HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2012
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Alfie MacLeod
MR. CHAIRMAN: The committee on budget estimates is now called to order. We will continue with the Department of Education.
The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to pick up where we left off on Tuesday and look at some of the items that are identified in the Budget Bulletin. That would be this document - do you have the Budget Bulletin?
If we could go to the section that says "Budget 2012 will". I don't have a page number of that but there are 15 items listed there, "Budget 2012 will" and it lists off what will happen, what's expected to happen, what's planned to happen. Three of those, I understand it would be difficult to put a price tag on something on like - well, I'll find it there are 15 of them. Three of them would be difficult to put a price tag on but a lot of the others do have price tags on. A couple of them it's obvious, the omission of a price is obvious, so if we can look at the third from the bottom, "work with stakeholders to expand the Options and Opportunities . . ."
I guess my question would be, what is the budget line for expanding Options and Opportunities for this coming year?
HON. RAMONA JENNEX: Thank you very much. "Work with stakeholders to expand the Options and Opportunities program to allow more students to participate" is in the formula and it's under Program Funding. The O2 funding per school is 1.5 FTEs, plus $15,000, plus $100,000 per board for O2 support at the board level. Funding will be allocated based on a program of 25-plus students and, of course, a minimum of 10 students in Grade 10.
MS. CASEY: When you cross-reference that document with the timetable that was put in the Kids and Learning document, I think it was called, it shows that Options and Opportunities is identified as an expanding action in 2011-12. It says nothing about 2012-13. I'm wondering if there is a budget line for it in the 2012-13 budget, why there is nothing on the timeline.
MS. JENNEX: Well this budget is allowing the boards the flexibility to provide an O2 program and as the member opposite, as minister, would know that the Options and Opportunities program has provided many of our students the ability to find success at school and to have the ability to have hands-on experiences and out in the community experiences, so the budget line is in place to allow the schools the ability to provide O2 in their schools.
MS. CASEY: Is it targeted money?
MS. JENNEX: No, it is not targeted because we met with the boards around the formula, the revised formula, and boards requested that the money, if it comes in restricted, makes it hard for them to be flexible. So no, it is not targeted; it is in the formula for them to choose on developing those programs, if they wish. This is a very good program, as you know, and the department is working now on exploring opportunities at Grade 9, they are developing that. So as you've probably heard me say here, we have to make sure that our students who are in our school system have the opportunities to be motivated and successful in schools. Sometimes we're finding that around Grade 9 some children just are not seeing a connection with what they think they want to do in life or what school is providing for them, so we're going to be making sure that this is an option for them at Grade 9, to have exploring opportunities, and then moving into the O2 program, which has been extremely successful for many of the students in the Province of Nova Scotia.
MS. CASEY: Just so I could be clear - there's no targeted money, there is money for boards if they choose to use it for O2.
MS. JENNEX: O2 is factored in the formula.
MS. CASEY: If a board chooses to not expand their O2 programs, they have that flexibility to not expand?
MS. JENNEX: As the member opposite knows, boards know the needs of their students and the needs of their communities and it is in their domain to make those decisions for their students. We are providing them the funding in the budget to be able to expand their programs in their schools. This is a program that's highly successful, meets the needs of many of our students, so therefore, it is in the formula for them to tap into for expansion.
MS. CASEY: What is the expectation that the department has then for expansion of O2? If they're talking about the great benefits that the program has, I support it 100 per cent, I believe I was there when it started. I'm pleased to see it's expanding. However, there's nothing to say that boards have to expand, is that correct?
MS. JENNEX: You are correct, there's nothing in the plan that says boards have to. We have it in 44 schools right now but I think the honourable member knows that school boards work carefully, to make sure that the students they have in their board, they are providing them the opportunities that they need to be successful.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, would that position that the minister has taken then, account for the fact that there's no figure attached, no dollar value attached to that part of this document?
MS. JENNEX: Last year, with the way that boards were funded, it was targeted funding but the model has changed so that that money is now in the Hogg formula for boards to use to expand O2.
I've met with the boards across the province and every board I met with - it was over a year ago - all complained to one aspect of the Hogg formula, so we've had many meetings. I know that there were 24 meetings around making sure that the formula matched what boards need to do their funding, so they asked for lines not to be restricted, so it would be into the general account for them to make their decisions, so they had the flexibility.
So it would be my understanding that boards wanting to do the very best for all of their students in providing opportunities will take that opportunity with the funding formula to be able to expand.
MS. CASEY: Would that general account, where you say the money for O2 has been placed, be the same general account where library services dollars have been placed?
MS. JENNEX: It is, librarian services are in the formula and they are added in but they are in the general funds that are going out to the schools.
We responded to what school boards were asking, so in terms of the formula, library services is part of the formula, O2 programming is part of the formula and all of that then is allocated out to the school boards.
In the past with the Hogg formula the way it was, school boards found it very difficult to have the flexibility they needed, so in response to the needs and the appropriate allocations of funding, we have revised the formula to reflect that.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, my question would be, what other programs or services are included in that general account, that are factored in through the formula but boards do not have to use it for that purpose?
MS. JENNEX: Just to remind the member opposite, when I spoke the other day during estimates, I did clarify which ones were restricted. The ones that we have for instructional funding are, within the formula, classroom, French, music, physical education, guidance, library, Succeeding in Reading, curriculum leaders and technology. Those are all lines within the funding formula.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, to the minister, that was not my question. My question was, what other programs and services are in the global budget that are not targeted and boards have flexibility? You've given me two - O2 and library services - I want to know the rest.
MS. JENNEX: They would be: literacy improvement initiative, physical education graduation credit, the program literacy mentors, program mathematics mentors and school libraries, as we know, and Options and Opportunities. Those are in the formula that boards have flexibility.
The ones that they do not have flexibility are: the Healthy Active Living, student support workers, RCH initiative and advance courses.
MS. CASEY: So it's my understanding, then, that the ones that are not targeted, boards have flexibility as to whether they offer those or not. I just want to be clear.
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, yes.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, that leads me to my next question. When a board has made a decision that they will not offer one of those, what happens to the flexibility that they are supposed to have been given?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, it's very important that when school boards are looking at programs for students and what they're offering in their schools, that they're looking at the best interests of their students. It's important that students do have, in their school system, Options and Opportunities, that they have library services in some form. All of those things are important to maintain a strong education system for our young people.
School boards actually do, of course, have a great deal of flexibility within that. I think it would be something if I say that people in the Province of Nova Scotia would agree with, that it would not be appropriate to use that flexibility to remove anything in its entirety from a system.
MS. CASEY: One other line on that particular list of 15 items that does not have a dollar figure on it is to provide to the CSAP funding specific to their cultural mandate. Can you give me the amount of that?
MS. JENNEX: That would be three FTEs, which is $150,000.
MS. CASEY: Is that new money?
MS. JENNEX: A year ago I stood in this House and said that we were going to be reviewing and revising the formula and we worked with school boards across the province. Staff worked diligently and it was decided, in consensus with the school boards, that the formula we're using is much more fair and equitable.
This is actually an addition to the funding formula that this line item was put in, that is one of the requests from the school board, so it's part of the formula where it was never part of the formula before.
MS. CASEY: Just for clarification, the question was, is it new money?
MS. JENNEX: And I will answer, it is now part of the formula, where it wasn't part of the formula before.
MS. CASEY: My question is, does that make it new money?
MS. JENNEX: It is new money for that board, yes.
MS. CASEY: Can you tell me, along with that $150,000 and three FTEs, what the expectation is of that board?
MS. JENNEX: I said that was three FTEs, which is $150,000 allocation; I didn't say both. You can check Hansard.
MS. CASEY: I believe I heard $150,000, that would be three FTEs, is that correct? My question is then, since we agree it's $150,000, that's three FTEs; my question is, what is the expectation of your department of those three FTEs and that $150,000?
MS. JENNEX: The expectation would be to coordinate programs of studies, to incorporate identity development and cultural elements, to develop learning resources to support cultural endeavours, to undertake a study project designed to assess the relevance of identity and development actions, and also to work with teachers and facilitators to be able to meet specific cultural needs.
MS. CASEY: Have those positions been filled?
MS. JENNEX: I wouldn't be able to answer that because that would be the CSAP but we could make a request of the CSAP to see where they are, in terms of that. That's not information I would have here, that is with the school board.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I would appreciate that information, if and when you can get it from the CSAP.
I'd like to speak to another action on your timeline, it is the math curriculum. I'm looking at the timeline; it shows action there for 2011-12, as a new action. Can you tell me what we did in 2011-12 regarding the new math curriculum?
