary, it's in an education school environment, but we need to make sure that we take advantage of what we learned and the benefits that we know can come out of a pre-Primary program or a 4-year-old program and decide where that best fits in the big scheme of things in Nova Scotia. So I think there have been a lot of good lessons and a lot of good information and confirmation. The question is now, where and how and through what department does this particular program continue?
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Madam Minister, for that review of the pilot. In 2006, the province invested $0.75 million in the program, $750,000. What will be the cost this year for the program? Is it similar? Also, just more out of interest, does the principal count the two qualified early childhood educators as his staff and in terms of an administrative allowance?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the first question, the total is $1.3 million. That's about $70,000 per site. So that's the commitment that we have to continue that program. With respect to the question, are these early childhood educators included in the count for administrative allowance? No, they are not. Neither are our teacher assistants or people who are not NSTU members. So the answer to that is, no, they do not.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Madam Minister, but maybe in some cases having an additional 18 students in the school is positive in that it certainly will bring up the total school population for one thing, and perhaps it's something that will become an expanded part of public education in Nova Scotia.
Just one more area, I guess, in regard to the pre-Primary pilot. You mentioned in the budget, or certainly in the last day or so you've talked about new buses being added to the fleet and there will be eight safety seats on these buses. I'm just wondering if a 4-year-old would qualify to be in one of those seats, which again could change the dynamic around a four-year-old program that could potentially become universal.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and to the specific question about four-year-olds and safety seats in buses, it is true that the information I shared earlier, of the 66 new buses that we have coming in this year, all of them will be equipped with the eight safety seats. Transport Canada is working to make sure that as new buses are purchased, they are equipped, but they are not going back to say, but you must be able to accommodate every
student under 40 pounds in a safety seat. So we could have 10 students on a bus with eight safety seats.
MR. GLAVINE: I was just wondering if there were any comments in regard to the pre-Primary pilot directed to the minister and the Department of Education around impacts on private or public child care. I know that when this program came in under Minister Muir, I remember him saying that of course perhaps there were a few sites that were selected around the fact of classroom or space availability, so therefore this could have been one of the factors that did, in fact, impact on private or public daycare.
I am just wondering, has that been sorted out? I know it was an early wonderment about implementing this program.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member, that certainly was a concern when the pilot was introduced and boards were asked to identify the communities that they felt would be most appropriate to have the pre-Primary operating. We had no intention, no desire to be in competition with the privately owned daycare facilities that were operating in our communities, and boards were asked to consider that when they identified the areas where they would recommend having a pre-Primary.
I'm not going to read down through the whole list but when I look at the communities that do have pre-Primary, many of them are rural communities where daycare services would be limited or non-existent. So there was an effort to try to avoid that because we did not want to be taking away from existing facilities. We wanted to provide the program where the facilities did not exist, so parents would have an opportunity.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There was one other area there that I did wonder about because the four-year-old program, the pre-Primary pilot, is in the structure in context of the public school system. I know once again these classrooms were fortunate to have some teachers who were well educated in early childhood education. I'm just wondering if assessment tools, or any identification of problems, whether or not they could be referred to that group of specialists in the system, in terms of any assessment or diagnostic work that may need to go on, and then obviously referral from that point.
MS. CASEY: I guess this goes back to the comment about the administrative allowance for principals. Even though the pre-Primaries were housed in our public schools and were welcomed by the public schools and really became a part of their family, they did not access the services that we would have made available for our P to 6 or our P to 12 population.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you. Since the minister raised one other little area around the teacher assistants and the fact that school administrators do not include them in terms of their administrative fees, and for the principal who has called me each year since becoming an
MLA, who has 20 to 25 teacher assistants on his staff. Is this perhaps more an issue for the union to deal with, for school board contracts, or for education assistants and their association? I'm just wondering where this may lie, in terms of the Department of Education and any ministerial comment.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member, it is an issue, it is a concern. In my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of the department, that would be something that would be part of negotiations, and I know that I've spoken to Mary-Lou about the early childhood educators who are in the classrooms and they are not a member of the Teachers' Union. We've had some discussions about that but I would say that teacher assistants would fall into that same category. They are not part of the union and, therefore, are not considered in the count; but it is somewhere that they may want to go.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. To move on to French immersion and core immersion, I know this was again the subject of one of our standing committees this year and out of that, of course, was the stated goal to double the percentage of students who were bilingual in Nova Scotia from 24 per cent to 50 per cent by 2013. We now realize there are more students taking immersion but less actually taking core French.