MS. JENNEX: During this last year the department has been meeting with boards around the expectations around the new curriculum, so there has been work done with the boards.
MS. CASEY: Would that be consultation work that you're speaking of that would have been done in 2011-12?
MS. JENNEX: Yes.
MS. CASEY: If the consultation work was done in 2011-12, why is there no action showing for 2012-13?
MS. JENNEX: That would be a very good question because there is action being taken in this next year, so if there is there might be a misprint. I know that during this next year that there's development with - and the work is being done with Primary, Grades 1, 2 and 3 and Grade 10, in terms of the development of the resources and the in-servicing and work with the teachers. I know that there's ongoing work, so I don't know if what you're looking at - where it doesn't say action.
If you don't mind, I'd like to have that clarified. I find that confusing myself because there's a lot of work being done in this next year. This is a big project and we want to get things started, so there is going to be a lot of work being done during this year. If it's not showing up on a chart, then that must be an error.
MS. CASEY: It surprised me as well when I saw that. It is that back page of the Kids & Learning First document, which has the new action and expanding action. It is showing under Math curriculum a solid black circle, which is New Actions. It's not showing anything for the next two years. It's the fourth one from the top, under Put Students First.
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for bringing that to my attention. There is a lot of work being done with the implementation of this curriculum. This year, as I said, the Primary, Grades 1, 2, 3 and Grade 10, work is definitely being undertaken. Into the next year we're looking at doing Grades 4, 5 and 6 and Grade 11. Into the third year we're working on Grades 7, 8 and 9 and Grade 12.
As the member opposite would know, it would be impossible to revamp the full curriculum all at the same time, so we're doing it in increments. We're doing lower elementary and one grade in high school, middle elementary, one grade in high school and then the middle school and the Grade 12, so it's over a three-year rolling out period.
That actually should be ongoing action. Thank you for picking up that error, that is something that I didn't notice.
MS. CASEY: I've just coloured it in, so it is now a solid, dark circle there. My question then would be to the minister, with the introduction that we're looking at in P, Grades 1, 2, 3 and Grade 10, what is the budget line for that particular initiative?
MS. JENNEX: I know which office it sits in and it's - of course, it's within the department's budget. We don't have that figure right in front of us but I'm sure we can get that from Ms. Blackwood's department, she'll know exactly.
I just want to clarify, those dots we're looking at under the New and Expanding Action timeline, I guess what we're looking at, it's a new action, is the little purple dot because I have the colour-coded one, so it's why it's there as New Action but it's new, it should actually write "and ongoing". We should actually somehow figure how we can do that. That's something that's going to be implemented over the next three years.
MS. CASEY: So instead of putting a solid dot, I could put a circle to show that it's going to be expanding because it's ongoing. I would appreciate it if you could go through to your director or somebody at the department, so we would know the cost of implementation.
My question to you is, the work that's being done out of the department then, I think you identified developing resources and some in-servicing, do the costs that we will see in the budget line for the department include textbooks?
MS. JENNEX: Yes.
MS. CASEY: Would that be one textbook per student per grade?
MS. JENNEX: Well you know that is a really good question because as you know, in math not every math course has a textbook for every student. Some math courses have their curriculum delivered in different ways, so I'm not sure with the western protocol if we would have textbooks. Obviously we wouldn't be having textbooks in Primary but I'm not sure if it is a program that requires a textbook per student or if it would be curriculum that would be developed totally on-line. So I can't answer what it's going to look like if it's a textbook per student but I will say that we are going to guarantee that if a student needs a textbook, that they will be funded to have a textbook. If it's on-line, we're going to make sure that every student has the accessibility to the resources that they need when we have this program in place.
MS. CASEY: If we can just go back to this, the solid dot for 2011-12 would suggest that there was new action in 2011-12. I think if I heard you correctly, that was specific to Primary, One, Two, Three and Grade 10, and it was specific to developing resources and in-servicing and I think you said yes to the textbooks but not sure how many.
My question is, if this was in 2011-12, why would we not have that information, because we would need it, going into 2012-13? That year has passed.
MS. JENNEX: The New and Expanding Actions Timetable, where it says it is a new initiative in this year, you are absolutely right and work is being done in the department.
In terms of the implementation, working with the resources and the in-servicing that is required when we shift a program, as the honourable member knows, you just can't say here's a new curriculum, go teach it, because teachers need to have the background and the support when we bring new initiatives in. So the work is being done within the department but the next year, 2012-13, the teachers actually will be engaged in the in-servicing and the implementation, just starting the implementation of that curriculum.
I don't know if that was the answer that you asked for but just looking at this chart, I don't think it's meant to be misleading, it's new action that is taking place within the department, but the implementation will be starting into the next year, actually working with the teachers who will be teaching at Primary, Grades One, Two and Three and Grade 10.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The time allotted for the Official Opposition has elapsed.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Minister, how many initiatives has the department taken on since the NDP came to power, as new initiatives, like your math program, your reading program?
MS. JENNEX: Well, I wouldn't be able to - I'm going to start thinking of a few of them, I can get the department to bring that information here, but I will say that in any department when a new government comes in, initiatives that have already started under another mandate don't stop. Sometimes a new government will come in and look at something and say, you know that's not working so well, so they might move a timeline on it or turn off the button on it.
When we came in there were some things already being done within the Department of Education that we have looked at and are endorsing. There were some pilot projects in place, so it might not be a new initiative but it's something new for our government to take it out of pilot.
Now I'll give you an example, SchoolsPlus was brought in by the former government in a pilot, to assess to see if it was going to be successful. So as that was brought in, assessment was taking place, and you probably heard when I spoke that we've done a survey with stakeholders and parents. They feel it's very successful. I'm hearing from students themselves, too, how important SchoolsPlus is to them.
Our government looked at that and we said that is good for students and we took it out of pilot and we're implementing it fully. We've added more sites since we've taken government and as you see in the Kids & Learning First, we're going to make sure that every county in Nova Scotia has a SchoolsPlus site. So that wouldn't be necessarily new but it's new in the fact that we took it away from pilot, so we're implementing a pilot.
One of the things is that when we came in, iNSchool was being developed. That would be the communication that I've talked about where teachers use it to record marks, behaviours, comments on students, or students can tap in and see homework assignments. A student can actually go on and see what assignments have been passed in and marked, what percentage they need left in their course. It's great. I've watched some high school students checking in; they are checking to see when their homework is due. All of that is in iNSchool.
Then there's the parent portal which I'm getting rave reviews from parents, parents love it but actually the students are going, oh!!, because now what the students are telling me they can't kind of say to their parent, we don't have homework because the parent can go in and check to see exactly when an assignment is due. Parents like it because they can actually support their students and what they're doing in school. Communication also is so good because then the principal knows what all students are doing in the school.
This is really interesting, I was in a school in HRM - I can't think of the name of the school right now - but I remember walking down the hall, a great old school and the principal is carrying an iPad, one this big, I have a PlayBook, and the principal tells me that he can see a group of students talking in the hallway and before he approaches the student, he checks where they are supposed to be. He went in and looked at where the students are and if they're on a break then he knows that they're hanging out in the hall legitimately. So he can go over and say, howya doin'? What's up?, that kind of a conversation. The conversation changes totally from what he used to do if he saw groups of students- where are you supposed to be? Different kind of dialogue, so the dialogues he's having now with students is much more conducive to children feeling accepted in school and getting to know a little bit more about them as opposed to being punitive and asking where are you supposed to be?
If he is seeing they're supposed to be in class, then he'll say, is there anything going on that I can help you with, I see you're not in class. So it's changing the language around how administrators can talk to students. That iNSchool program started off as a pilot and since we came to government we definitely took it out of pilot, we're going to make sure every school across the province - it is now in all of the high schools, I think, in the Province of Nova Scotia. It's in all of the high schools in Nova Scotia. Report cards are done on that and the nice thing about that is that teachers can work on reports and report cards at home because it's a Web-based system. So, that's iNSchool.
Even though that had been piloted by the former government, we're implementing it province-wide. You can see that's not something new, but it's new for us to recognize the value in that.
Succeeding in Reading is definitely something that is one of our new initiatives. The skills trades were in some schools in the Province of Nova Scotia. Different school boards in the province have recognized the need of some of the students to have more than an academic career in a school situation. We had pockets around the province of some school boards offering skills trades. Our government has recognized the value in that and also to coordinate too with the opportunity we have here in the province with the shipbuilding contract. We're making sure we're doubling the sites and enhancing the ones that they have.
We're working on the site you have in your area, that's going to be resolved, I think, sooner than we thought it was going to be. I'm hoping that maybe in the next month or two we'll have that issue resolved.
The virtual school is another initiative that was something that was in place for a number of courses within the province. We recognize the value of that so we're expanding on virtual school. So, virtual school, Succeeding in Reading.
We are starting to look at our math curriculum. I taught for many years and math, as I said earlier, we want our children to have the very best and we want them to know a lot, but we were trying to teach too much and in some cases maybe a little too soon. So shifting over to the western protocol would be one of our new initiatives. Another new initiative is we recognize the value of O2 so one of our initiatives is moving it into the Grade 9 grade level for students to have the opportunity to explore opportunities.
Also, we're going to be looking at our full Grade 9 curriculum to make sure it's appropriate for what students need now in our society. Grade 9 is that year where we were finding children finding a disconnect, so we're looking at our Grade 9 curriculum.
Another new initiative, which is one that I hold very dear to my heart, is the personal development credit. That is a new initiative that I feel very strongly will provide the opportunity for our students who do things in the community, either in leadership or, as I mentioned, Air Cadets, or Cadets, or 4-H, or Junior Achievement, and that's just some because it can expand, children who are spending time in doing that community work, or personal development, a lot of our students are actually taking music lessons at a level that we would never be able to take them at a school level and looking at being able to provide them the opportunity of using the work that they do in that creative culture, it could be in art, or in dance, music, and theatre, we're working to make sure that they have the opportunity of using that as a credit in school.
So we've got a few initiatives but it's not an overabundance. These are meeting the needs of our students and I didn't count those up, but I'm going to ask the department if they can think of any other ones. I do know one that they're working on in the department that had been started before we came in and they've been working on diligently, is that the department staff have been putting resources for all of the courses in an on-line basis, on a Web- base, so a teacher teaching - well, I'll give you an example. So if I was a teacher and I'm teaching a Grade 3 class on science and my outcome was for children to develop an appreciation of the life cycle of a tree, for example, then I would be able to go in and get the resources and lesson plans available at my fingertips on the screen to give me the resources to be able to teach that class and choose different things so that I could have a differentiated manner in which I'm approaching the class. Not all children in every class learn the same way. So when you're teaching a lesson, you have to make sure that you're meeting the needs of all of the students. So if it was on the life cycle of a tree, then I would have three or four different ways of teaching that specific lesson to children.
Anyway, those resources are being added continually. There are actually dedicated people within the department who are just putting resources on so that teachers will have more and more at their fingertips so that they don't have to continue to run from different resources to find that. We're putting that together. (Interruption)
Yes, that's a very exciting piece too. Working with the - I know we could keep adding on here - we're going to be having the opening of an Afrocentric Learning Centre coming up very soon. I won't say very much more on that because that's really something that I would prefer the people who have worked hard on that to be able to make the announcement. So if I've missed any - I think, what, about eight, nine or 10 new initiatives but I wouldn't say all of them are new. They are a continuation or this government has recognized the value and have taken them out of the pilot stage and we're implementing them and throwing the gusto behind it, especially around the skill trades and the SchoolsPlus to make sure that every county has the benefit of having a SchoolsPlus site so that more children and families will have support.
MR. ORRELL: So you say you're doing these programs to make sure we meet the needs of children. Are there quantitative measures in place to see that these are being a success and how much are these initiatives costing?
MS. JENNEX: Well, I can get the costs for those because we've costed those out to put in our plan. The $6.7 million has been added in our budget line for those new initiatives that I spoke of, the expanding of SchoolsPlus, the skill trades, those have been costed out and I can get those figures. Someone will write them down here for me, the lines on those, but I want to say that in terms of the evaluation of those, I think that you've really hit the nail on the head. We need to make sure that the work that we're doing is appropriate and we're getting value for what we're providing for our students. So everything that I've mentioned actually comes with an evaluation process that is going to be accountable.
There are ways that we're doing that, especially, now with the iNSchool, that is such a valuable tool. We'll be able to use that and track success of children, we'll be able to see attendance rates, especially around SchoolsPlus. A child whose attendance has been problematic- if they're receiving support through SchoolsPlus we'll be able to check in and see if attendance is increasing or is being maintained, are they staying in school. We can track all of that through iNSchool but we are definitely, all of the work that we do we need to be able to access it and evaluate it to make sure that what we're doing is appropriate.
If we find that we're doing something that is not successful then we have to stop doing it and do something different. But we definitely know with Reading Recovery, for example, we looked at the data with that and we were only able to start tracking that when we looked at the Grade 3 assessment. We're going in at Grade 3 and checking with our children's literacy levels to find out where they are and if they're not where they need to be then we're going to provide more support. Then we're checking in at Grade 6 and we're going to check in at Grade 9.
In Grade 3, when we started checking in on our literacy, we actually were able to look at the data and our students that had been Reading Recovery students were not doing as well as they should have been. They were below the average of a lot of the students so we're seeing that the work that we were doing with Reading Recovery wasn't meeting the expectation or the need.
It's so important to be able to make sure what we're doing is appropriate and so there are checks and balances in all of the work that we're doing. That's the first thing that I ask is that we need to make sure that we are accountable for all of these projects, thank you.
MR. ORRELL: Yesterday you announced initiatives that you were going to reduce the amount of time the teachers are going to spend on their paperwork and doing these evaluations. I know there is going to be criteria for success but how is the department going to help out with this? Are they going to streamline it somehow, are they going to take out some of the evaluations or they are going to add more? How is that happening?
MS. JENNEX: That's an excellent question and thank you for that but if you don't mind I would like to now give you the information from your last question. I knew that all of these numbers were available. The virtual school, we've budgeted $1.8 million; SchoolsPlus is $2 million; the personal development course is about $95,000 and that would be around administration. When you have a new course like that you have to make sure that the students have met all the criteria for that. The math curriculum is 2.5 and O2 is 1.5 FTEs per school, $15,000 per school and $100,000 per board and skills trade is $1 million. That's in the budget for those initiatives and this budget.
Now the question that you asked - now I've forgotten the question he asked Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Perhaps we can ask him to repeat it.
MS. JENNEX: I apologize.
MR. ORRELL: You said you were going to decrease the paperwork the teachers have to do, how are we going to achieve that if we're still going to determine the quantity of the measure from the students?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for that question and I'm sorry I actually sidelined myself there. I remember as a classroom teacher it seemed like we were filling out forms and surveys and assessing this and assessing that and feeling like we were losing time actually teaching and more time assessing. We've heard that from a number of teachers so part of the Kids & Learning First plan is that we are making sure that the Department of Education and the school boards don't duplicate any of their assessments.
It's not fair to teachers, or to students, to have the department asking for assessments. The department does need to go in and assess, we're accountable to make sure our children are being successful. School boards also have initiatives and they want to do assessing but we have to work together to make sure that we're not duplicating. We also have to make it reasonable.
The other thing is that I feel very strongly, once we get past a certain learning curve, that the iNSchool is actually going to decrease the paperwork. Those are my own feelings around this and what we've already articulated to the school board, especially around duplication of assessment. Assessment needs to be done for a number of reasons. The very first reason that we assess is to make sure we know what the child needs support with. We need to go in and check and if a child hasn't developed to a certain level, we have to know what supports need to be put in place.
We also, the other reason we assess is so that we can be accountable. If we're seeing that our students are, 45 per cent of the students in the province are not attaining a certain level, then that gives the department reason to figure out what they need to do to support the children. We can't have only 45 per cent. Now, I would just like you to know that only 45 per cent of our children in Grade 12 are successful with math. So that is one reason we're revamping that within the Kids & Learning First plan.
Now, the other piece around paperwork, there are a lot of things that are happening in schools that I don't have any personal experience with so we are having discussions. We want to have a robust discussion with teachers and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union to identify what it is that's taking time away from teaching the children - what is paperwork, what are the things that are getting in the way? So if you read the Kids & Learning First plan, we're going to have those dialogues.
I feel that iNSchool is going to be a help once we get past the learning curve. Any time you learn new technology, it's going to take a little longer until you get comfortable with it but we've looked at the assessment to make sure we're not duplicating but that's only the very beginning. It's a conversation that we need to have around what we can do to work together to reduce the paperwork that teachers do. When I say paperwork, it might not necessarily be pen and paper work. It could be maybe we're asking too much data collection and if that's the case, then we'll see what we can do to streamline that. So that conversation is one I look forward to to see what we can do to support teachers to do what they want to do which is teach our children.
MR. ORRELL: Our caucus submitted an FOI on March 8, 2012 asking for some internal audits to be done and we received the information back. In one of the travel card audits there were 12 transactions on it where there was no proof of legitimate actual expenses. Six of those were for $4,405.79 related to tuition. That's a total of $26,000. What are these expenses for and how come they would come under authorized travel?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, if you wouldn't mind providing me with the number, we don't have that information in front of us. (Interruption) Yes. We will find out because that is not information that I would have but we will definitely get an answer for you on that.