I'm just wondering if the department is working on a classification to determine functionally bilingual students. I think for a student to have that status, to have that identification, I spoke at the time at standing committee, I know how pleased and gratifying it was for students when they achieved, under the old system, special certification for doing six credits at the high school level in French. If I can just take a little sidebar here, Madam Minister, one of our students when I was at West Kings, came from a zero French home background, had regular French in Grades 7, 8 and 9, took the six courses in high school to achieve certification, did especially well, went on to Université Sainte-Anne to challenge herself and do her degree in French. This year she is in first year medical school at the University of Montreal. That's the kind of thing that can happen to students if we have good exposure, good instruction and students are inspired to do well.
I'm just wondering if there is a way in which we can do that kind of certifying a student as being functionally bilingual.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, at this point in time we have no assessment tool, no measurement to determine that. We know that we're working with our colleagues in other parts of Canada to try to determine how we can best measure that. New Brunswick at this point in time does an assessment at the end of Grade 12, but beyond that there's no standard measurement, and it may be important to determine if it needs to be provincial or if it needs to be national, but we would be open to that, we would welcome that because we do recognize our country and our languages and it's important for students to have that designation if that will be of assistance to them; but we do not have anything at this point in time. We know that we have not met the expectations and the standards in the Dion
report. I am not sure that many provinces, from what we are hearing, with the exception, perhaps, of New Brunswick and Quebec, have been able to meet that. So it's a big issue. There is no question, it is a big issue.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, through to the minister, in this area, if we have a board now that wants to have a more ambitious goal in trying to achieve some of the standards that have been set, what is the funding arrangement? Is a board going to have to use some of the non-targeted funding or is it fully and truly funded by government through the Department of Education, because I know that in some areas there is a higher demand for French immersion and certainly this year in AVRSB, when the board looked at some retrenchment and centralizing French education, French immersion at the elementary level, there was just a phenomenal outcry and the need for French education was well identified, French immersion. So I'm wondering how the funding is determined for French immersion and core French currently by the department.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, there would be opportunities for boards if they wish to apply for special funding out of the French Special Projects funding, $1.2 million. That funding is available and would be available for special funding if a board came forward with a particular initiative or project that they wanted to implement. We would certainly be prepared to sit down with them, have our staff at the department, our curriculum consultants, sit down with theirs and look at how that might be developed, but there could be access to funds through that particular grant.
MR. GLAVINE: Just to change stride for the last probably 14 or 15 minutes here, as I said in my opening remarks around post-secondary, there have certainly been some initiatives made that I think put us on the track to more positive, I think, outcomes here in the province. However, one of the concern areas is certainly that the $28 million that came from the federal government for post-secondary, first more directed toward infrastructure, then it was agreed that yes, it could go towards tuition reduction. I guess this is a two-year commitment and I'm just wondering how the province will deal when this amount is no longer on the table to help fund and reduce university tuitions in the province. So if we are making some strides with freezing tuition for next year, providing new federal dollars in that direction, but if this is just a one time, what is going to be a strategic plan to keep on the path of reaching the national average for tuitions by 2010 or 2011?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, we recognized, when we had the C-48 money, that it was a two-year commitment. We had made a long-term commitment to bring tuitions to the national average by the year 2010, and in anticipation of that we developed the trust funds with some of that money so that we would be able to draw on that if it happens that we don't get any more federal money. We're optimistic that we will, but we don't know that, so the investment in the investment fund was to help carry us, and I
think I mentioned this, through the first, second, third and fourth years for some of our support for students. The money is there, but we have made our commitment and if there's no federal money, then we will have to look at how we can manage that within our own provincial dollars because the commitment is there.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm wondering if the province has engaged in direct negotiations with the federal government around transfers to Nova Scotia. We do have a unique university circumstance in our province, having 11 degree-granting universities, the highest number on a per capita basis of universities. I'm wondering if the minister and the department are working to secure a greater degree of funding to make our universities competitive and even more competitive, especially with those in Atlantic Canada. I applaud the minister and the government for wanting to reach the national average over the next three to four years. However, there will be challenges and I think asking to look at our particular and peculiar circumstances and have a greater transfer of dollar for post-secondary education. So I'm wondering if there's any movement in that regard by the minister and the Department of Education.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we have worked together with our counterparts in other provinces to try to convince the federal government that we need our funding restored, our funding to universities, and we have raised the particular uniqueness of this province. Sometimes collectively you have more influence than individually, and so all of the ministers and all of the deputies across the country are united in requesting that return to the same funding as 1994, and that would certainly give us a big boost as far as university support. That request is there. We will continue with that request and we certainly encourage the federal government to recognize the need and provide the dollars.
MR. GLAVINE: My colleague asked a number of questions, of course, on post-secondary. That is his main critic area so I won't go back and duplicate those. So just to move slightly from the university to the community colleges, and I believe the figure used by the minister was that our enrolment is now reaching about 10,000 students and 501 new places, and I'm wondering if all of those new places are at the Akerley Campus. Are we seeing some growth in the other 12 college sites and, if not, is there some reduction of students across the province at our community college sites, knowing the current need of skilled trades people, of technicians, and of really new career skills that our workforce will need? So I would just like a little bit of an overview of where things are in terms of expanding or contracting in the other 12 community college sites.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the community college, as I've mentioned earlier, is one of the pieces of the puzzle in education in Nova Scotia that is coming along very, very progressively and very positively. It's that bridge between public schools and, for many, the workforce, and we have made a commitment to their long-range plan for growth. That growth will allow, as we have indicated, for their population, for their numbers of students to grow to about 10,000 - we're almost there now - and 591 new seats this year. An answer
to your specific question, we have 13 community college sites around the province and those 591 seats will be distributed around the 13 campuses based on the decisions that the administration at the community college makes regarding need and where they deliver programs and what programs have need for more seats. So that is an administrative decision that is made by the community college and it's based on their work on where they need to offer these programs, how many more seats they need, so they will be dispersed around rural Nova Scotia.
We recognize that we have a new campus here and there will be programs that are new programs here, and they certainly will have some of those seats. The community college moves their seats around so they may have 30 seats in one campus one year and the next year, depending on the demand, they may have fewer than that, but it is definitely an understanding that they be meeting the needs of all rural Nova Scotia and use the 13 sites to do that.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you for that first part of a couple of questions around the community colleges. The second area that I was wanting to take a look at is the role of research and more linkages with the business community and also with industry. One of the realities that we have around the community college in Nova Scotia, and post-secondary generally, is that we have a very high rate of participation at the university level, around I believe 34 per cent but, I think we're at the 18, 19 per cent, somewhere in there, in the community colleges. I'm just wondering if greater tie-ins with business and with industry would in fact help raise that obvious connection that young Nova Scotians and even people wanting to become better educated in the workforce to go back for a trade, I'm wondering how linkages there may be cultivated.
I think the O2 Program is going to be a real asset for movement into the community colleges, there's no question about that but, what about at the workforce level, at the research and tie-in with industry?
MS. CASEY: We certainly offer the services from our skills and training division who work ongoing in the field with employers, business and industry to try to make sure that we know what the labour market is looking for and then adapt programs to do that. We share that information with the community college. Community colleges also have access to federal research dollars and they're starting to develop that. They recognize that they have to be out there determining what the need is, and working with business and industry to make sure there's a close connect there, and they have started and will continue to develop that research component. Any information from our department that will help them identify what programs they should develop and where they should be delivered is certainly something that we have been and are prepared to continue to do.