MR. ORRELL: Minister, one of the things on there was one of your employees purchased an airline ticket to China and departed before the deputy minister or the minister signed off on the expense. Does this happen very often and how was this allowed to slip through the cracks?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, yes, you're absolutely right, I sign off on any out-of-country travel. I have an expectation within the department, not only do I want to know what a person is travelling for, especially if it's something to do with a conference, I want full information. I want to know what workshop a person is going to, I need to know how it fits into the department, why does the person want to go. I'm not well liked for how sticky I am on that, as my colleagues will know, I've sent quite a few things back because I want - we do want our department to get experience outside the province on some things - but I need to know it benefits us in the department and our children in Nova Scotia. Sometimes, yes, we do need to have people travel to do that.
Now, in terms of the out-of-country travel, especially when you mention China, you will see a number of our employees leave the country because Nova Scotia actually has schools, Nova Scotia schools, in other countries. In that case you would notice that it's no cost to Nova Scotians. It is paid for by the school or the country that they're asked to attend.
We have international programs, most of what I sign actually, there's actually no cost. There's the cost of the expenses but the cost to the province is zero. I think I even might know the case that you're talking about. There was a situation that I wasn't available but it was one of those out-of-country travels and I would even be able to tell you the colleague, the staff member who went. It was of no cost to Nova Scotians. It was to do some work over in our international schools.
We have people in the department who go to Africa, especially China, Abu Dhabi. Again, I will repeat, we have people in our department go out of country, not only are all their expenses paid but also the cost of their services is reimbursed to the Department of Education.
MR. ORRELL: Just one other. There was a hospitality expense through the entertainment of $1,037.55 at a restaurant. I just want to know, is it common to spend over $1,000 on that kind of entertainment and was this approved by the deputy minister as required by your policy?
MS. JENNEX: The honourable member would know I don't know what the budget line looks like, which department and I don't know if the deputy signed off on that because I don't see those.
I do know that everyone in the department makes sure that money is spent extremely wisely. But, in the department we also do have people come from other provinces and in some cases, I'm sure there is a necessity, especially when we're hosting people from other countries, to go to a restaurant. I don't know for how many people. I will tell you that the only expenses that are reimbursed by the department, or any department, are for food. There are absolutely no other refreshments other than tea, coffee or maybe a soft drink. It would only be for food, there's no other cost that the department picks up the tab for. But if we can find out exactly which department - if it was people from outside of the country or outside of the province, if they were working on a business. Sometimes line items like this are on there, but then become reimbursed in another place back into the department if it's picked up by the visiting country, for example.
The cost of doing business for us with our international schools is a benefit to Nova Scotia. We make money.
MR. ORRELL: In the Speech from the Throne on Page 20 it says that a program has been introduced to encourage community use of the schools. You touched briefly on this yesterday. Will the people who are using the schools be charged for this? Where will the funds be used, if that's the case?
MS. JENNEX: The community use of schools, we have in our budget this year $660,000, it's a grant, it's a grant basis. What we've done is we have provided that money. It's in the hands of the school boards so that money is divided by eight. The school boards have that as a budget. I'll give an example; if I'm at Coldbrook District School - the school I used to teach at - and a parent or a dance group or a community group want to use the school after hours and the Coldbrook District School is very open and obliging and there's no cost to use the school, they can apply for a grant to pay for the person facilitating the experience the children are having.
It could be arts, culture, physical education, it could be used for the person they're hiring. In some schools, as you know if you're using the school after hours, the janitor needs to be paid or someone as security. In some school boards, it's all different, they all have their own policies. In some school boards, if you're going to use the school, even for an hour, the janitor would need to be paid for four hours. That has always been a problem for some community groups to use the school space.
So we have facilities not being able to be used because there's a financial barrier and also, as you know, people have jobs and need to be paid. They could apply to the grant to reimburse the janitor for that time period. It could be used for security; it could be used for the janitor; it can be used for the materials and things that they are using for after school. It is to use for the community to be able to use schools after hours.
There is a cost related to that for various reasons and if a community group wants to do dance after school for a six-week period they can apply for a grant that the school board then would reimburse either the instructor, the school boards, the janitor or the security person, whatever is needed, because there is a cost to using schools after hours.
We're trying to make our schools more open, more accessible and to do that the Community Use of Schools Grant is available. It's in all of the school boards and they actually apply to the school board; they don't have to apply to the department. We felt that it was an easier way for people to do that. I'm sure every principal would help with the community to do that. It could be a parent who wants to do something after school. It could be an outside agency that wants to do something in the school but we want our schools used and we want our children to be active.
I would especially like see as many community groups coming in right after school, that time period when children are finished school and before they get home. The grant can also be used for transportation because some children, especially in the rural areas - it the cost of having something after school - their parents can't pick them up and there is no second run of the school bus. It's for the community to use our schools and we're hoping that people really tap in and find that useful to them.
MR. ORRELL: The Designated Special Education Private School funding was $7,200 per student. Is this going to be continued in 2012-13?
MS. JENNEX: I hope you don't mind, I just need you to say the question again because I don't know - I think I was - as you were saying it, I heard you say $7,000 per student is that for?
MR. ORRELL: The Designated Special Education Private School funding.
MS. JENNEX: Oh, you're talking about tuition support programs.
MR. ORRELL: Yes.
MS. JENNEX: Oh, okay, thank you. A number of years ago there was a committee that looked at tuition support. Some of our children in our school system have learning disabilities or maybe, for example severe ADHD, and they are not being successful in our schools. Over the years some of the children were receiving support to go to - there are three designated schools in the province - Landmark East, Bridgeway Academy and Churchill; and Bridgeway has a site in Truro too; it's the same school but a site in Halifax and I think there is another one coming in Sydney.
The expertise of the teachers in those schools deals specifically with children with learning disabilities. As you know, children who have learning disabilities are very intelligent students but learn differently. When they have been on an IPP in school and we have recognized they are not learning the way they should and we can't meet their needs, they have an opportunity to apply to have that money travel with them to one of these designated schools. It's only those three that I mentioned and their satellites.
If a student qualifies, there's extra funding too for families that would need other financial support for their child to go there; I think it is $3,000 and some dollars. We work together with the department on that.
I'm just going to backtrack. That had been going on in a year by year by year way. A committee looked at it so under the leadership of the former minister, who is now the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, she entered into the agreement and now we have a policy in place in the department, which was applauded by the schools, that students who have learning disabilities who are going to go to one of our special schools have three years of support with a fourth year for transitional purposes. So that is in place. It is our hope and it's also the hope of our schools, our schools that teach children with learning disabilities, that they can enter back into the regular school system.
Now, I'm just going to add a personal note on this. I've been very lucky to be in a community that has had one of the schools for a very long time. Landmark East is in Wolfville. It has been there (Interruption) - I know, "Woofville", I think somebody is back there making fun of my Valley accent - Landmark East, so I've seen the incredible work that they've done with children with learning disabilities. There is a way that they are able to teach children that is very specialized. It's a training that you have and, as a teacher, and one of my degrees is in special education, I don't have that training.
So in my own family I have a child with a learning disability who had resource, who had me working with him after school every day, and I have a special education background, and by the time one of my children that has a learning disability was in Grade 3, the only word that that child - I don't want to identify - that child could read, was their own name. So one of my children attended Landmark and I will say that they have been extremely successful and still use the skills that they learned at Landmark to carry with them. It's a different process to learning to read and write and learning numeracy. So I have a great deal of respect for the teachers who work at our special schools. There is a need that we've recognized and this government has put it in place that it is three years with a fourth year transition for students who qualify to go to one of our special schools.
Now, just because a child is struggling in school doesn't mean that a parent should think automatically, we send them to Churchill, Bridgeway or Landmark. There is a criterion involved in that because we do the best we can in our school system to support children but it's after we have recognized, as educators and within the school and with the parents, that we can definitely work with the family to provide them the funding to attend one of our schools. So, yes, the answer is, yes; we are maintaining it and we actually have a framework for it. It's a policy.
MR. ORRELL: So if after the three years they are not ready for the transition year, that's it, they have to go out of the transition year even if they're not ready? Is that the policy - they wouldn't get a fourth and a fifth year if that was the case, if they needed it, if they do the assessment and they needed it, would they get the fourth or the fifth year?
MS. JENNEX: I will clarify this. The policy is that a child has the ability to be there three years, with the fourth year, looking at it as a transfer year. So if a child is there for the full three years because it's recognized they need that full support during that time period, the fourth year would be looked at in transitioning them back to school. But I want to say, very clearly, that this is policy and it looks - it is, not looks - it is very successful but, you know, sometimes not all children are going to be successful, maybe, in their fourth year. So that is the time that we at the Department of Education will work with the family to look to see. So there would not be a fifth year of funding under the TSP, that's all I want to say. There will not be funding for the fifth year, but we will look, within the department, on what we can do to support that child. We're not going to let a child go back into the public school system without the supports necessary. So in every one of those cases, definitely, we take that very, very seriously at the department and we're in very close contact with the schools.
I have to tell you we have Program Services, the people who work in the department in Program Services know children very well and are very well-respected and deal with many individual cases. So it is three years, the fourth year is a transitional year. Children can stay the full four years but I know everyone wants a child - like in my case my child spent a year and has been very successful. Mind you, they still have a learning disability, that won't go away but my child learned strategies and a way to learn. It's a different way of learning. Take thing slow, pace themselves out during anything and has done extremely well. I just don't want to identify which one of my children because I don't think that would be fair.
We want children to go back into the public system so some children, sometimes, only need a year, some might need two, some three, some might need that full four years and they are going to get it under this program.
What we're really working towards is to make sure that we can have every child be successful and learn the skills, through one of our special schools that do incredible work for our young people. Not only do the schools and the families want them back in the public system, we want to make them successful and we want them to learn those special skills, it's a very highly qualified and specialized way of teaching. It's incredible to watch, if you ever have the opportunity to see it done.
I know to get that training you have to actually travel; we don't teach that here in Nova Scotia that I know of, unless things have changed recently, very highly specialized and skilled manner in which they teach children with learning disabilities. As you know, I have a great deal of admiration for Landmark based on my own experience, thank you.
MR. ORRELL: We've been talking in the last couple of days about the increase in our funding per student for the regular school system. I don't mean that in a negative way. So are these students who go to Landmark East going to have the increase from $7,200 to the $10,371 as well?
MS. JENNEX: The tuition support is very clearly defined. The current funding unit per student is $7,200 and so that's very definitive and that's based on the policy that we have in place.
MR. ORRELL: That's not going to rise for our special needs children to go to these special schools, is that what you're saying? You're not going to raise that?
MS. JENNEX: As I said, under the current funding at this point it is $7,200 per student. If family needs extra support there is also funding available for students, even over and above in some cases the funding per student base. It's based on the need of the student and the family situation.
MR. ORRELL: But we've been hearing in this House over the last week or two that you're paying the highest per capita student that has ever been paid. That formula is outdated, obviously, because they are only getting the $7,200. These children deserve the same amount of money, are they not going to get that raise to the $10,300, yes or no?
MS. JENNEX: Actually I hoped that during estimates I could answer more than a yes or no. This is a school outside of the public school system. We fund per student in our system. This is a tuition support, this is tuition, and we're paying tuition to an outside school which is not a public school. We also have funding available for families that need extra funding based on financial need.
MR. ORRELL: These students aren't going to get the $10,300. That's what I'm hearing. How come they don't deserve the same money as the students that are getting per capita funding in school because they have a disability?
MS. JENNEX: When a department does a budget, an historical way of doing a budget is you look at how many children are in your school system and you make sure you're funding them appropriately.
In this case, the honourable member, I'm trying to explain a difference that this funding is, this is a tuition we're paying outside of the public system for a child to go to another school. They're not in the public system anymore. This is something that was done year by year and we now have a policy in place. I want you to know that every child deserves the very best education that we can provide them. This is a situation where a child is actually leaving a public school and a public school department is providing them the money to go to an outside school, outside of the public system.
This is something that I feel is the way we can meet the needs of our students instead of allowing families - which was what happened in the past. Families paid out of their own pocket, I know families that mortgaged their homes to send their children to Landmark East because there was no funding at all coming from the government.
Then, over the years, there was some funding available. This government, under the leadership of the former minister and now the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, working with the recommendations from the committee, has put it in policy. We are supporting students with specific learning disabilities the ability to go outside of the public system to receive the support that not only do they need, but we know they deserve it. Therefore, we're funding it through a public system.
Now, the $7,200, if they're going and they qualify, is a given. If the family needs more assistance, then based on financial need as I said, that could even exceed the per- funding ratio we have now in place. We want to make sure every child gets what they need. It's not that we can give them $10,000, it doesn't work that way. This is a tuition support that we are providing and also financial support if a family needs it, which could be over and above. We want to make sure our children are getting what they need. They deserve it and we are providing for it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We are approaching the moment of interruption so rather than have you begin for seconds, I'll do it now.
The motion is carried.
[5:58 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:29 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will return to the resolution. The Progressive Conservative Party has approximately 14 minutes left.
The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
MR. KEITH BAIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to continue the questioning to the minister that the member for Cape Breton North was asking before the adjournment. I think he was talking about special education, the students who need special education and the fact that they're only receiving $7,200. I guess my question to the minister is, why wouldn't those students receive the full funding in a public school system like any other student?
MS. JENNEX: We're talking about what is called the Tuition Support Program, the TSP. Many years ago in this province, if a child had a learning disability and their family wanted their student to receive the specialized support that they needed, the family had to pay for that themselves. Even though they were funded for the public school system, no money went with them. It was a cost to the family and I know personally, since I lived in the Annapolis Valley since 1973, and Landmark has been around since the 1970s, many families made sacrifices so their children would receive specialized service.
We have specialized teachers within our school system. We have dedicated teachers but when a child has a very severe learning disability, they need specialized support. So many families decided that for the benefit of their child's success, they would sacrifice. They remortgaged their home. Some families have moved to an area that they could live close to Landmark. Over the years the Department of Education did provide some funding but it was not guaranteed at any time. Parents didn't know if the government was going to, if their child would qualify.
So there was a committee formed - I wasn't Minister of Education at the time but the former Minister of Education, who's now Minister of Labour and Advanced Education - and that committee then presented to the minister. On that committee I know that there was a representative from one of the schools. Parents were represented there. So I'm not sure how many people were on that committee but I remember reading their recommendations from their report because I have a vested interest in meeting the needs of children with learning disabilities because I'm a mother of a child with a learning disability.
So I read the report myself even though I was not in the seat of being the Minister of Education to see what the recommendations were. The minister showed leadership by developing a policy with the Department of Education that children have the ability to have four years in a school outside of our public school system - a designated school that we partner with. So we have Bridgeway, Churchill, Landmark, and those - not Landmark but the other ones - have satellite schools. I know there's a school in Truro, in Halifax, I think there are two in Halifax, I know there's an expansion in the Sydney area I'm hearing about, and those schools working with the department, it's a partnership.
There's communication back and forth with these schools and the children have the ability now under this Tuition Support Program to have up to four years. Now, the idea for that is that you have three years of specialized learning and then the fourth year the school, Bridgeway or Churchill, or Landmark, work with the public school system to transition the student back into school. They actually might go back into school and spend part-time backup in Bridgeway or, you know, it's a transitional year because the idea is that children be in a public school situation. Bridgeway, Churchill and Landmark believe that children should be back in a public school system. Theirs is a very specialized service. They want children to learn how to be independent, to get those skills that they can then utilize in all other aspects of their life. They want for them to be independent of having to be at a school to have the specialized service to learn the skills. So the committee made that recommendation to the former minister and the four years now is in place.
I must say that it was received very well by the parent community and by the schools themselves that this is a policy that is dedicated for these students; it in place, it's in policy in the Department of Education. Now at the end of the year parents don't have to wait and see if the department is doing to fund them or if there is going to be anything in place.
That was the problem with it in the past, when the department did start providing support, they didn't know exactly if it was going to be in place or not. This way it's dedicated, it's there, it's in policy; so it is a school outside of the public school system. It has been built on - this is tuition - $7,200 goes to tuition. That tuition goes to the school, for that student, from the public school system money and, as I added earlier, every situation is different and every child is different and every financial situation is different. There is extra funding for families based on financial need, which then could even be higher than the funding per student that we have in the province.
The funding formula is different than the tuition support. The funding formula is the budget line and this is a policy in place within government, now, to provide the ability for a student who has been identified as having a learning disability, and in some cases children with ADHD who need some specialized service. The money is there and it is in place. Parents know it is there. There is a procedure to follow.
People in the department do not receive the applications for this, this is done with a person outside of government who receives all of the applications, reviews them and then reports to the department to the children that qualify for the tuition support. Many people might think that one of these schools is a place they might like to send their child for specialized service but it's actually for children who have been identified as having a learning disability.