The other thing is that because of the apprenticeship program there's also a close connect there between employer and the community college. They work very hard with
employers to make sure that students who have gone through the apprentice program go right into the community college for their ongoing training.
MR. GLAVINE: Perhaps in terms of the distribution of the students to post-secondary we do have a high level of competition from our universities. We also have great history and tradition of Nova Scotians going to university. I'm wondering if the minister, and this could be a difficult area to step into, but I'm wondering if our guidance counsellors give community colleges a real fair picture to our high school students.
I see some of the programs that are offered in our community college. Certainly, it does require the abilities of a very strong student to accomplish those trades and skill areas. I'm just wondering sometimes if we don't give enough play to our community colleges among high school counsellors?
MS. CASEY: I think all of us in this room recognize that the profile of community colleges has changed significantly over the number of years. We want to make sure our guidance counsellors convey that message. I think that's exactly what you're saying.
Our career counsellors, our guidance counsellors, are professionals and they are aware of the different needs of all of the students in the schools and that not all students should be university bound. So they try to provide the students with a variety of options, and community college is certainly one of them and all of the documents, the community college works closely with the schools to make sure their information, their calendars and their syllabus are in the schools and are made available to students who are considering their future.
I believe the profile has changed and the attitude and the outlook towards community colleges have changed and the success stories that are coming out of that are a testament to that.
MR. GLAVINE: With that, Madam Minister, I'll wrap it up. I wish to thank you, the deputy and staff for providing answers to my questions. Like most teachers . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. Order, please. We have arrived at the moment of interruption.
The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will adjourn until 6:30 p.m. and reconvene at that time to continue with the Estimates of the Department of Education.
[6:00 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please, the Committee on Supply will now be called to order. The Liberal caucus has approximately five minutes left.
The honourable member for Glace Bay.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Chairman, I don't really have an intense set of questions for the minister, seeing that I have a limited amount of time and also seeing that I wasn't expecting to actually get up and ask the minister a question at this point in time. Seeing that our Education Critic has used of most of his time and had what he called an absolutely delightful discussion with the minister earlier on, they covered almost every aspect of education that you can possibly cover in the province.
I did want to ask the minister one question and that is regarding the situation with the Halifax Regional School Board. We all know what happened earlier this year with the school board and the fact that there is now just one person in charge of running things in terms of the regional school board set-up. I'm wondering if the minister could share with us, in her estimation, exactly what she thinks has been accomplished by what has happened and where she sees that heading in the future.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, yes, indeed there were some decisions and changes with respect to the Halifax Regional School Board. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances, but I believe, as the Minister of Education, my priority is students in this province. It seemed that the most appropriate action at the time, to make sure students did not suffer in any way, the decision was made to appoint a one-person board to continue the board operations of that particular area, until the municipal elections in November 2008.
School boards play a very important role in education in our province and are the link between the department and the schools. They are elected boards, they do represent the interests of the communities in their area and they do bring that community interest and that community voice to the board table. They work very closely with the board senior staff and they also work very closely with the department staff, and that is what I mean by the direct link between schools and the department.
The responsibility of the boards, of course, is policy and as a governance body, that is their focus and looking at developing board policy that will guide the directions of the staff as they implement programs and initiatives in the board.
In the situation we had in Halifax County, there appeared to be some difficulty in having focus on students and I'm proud to say, having appointed Mr. Windsor as the one-man board to carry us through to November 2008, at this point in time appears to be a very positive move for students, teachers and parents in the area. Mr. Windsor works very closely with the superintendent and senior staff at the board and is also in direct contact with my regional education officer and my deputy. The link there and the transition has been seamless
and information we are receiving from parents and teachers is that it has not provided any disruption or had any negative impact on the students in our schools. That has to be a priority for me as the minister.
However, we recognize that going with a one-person board is a change and we are continuing to monitor that and make sure we are working to support that person and, again, to make sure that the work he does does not interfere with or have any negative impact.
One of the things that was a concern for me was to make sure that the residents, the parents in the school communities in the Halifax Regional School Board, had access to Mr. Windsor as the one-person board. Mr. Windsor sat down with my deputy and the regional education officer to outline mechanisms for that consultation and that communication to be ongoing and to be effective.