Some children, early on in their development, might look as if they are having some difficulties learning, it might look like a learning disability and it might not be, it might be just developmental. In other cases sometimes a learning disability can show up a bit later.
As I said to the member opposite, earlier in the evening, children who have learning disabilities are extremely intelligent children. They have a different way of learning. Sometimes people who have a learning disability are so incredibly bright that they can travel quite far through the school system without it being identified that it's a learning disability. I have seen a child, in my own experience, because I did some consulting work for free for families with children who had some specific needs; I do have a degree in special education. It was a child in Grade 10 we actually found out had a learning disability and it was manifesting itself by behavioural difficulties.
When the supports were put in place - I'd just like to say that when you recognize that you actually have a difference of learning and a different way of learning - supports were put in place and that person is now articling as a lawyer. This is a person who, in Grade 10, wasn't reading. If you do put the supports, even later, children are so intelligent they can mask that they have a learning disability because they can memorize but they can't decode sometimes or read print. Sometimes they can read print and people with learning disabilities some days can read and other days can't, it manifests neurologically in such a way that not everyone with a learning disability has exactly the same way that it manifests.
I don't like ever to use the word dyslexia because people think of that in a very stereotypical way, but children with learning disabilities have differences. These schools provide a service for the students to give them the skills so that they can become independent back in the school system. There is a set of tools, you learn a set of tools to be able to operate within the world and there are many tools that you can put in place. One of my own children who has a learning disability still uses that set of tools that they learned in Landmark back in an elementary school situation, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes and I would just remind you that you have about five minutes left in this round of questioning.
MR. BAIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank the minister for that explanation but I guess my question is, the goal is to be able to transition those children back into the public school system, I think, and you mentioned that earlier on in your talk. Sometimes they come from the public school system into that program and then transition back into the public school system, correct? So, therefore, I guess the question is, why shouldn't they be funded the same as someone under the public school system? If a child were in the public school system, they would also have the added expense of a TA or an EA, depending on where you are - it's either an education assistant here, I think, and a teacher assistant in Cape Breton - but it doesn't matter where you are. So at the end of the day government is saving over $3,000 by not investing in these children who are in the other program. Does the minister feel that is fair to those children?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I feel very strongly that providing this service is very fair. In our public system the budget of money also covers other things within our system. When we give the envelope for tuition to go out of the public school system, it is tuition to go over to a school outside of the public school system. The funding that goes into the public school system pays for teacher pensions, medical benefits and student transportation.
In this year's budget that we've just put forth, $58 million of that goes to teacher pensions; $40.8 million goes for medical benefits; and $67 million goes for transportation. When the child leaves the school system and it gets the tuition support, we're not providing transportation for the student and the teachers are paid in the public system. This is tuition to go to another school. So the formula that we have in place is also supporting the teachers who are in the public school system.
MR. BAIN: I guess the biggest concern and again, minister, you highlighted it before that it puts an extra - parents want the best for their child regardless of whether they have learning disabilities or not, and I guess it puts extra hardship on parents because not everybody can remortgage their home. Not everybody has the money to be able to send their child for that extra help, if I can call it that. So I guess when you look at ability of the parents to actually provide that service to their child, not everyone has that opportunity. They can't go out, as I say, and remortgage their home again. So they are in the regular school system and they are being funded - I'm going at the inequality here in the $10,300 and the $7,200. It puts extra burden on parents who have the burden in the first place because that child has a learning disability. So I guess when you look at it, I'm asking why the department isn't committing the same amount to that particular situation?
MS. JENNEX: Well, I want to clarify that we're sending children to another school outside of the public school system and in terms of remortgaging the home, I want to be very clear that that was a past practice when families made that commitment.
We now have a policy; this is a policy that was worked on with a committee that brought recommendations to the minister. There is the ability based on financial, and I want to be very clear, based on financial need a family can be funded even more than the per student that is now in place in the province. We want children to be successful so there is a tuition piece but there is also, based on financial need, there also are other grants provided from the Department of Education, that can actually exceed per student funding.
So it's based on need but every child that is accepted into this program - and it's a program, it's a policy, I just want to be very clear that it can actually exceed in many cases. We don't want it to just be for families who can provide financially. Every family wants to provide the very best for their student. We recognize that if you have a number of children or if you are working in a job that does not provide the extra funding to be in one of these schools, even if you are a family that is under assistance too, it is for any child that has been identified as having a learning disability and meets the criteria, they have the ability to go to one of our schools. We have partnered with Bridgeway, Churchill and Landmark East.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has now expired for the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Thank you Mr. Chairman, I would like to focus some of the questions on the supplement to the estimates. I'm looking at Page 106.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would ask if the honourable member for Colchester North would repeat her question please.
MS. CASEY: My question is first of all with the External Secondments, I noticed there are secondments from several of the school boards there. My question is, from the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, how many FTEs would that be for that secondment of $141,000?
MS. JENNEX: I know, coming from the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, I do know of one of my colleagues who is in the department but we can't identify how many that is, if it's one or two at this point. In 2010-11we had the one for math and art; that's two for sure. We'll have to dig a little bit on that particular one.
MS. CASEY: My question - I guess I'll try it this way - how many people were seconded to the department during that fiscal year?
MS. JENNEX: That is information that we will have to get to you. It is not in our Estimates Book because this is for another year but we'll get that information and bring it, hopefully, by tomorrow.
MS. CASEY: I guess the question would be, you don't know how many secondments there were, would that be correct? You don't know how many secondments there were?
MS. JENNEX: You're asking for the year 2010-11, we don't have that information here. We only have information for the other year. We don't have that information but, as I said, we will get it to you.
MS. CASEY: Do you know how many secondments you have this year?
MS. JENNEX: In 2011-12 we had 18 secondments.
MS. CASEY: Could you give me a breakdown of those 18 positions?
MS. JENNEX: That would be information we still have up in the department and I will ask the people in the department to have that prepared and we'll have that provided for you.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we're talking about the current year. You are telling me there are 18 secondments for this current year?
MS. JENNEX: I'm saying there are 18 secondments for this school year, yes.
MS. CASEY: And are you telling me you don't know what positions those 18 secondments are in?
MS. JENNEX: I guess my answer would be - a question is, when the member was the minister, did she know all of the secondments in the department? I meet a lot of people around my table working on many projects. I don't know if they are regular staff or secondments, if they come from other boards. I only know about the secondments based on my own personal experience with some of my colleagues, which I see within the department.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I think we've got things mixed up here. I'm asking the questions, I'm expecting some information, and what I'm hearing is that you don't know who has been seconded or what position they're filling for this current year at the Department of Education.
MS. JENNEX: I personally do not know the names of all the people in the department and what each particular job is with the 200 folks who work in the department. I walk through the department quite regularly and I see many people working on many different things and I also have many people come in and share with me the different projects that they're working on. In terms of the information about the secondments, that is definitely information that I can provide to the member. Of course, the people in the department do know that and what jobs they have and, as I've said, I will have that prepared and brought down to the House.
MS. CASEY: My follow-up question to that would be who would have authorized those secondments?
MS. JENNEX: There has been no change in the manner in which a person becomes seconded to the Department of Education, over the years, and the deputy minister is the person who does approve of secondments to the Department of Education.
MS. CASEY: Would the minister be able to get that information from the deputy minister?
MS. JENNEX: I will ask the deputy minister if she has that information and if she could make it available to me but at this point I don't feel comfortable using my electronic device since we are in the House but I'm sure that if she's watching that she can have them prepared.
Oh, okay, I apologize I didn't look up. Is it appropriate for me to look at my deputy minister and speak to the gallery?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No.
MS. JENNEX: No, it isn't. Therefore, as I said to the member opposite we will definitely get that information and I am sure that the deputy minister knows of all of the jobs and the personnel within the Department of Education, thank you.
MS. CASEY: Thank you. If we could look under Grants and Contributions on Page 107, a payment of $10,000 to the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, could you explain that please?
MS. JENNEX: That would be a grant for programming funding.
MS. CASEY: Perhaps you could give more explanation, a grant for what kind of program funding and why would the grant be going to the Construction Association of Nova Scotia?
MS. JENNEX: I will provide the detail for that, I'm definitely giving department staff a lot of extra work and I thank them for doing that. I do know that the department Ann Blackwood is in charge of does an awful lot of partnering with many outside agencies to make sure that our curriculum matches appropriately. I know that that particular department is dealing with outside agencies so I will get the particulars on that. It wouldn't be uncommon to see something on a budget line from another stakeholder to make sure that the curriculum and the resources that we're using within the department, to make sure that what goes out to the school boards fits with current technologies, for example, current practices. We need to make sure that we're providing the best possible education and we don't have all of the expertise within the department and that is why the department is working with many stakeholders around this province and outside this province to make sure that we have a strong and robust curriculum for our students.