Agendas for the board meetings have a focus on students and on education and parents have access to the board through those meetings and also have opportunities to review the agenda prior to and I think that gives them a feeling of involvement. They have an opportunity to add things to that agenda; they have an opportunity to question things on that agenda. That opportunity for communication and consultation has remained positive and open. We will be watching that very closely because that's important that be maintained.
We are open to and ready for any concerns or questions that come from the community and we will respond to those if and when they come. It appears it has been a very positive move, seamless move and we will continue that through to the elections in November 2008.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.
MR. PERCY PARIS: I guess I want to start off this morning first of all saying to the minister, like some other speakers have already said, it's certainly my experience with the minister to date, and I guess I will say it, I've never hesitated to call the minister. I want the minister and I want all the members who are in the House to know that as the member representing Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, it has been very appreciated, the time you have afforded me and the efforts that have come forth from you personally.
Having said that - there's always having said that - I think there has been the odd time when there's been maybe mixed messages with the message that I get when I call the minister's office and maybe that message is coming sometimes from staff. Fortunately, the odd time that does happen, the minister has been very, very graceful and has cleared it up for me.
My first question, and I guess it's going to be a part one and part two, as a parent, having a child that's in high school, what I've noticed is when she comes home, I hear repeatedly, especially this time of year, I guess maybe because it is April, students are beginning to look at the end of the academic year and, in a lot of cases, planning for either the next year or the years after that. One of the things that I hear from my daughter when she comes home from school, on a pretty regular basis, is what she's going to do after she graduates from Grade 12. She always comments to me about the recruiters - if I can use the word recruiters, I don't know if that's an appropriate term, but people that come into her school and promote Nova Scotia Community College.
When we sit around the dinner table or just at home and she says so-and-so was in today promoting the community college and she's thinking of taking this and she's thinking of taking that, I always wonder, because I spent 20 years as a faculty member and as a member of the admin group at Dalhousie University and I said, doesn't anyone come in and talk to you about university?
She says, well, no, and so I'm left there and she and I are having this discussion. I guess, from my history, I'm promoting university, because I'm trying to get a balance for her so that when the time comes for her to make up her mind, she'll have all the tools in her kit bag, or all the clubs in her bag, if I wanted to put it that way.
So it raises a question for me and the first question, and this is part one of the question, is that a trend in Nova Scotia where community colleges are being promoted in the high schools and a lot of emphasis not being placed on university? That's the first part of the question.
I'm going to go with part two of that question, because if that is the case, I'm wondering, is there a strategy in place that will remedy that? Again, I know this is a wee bit of a reiteration, but I would like my child, and all children in Nova Scotia, to know what options are available to them when it comes to education in this province.
I think what I'm requesting here is to see a fair balance in all higher educational institutions be represented in a fair way when it comes to recruitment.
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, before I begin the response, I want to acknowledge and confirm what the member has said about our ability to work together to resolve individual issues or concerns. When the member would come to me with something, whether it was clarification of information from the department or whether it was a particular constituent who had an issue, we did work well together. I think we were both interested in getting some resolution and moving forward so that the constituent was well served. It was, I guess, a mutual agreement to work towards a common goal and we did that well.
With respect to your daughter and the concerns about career options and what is available in the schools, I guess on the one hand I'm pleased to hear that community college is being promoted in your school because we talked about the role of community college - that it's growing, that the profile of the college has changed and we want to make sure our students are well aware of the course offerings that exist in those campuses around the province.
Having said that, that should not be at the detriment of information about our other universities and colleges. We do have a very fine group of colleges and universities in our province with a high quality of education, a high standard and a community college, as I said, supplements that and bridges the gap between high school and university and workforce.
The career fairs and career days that are held at schools are organized at the local level, whether at the board level or the school level. I would certainly hope that those who are organizing those days do invite all of the universities to have representation and to attend those career days and those job fairs.