MS. CASEY: There is a payment of $1.49 million to the Council on African Canadian Education, could you explain that please.
MS. JENNEX: I know this budget line. I'm at one of those points that I'm a little bit unsure about how much I can speak about this particular project in its entirety because it's something that is being formulated. The member, as the former minister, would know all the work that's being done with the Africentric Learning Institute. I guess what I'll say is that there has definitely been a call for, in the public domain, ads for new board members to the new board around the establishment of an Africentric Learning Institute.
That would be one component of that and that is about as far as I'm comfortable in sharing because this is not something I, as the minister, feel I would like to make the announcement. I feel it needs to come from the community that is developing it.
MS. CASEY: To the minister, this is $1.4 million that was spent last year and you're not comfortable sharing how taxpayers' dollars have been spent?
MS. JENNEX: I am more than comfortable sharing with Nova Scotia taxpayers every cent that is spent at the Department of Education. The reason I am being cautionary with my comments is that there is an announcement coming forth. I don't feel it's my place to make the announcement. I feel it is much more respectful that I allow the community that has worked diligently and so hard at the Afrocentric Learning Institute, to make the announcement.
This is a component of the Africentric Learning Institute that's being developed but I do know I feel comfortable enough in sharing that there has been a call for board members for the new board. This money is part of that project but I don't feel comfortable sharing the full project. I feel that needs to come from the community that has worked diligently to bring this to fruition.
MS. CASEY: I was quoting the minister when I said, not comfortable sharing, those were her words.
I would like to continue on Page 107 and look at the allocation of funds to the Council of Ministers on Education. It's an expenditure of $441,000 on Page 107.
MS. JENNEX: The Council of Ministers of Education Canada is the way in which Ministers of Education do their work. As everyone knows, in Canada we don't have a federal Minister of Education. This is the way the ministers do projects and work together.
This budget line, which is almost half a million dollars, is our contribution to CMEC. Every Department of Education in Canada contributes dues to do the work of CMEC. One of the projects that CMEC has worked on is Aboriginal education. They've worked on - I know the obesity strategy has been a very important component of the work that they're doing, but it's the manner in which ministers share data and work on certain projects in their provinces and also CMEC undertakes making sure that they collect all of the data around education around the country so it can be reported on in a national component.
It's almost like a federal office, but it is all ministers of every province and territory are part of CMEC. The business of education, nationally, is done through this organization.
MS. CASEY: Page 108, Department of Justice, an expenditure of $351,000.
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, this is in payment for teachers who work with young people who are incarcerated. It's the work that's done in jails and in incarcerated units.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, for an expenditure of $351,000, how many teachers' salaries are we paying in that?
MS. JENNEX: That's information that we would need to bring to the House because it's depending on what level the teacher is, what TC level. So we don't actually have that data in this document but this can be provided.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, do we know where those teachers are working and how many teachers there are?
MS. JENNEX: Well, we would know where all of the teachers are and what they're doing, I don't have that information, I do know one of the teachers personally. So I know exactly where they are working but that is information that we don't have in these documents and if the member opposite wants a breakdown on that, I would make a request to the department to compile that and bring it to the House.
MS. CASEY: To the minister, I would appreciate that information, a breakdown of where they are and how many FTEs there are who are providing that service. Continuing on Page 108, Independent Living Nova Scotia Association, an expenditure of $194,000.
MS. JENNEX: As the member opposite sees, this is for student support, that's attendant care service. That would be for students who require support in school for personal care and medical care. I know as a classroom teacher, one of my students that I had for two years required an attendant to come in periodically throughout the day to change personal care and also to make sure that certain parts of medical technology were in place and that feeding was done appropriately. So that would fall under that line.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, would that include salaries and materials, supplies, or if we contract that service, how does that happen that that amount of money goes to that association?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I will be asking Student Services, as you know, Don Glover would be able to provide that information. This is for specialized service, an EPA or a TA or an EA, an alphabet of acronyms for people who regularly support students. These are students in our school system who have every right to be there, and need to be in our school system, but do need some attendant care that is provided by someone who has the ability to change appropriately, and can deal with paramedical kinds of situations with feeding tubes and making sure buttons and things are in place. When I say buttons, I mean the openings in bellies so that feeding tubes can be done. It's a specialized attendant care that falls outside what a TA would do, thank you.
MS. CASEY: Thank you to the minister for that explanation. If we continue on Page 108, Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, a $10,000 payment.
MS. JENNEX: That is program funding for video film school production. Ross Creek is a cultural centre in Kings North; it's just outside of Canning, up the mountain, in a place called Ross Creek. They provide many many programs at that particular facility and this particular one coming from the Department of Education is for the video and film school. Ross Creek provides services for children as young as preschoolers up to adults, learning many of the different aspects of art. They have dance, video, theatre, especially theatre. They have writing, theatre writing. They run workshops; they run classes; they run all year; it's a year-round facility. They have a great deal of expertise and they also have resident artists who are on site.
The owners of Ross Creek are Ken Schwartz, who is an award winning author and playwright, and Chris O'Neill, his wife, who organizes and is also an artist; and their three children live on site. It's a very large culture centre and they practise gardening during the summer. They have excellent food for the kids that do their studies there.
I have to share a little bit of a personal story. I sent my youngest daughter to a two-week camp one summer at Ross Creek because I really felt that it was a great place for her to be away from me for two weeks. We hadn't had any time, ever, apart and I thought where she was getting ready to go to university it would be good maybe when she was in high school to spend two weeks at a camp.
I did not know that when I sent her to her two weeks at Ross Creek that she would find a passion for art and I would just like to say that my youngest daughter will be graduating from NSCAD on May 13th, because she found her voice at Ross Creek.
MS. CASEY: Thank you for that little bit of information about Ross Creek. My question is why would we be giving Ross Creek $10,000?
MS. JENNEX: It's for what it says; it's for the film and video school productions. They provided a service to the department or they - I would have to find the particulars but it would either have been a service or it would have been a course for the department.
MS. CASEY: Would that be for our students or for our teachers, who would that course be for?
MS. JENNEX: The course would be for students.
MS. CASEY: If we continue down on Page 108, the Teamwork Cooperative, could you explain to me the Teamwork Cooperative and the expenditure of $79,000?
MS. JENNEX: It says here for the Teamwork Cooperative, it's program funding for a direct skill-linked project. Now, I happen to know that in Ann Blackwood's department they've been doing an awful lot of work on making sure that our curriculum is linked to appropriate technology, appropriate trades. I know that they've been doing an awful lot of work on curriculum but they're also providing the ability for children to learn about all the different trades and having trades, not only the trades, what the names of them are, but children's opportunities.
I know that when I was graduating from high school, there were probably maybe 12 things that you could sign up to do. You could be a teacher, you could be a nurse, you could be a police officer, you know, it was pretty well standard but today, in our global world, there are many, many different jobs and many different skills that are used. I know that Ann's department has been working very hard on bringing together all of that information into the school system, one, for information for students to make appropriate choices for their lives, finding where they can fit. Also making sure that the curriculum matches and working in curriculum development. So I know that her office works with a lot of outside stakeholders, especially with the skill development.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, is this a Nova Scotia company?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, they are. The honourable Minister of Finance says that they're actually housed in his constituency. So, yes, they're Nova Scotian.
MS. CASEY: Should I direct my question somewhere else? Question back to the minister, can you tell me what services we received from this company in the minister's riding for $79,000?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, the Department of Education has a lot of projects and a lot of people working on providing the absolute best curriculum, best supports and best information for our students. On this particular line item, I need to ask Ann Blackwood to provide me the information on that particular one which I know that she can do extremely quickly. I know that that office is really, really busy making sure that they utilize all of the services that they can get to make sure that we have all the services that we can have in place for our students.
The detail around each one of these line items, I can honestly say I can't provide. We have people in our department who are doing this work on behalf of the students of Nova Scotia and I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for the work that they're doing. They're working diligently and with passion. They're very, very passionate about the work they're doing. I will get Ann to get that information to me and I will then provide it to the member opposite.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, Page 109, Allen HR Consulting Services Limited, $16,000?
MS. JENNEX: With apologies, I'm not able to find, could you say it again, please?
MS. CASEY: Yes, sorry. It is on page 109, HR Allen Consulting Services for $16,000.
MS. JENNEX: This is a person who is providing services on the management side around labour negations with the NSTU.
MS. CASEY: If we could follow up on that, is that service short-term, contract; how is that $16,000 realized?