To directly answer your question, there is absolutely no trend out of the department to promote one over the other. They're all considered to be post-secondary; they all are considered to be opportunities and options for our Grade 12 students when they graduate. I would certainly want to make sure that schools do include all other learning institutions when they are offering job fairs or when they're having information that's passed out to their graduates. Whether it's the calendars from the different universities or whether it's having representatives from the universities come in to talk, to recruit students, in my opinion, there needs to be a fair opportunity for all students to get all of the information.
But, it is organized by the school and by the board at the school level and the province, at this point, has not participated in organizing those. If there's anything we can do to encourage boards and schools to be all-inclusive in that, I'd be glad to do what I can.
MR. PARIS: I guess I'd like to go, and I heard my colleague talk earlier about suspensions, he got me thinking and one of the things that I always wondered is, when it comes to suspensions, even including what I would term as in-school suspensions and out of school suspensions, I'm curious if the Department of Education has any demographics on the students that are suspended. Does the department, or the school itself, do some sort of analysis? Is there a demographic profile with respect to suspensions, either out or in-school suspensions, that is available to members of the House? Do we know, not just the reasons why our students are getting suspended, but I'm looking for a more in-depth analysis with respect to breakdowns of gender, maybe social background, income and that type of thing?
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, I did speak earlier about our student information system which would collect the data from all of the schools, up through the boards, into a centralized database. I'm not sure if the member was here, but I will repeat that, to simply say that is a $10 million project. At this point in time, we have not invested money in it this year, recognizing that any dollars we had we wanted to put them into the classroom if we could.
However, we do know that schools keep a record of all of the data that's there, including suspensions, reason for suspension and those kinds of things. That's available to the board and also we can access that if we wish.
One of the initiatives that we have in our schools now is the PEBS program and the PEBS program certainly does have a mechanism to track the behaviours of students, the frequency of inappropriate behaviours, the outcomes and the consequences of inappropriate behaviours. Their information has come back to us to say that those schools that have implemented the PEBS program are seeing about a 50 per cent reduction in the number of students who are called to the office for inappropriate behaviour. So, there are ways to capture and record that. At this point in time, it's at the school level and the board level.
To answer your question about demographics and what role demographics might play in that, again, that would be something an analysis of that at the board level could certainly identify some of those concerns you've expressed. Is there a correlation to a socio-economic status or a correlation to gender and age and grade, but that again is, at this point in time, board and school level.
When our system's information system is fully implemented across the province then we will be able to access that information and do some collective analysis of all across the province.
MR. PARIS: The next thing I want to bring up and it's probably more related to the riding of Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, it's certainly not a general question. I think I probably gave you a little bit of heads-up last week during Question Period, you probably knew this was going to be coming at some point in time. I get a wee bit concerned and I need to have some assurance that my concerns aren't valid or they can be laid to rest, especially when I hear the good member from Cape Breton bring up, quite frequently, a school, or the lack of a school in Cape Breton and I know that L. C. Skerry and Waverley Memorial are being slated for replacement schools in a couple of years down the road.
As I go about and talk to voters who call, who are moving into the area, or even those who currently live in the riding who talked about a replacement school, I want to be able to say to them with confidence and I want to feel safe and secure that I'm giving them the right information. They're basing life decisions on whether they're going to move into a certain
area or not, so I'd like to ask through you, Mr. Chairman, how concrete, how definite is the replacement of L.C. Skerry and Waverley Memorial?
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, I'm sure you've heard me say many times in the House in the last week or so that this government, in 2003, accepted a report from the Capital Construction Committee. That report had 12 new schools and 45 renovations, additions, projects on it. The commitment of the province was to deliver on that as it was presented. That commitment has not changed.
We recognize that some of the projects have not been delivered on the timeline that was announced at that time and there are a number of situations and factors that have contributed to that. One of those, of course, is the escalating cost of materials and the 2003 dollars that were used when the project was announced and a dollar figure attached to the scope of work that was to be done, those figures have changed and escalated significantly.
We're now talking 2007 dollars and it's a significant increase. That has caused us to delay the delivery of some of those projects. You've heard me say that many times over the last week. That has not changed the list that was approved and the school in Waverley-Fall River is on that list and it's scheduled to move into the design process next year. Usually, we have a design process and then we go to construction tender and construction.
It is delayed. It's pushed out from the original announcement, but it is on the list and there's a commitment to deliver all of those schools that are on that list.
MR. PARIS: In 1994, there was a report, the BLAC Report was tabled in 1994. As of this date, all of the recommendations of that report have not been fully completed. I know that it is 13 years, so I guess my first question to the minister is, I know there are a number of recommendations that remain outstanding on that report. I'd like to know how many there are outstanding and what the timeline is. I think I heard in the budget report that they were going to be included in this fiscal year, but I would just like to have that confirmed.
I would also, I guess, piggyback another question on that. Since it has been 13 years since that report was first tabled, I would hope, and I guess I would request some sort of assurance that the outstanding recommendations are still relevant today as far as the Black learners are concerned.
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, it is true that the BLAC Report was prepared 13 years ago. This government made a commitment of $1.6 million this year and that is the final commitment of a four-year plan over three years, I guess, a three-year plan of $4.1 million. That $4.1 million was a commitment to move forward with the implementation of the recommendations in the BLAC Report.
I have had staff provide for me a list of all of the recommendations in that report and a status of all of them. I'm pleased to be able to share that with you because I think it answers your questions directly.
Sixteen of those recommendations, as they were printed, have been implemented. Nine of those have partially been implemented, the initial stages of implementation, and five have not yet been addressed. I have met with the CACE and we have talked about the implementation of those recommendations and I have made a commitment to them that it is time to go back and have a look at the ones that we have implemented, how successful that implementation has been, have things changed over the 13 years, are there things that we need to do differently with those recommendations and then look at the ones that have not been implemented and what the plan is for those. So that commitment was made to CACE probably six to eight weeks ago when I met with them. That is our move-forward strategy there.
The report was a valuable report. It was intended to have positive outcomes and what we need to check to see is if the implementation is translated into those positive outcomes and the same with any review that I call for; if it is achieving the outcomes, we continue; if it's not, we modify it or change it or discontinue. So I hope that answers the question for the member. A couple of things out of that I think are really progressive is that we are currently piloting an English 12 African Heritage Language Arts Program course this year at our high schools. That is a new course and that is a direct result of the BLAC Report. We have the transition class at the Nova Scotia Community College, that is new this year and that, again, is an effort to respond to the recommendations so that we can provide programs and structures for the population identified in that report. So I am prepared to add additional information if it's required, but that is the status at this point.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I want to just, I guess, piggyback on some of the comments from the minister. I will say this, in 2007, and this may sound like a wee bit of a contradiction and I hope that it's going to make some sense, but I want to say this, I congratulate the Department of Education, particularly with respect to the Nova Scotia Community College, for the implementation of the transition program at Nova Scotia Community College. However, this is where the contradiction is, even though I congratulate the department for doing this, I have to say, and I want to make this clear, to me it's a shame that in 2007 we have to implement a transition program. Our goal should be to rid the province of the need for transition year programs or transition programs. So I guess there wasn't a question there, but I just wanted to make that statement.
When you talked about the BLAC Report and the recommendations and the update and I'm assuming that this is, I think what I heard was six weeks or eight weeks ago. If you could just say yes or no very quickly to that one, it would appreciated.
MS. CASEY: I can give you the exact date when I met with them. I don't have that exact date at my fingertips right now but it would have been- I'm going to get you the date. Mr. Chairman, I will get that date for the member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The honourable member has approximately half a minute left today.
MR. PARIS: Half a minute left. Well, there are other things I wanted to talk to the minister about, through the chairman, and I think during QP last week. I have a real concern with the fact that we have a high school within my particular riding that is facing overcrowding and I have a real concern there with the Grade 9s attending high school and it goes beyond just that. I've just been told now it's time. I would like to make the recommendation that we adjourn debate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The time allotted for debate for the Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. PATRICK DUNN: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 7:00 p.m.]