MS. JENNEX: That is by contract, thank you.
MS. CASEY: Continuing on Page 109, a line, Atlantic Opinion Research, can you explain the service that that company would have provided?
MS. JENNEX: This line item is no longer with us; it's now under Higher Education. It would have probably been French translation in some services that higher education needed, but this line item is not with us in the Department of Education anymore.
MS. CASEY: I'm looking at Bacon & Hughes Limited for an expenditure of $9,700.
MS. JENNEX: I wouldn't know exactly what books they are or what materials but those would have been materials that have been provided to our Book Bureau. I will have to ask - it would probably be Ann Blackwood's office - to find out exactly the names of the materials that are now on our Book Bureau that we would have had supplied by that particular company.
MS. CASEY: If we could look at the next two lines Murray R. Barkhouse, Nancy Barkhouse, expenditures of $10,100 and $5,300. I'm not sure if they're connected; you can do them separately or combined.
MS. JENNEX: Those are for the office of - under Evaluation - those would be for services related to marking of assessments and that would be under the Evaluation Services, Mr. Power's area.
MS. CASEY: Would those two people be employees in one of our boards?
MS. JENNEX: I can't answer that but I do know they would be on the Standing Offer list but I'm not sure if they are employees, like teachers, NSTU members, I'm not sure if they're employees, like teachers, NSTU members - I'm not sure but they are on the standing offer.
MS. CASEY: Would those markings of assessments be our Grade 12 provincial examinations, or what might those assessments be?
MS. JENNEX: I'm going to have to ask the evaluation office to look at this line item and would have to provide the information to which assessment they were involved in marking. There are a number of areas that outside people come in to do so that they're an unbiased mark. I would need to get that information from the office.
MS. CASEY: When the minister is getting that information, would you also be able to confirm if they are teachers within our system or if they're contracted out, people outside of our system or if they're retired teachers? Would you be able to confirm that as well as the assessment they were working on?
MS. JENNEX: That is information that we can provide. It could be a teacher working in our system at this point. It could be a retired teacher. People that do this evaluation work are teachers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would just remind the member for Colchester North, there's about 20 minutes left in her time.
MS. CASEY: Thank you. A couple of trust company expenditures here, perhaps you might be able to explain $10-plus million and $1-plus million to BMO Trust and BNY Trust.
MS. JENNEX: Both of those are payments for lease for our P3 schools.
MS. CASEY: If we could move down Page 109 a bit further to Bridges, we have an expenditure of $61,000-plus to Bridges.
MS. JENNEX: That is information that I don't have in this document; therefore, I'm asking the department to provide the detail around that particular expenditure.
MS. CASEY: If we could move on to Page 110, if we look at CN Investment Division, we have an expenditure of $705,000. Perhaps you could indicate the services we received for that.
MS. JENNEX: That's a lease payment for a P3 school.
MS. CASEY: Further down that list, Compasspoint Management Group.
MS. JENNEX: This is for the student financial support that no longer sits with the Department of Education; it's with Labour and Advanced Education. It was for student assistance so I wouldn't be able to get that information from the Department of Education. If the member opposite wants me to ask the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education for any details around that, I'd have to see if she would wish that and then I would ask the minister if she can provide that for us.
MS. CASEY: Yes, I would appreciate that if you can get that from your colleague. On Page110, Counting Opinions Ltd., could I have information about that particular company and the service that was provided for $9,400?
MS. JENNEX: These were materials provided to the Nova Scotia Provincial Library that used to sit with the Department of Education but now no longer. Under our restructuring a year ago, it now sits with the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage; therefore, I don't have that information. But if the member opposite would like me to find that information out, we definitely can.
The Provincial Library used to sit with the Department of Education; now it doesn't, it sits with another department. So if the member opposite wants the details on that, I would have to ask another minister. If she wishes for me to do that, I definitely will.
MS. CASEY: On Page 111 we have an expenditure to the Gale Group for $26,000-plus.
MS. JENNEX: The Gale Group - those are subscriptions, periodicals, learning materials and books for the various departments within the Department of Education. As members know, it's very important for people within the department to make sure that they keep up on current initiatives around the world, different ideas around education, and keeping current. So those come to the department for the various divisions throughout.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the Greenfield Community Resource Centre Society for $118,000-plus.
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, that's money for the lease on the Greenfield school.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, Harvard University for $5,600.
MS. JENNEX: I would have to get the detail around that but that would be a course that someone at the Department of Education took for information that they need to do their job. It would be a course taken at the university. I'll get the details on that.
MS. CASEY: Certainly, if we could get perhaps the name of the course and the person for whom we paid that tuition, thank you. If we continue on Page 111, Gregory S. Kenny, an expenditure of $51,000.
MS. JENNEX: That is for services rendered around an IT project within the department.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the minister, if she has it, I would appreciate it; if not, I would like to have it. Is Gregory S. Kenny an employee of a board or is this a contract? How was this person engaged to do the IT project?
MS. JENNEX: That is information that we will bring to the House, thank you.
MS. CASEY: I see a consulting company here, L J Ryan Consulting & Associates, for an expenditure of $63,000.
MS. JENNEX: This would be for facilitation services under Corporate Services for PLCs.
MS. CASEY: As a follow-up to that will there be services provided, will there be a charge on that line in this current year?
MS. JENNEX: This is continual work that we're working on PLCs in the department and with school boards and with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union - that will be ongoing work so there would be a charge within the department next year. I don't know if it would be the same service or how much, but because there is ongoing work, I would make a very honest assumption to feel that there would be some ongoing costs into the next year.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North, you have about 10 minutes left in your time.
MS. CASEY: If we can go back to that, and you may need to get this information to bring back, but that $63,000, how many days of service, how many hours of service, what kind of contract would that have been? That would have been over what period of time? I'm looking for the details of the $63,000.
MS. JENNEX: There has been an awful lot of work going on with PLCs and I'm just going to take a pause here. I apologize, but as you know, people do use acronyms and this particular one I know that some people in the House probably don't know what it is. A PLC is a professional learning community and within schools teachers work together in a professional learning community, a PLC. As a teacher I was involved with the PLC within my own grade division - Primary, and Grades 1 and 2 - and we were looking at a year-long study; we met together and did a year-long study on multi-age and multi-age education quite a few years ago.
It is teacher driven, working together as a professional learning community. The best way that you can learn is with your peers and with your colleagues and sometimes we have taken time to do an in-service, a conference. We go outside to get someone to tell us what we need to do, when actually the best place that we can go for in-servicing and professional development is with each other. Many teachers bring many different skills into their schools. Also, learning together in that collaborative manner is very important.
Not all schools do professional learning communities, PLCs, but it enhances the education of our students to have their teachers very well-versed on new things that are coming in, a debate on a particular issue, a study for example on differentiated instructions. Or if they have a problem within the school that they want to work on, they work on it collaboratively in a professional learning community.
A professional learning community can be at grade level, it can be by subject, so it can be across grade levels. It can be done in small groups, it can be done in larger groups. But it's done at the school with teachers. There is a report already out and we are working on another one, as we work through with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and school boards on how we can provide the time for teachers within our school system to be able to engage in PLCs.
This is ongoing work within the department and it's being led by Shannon Delbridge. I'm actually a strong supporter of PLCs because I see the value that they add for student learning when teachers are excited about their own learning, too, and when your classroom is also - when you're doing your research with your own classroom and see the benefits of in-servicing yourself and professional development as the teacher themselves.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, if we could look at Page 112, Nova Scotia Barristers' Society.
MS. JENNEX: This is the same line item that the member asked the other night. This is for the membership dues for the person who does the labour relations at the Department of Education, Sheila Landry.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the minister, is Sheila Landry an employee of the Department of Education or the Department of Justice?
MS. JENNEX: Sheila Landry, her job sits with the Department of Education and if I may, I would like to - we did get information on the Construction Association grant, the $10,000. It was Building Futures for Youth program, which provides an intensive summer instructional program at NSCC, and summer co-op placements for students in the construction industry.
MS. CASEY: Thank you for that information. If we can look again on Page 112, it's a bit of a morbid question, but the expenditure to Ronald A. Walker's Funeral Home.
MS. JENNEX: The owner of Ronald A. Walker's Funeral Home, the company that would be associated with that title, did some work on a capital project at Forest Ridge. Their company would have done some work at one of the schools.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North has three minutes remaining.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, you know, I think we really need some more detail on the capital work that a funeral director might be doing in a school.
MS. JENNEX: I was very clear, Mr. Chairman, that it's the company's name and I'm quite sure that the funeral director did not do the work. I have a great deal of respect for funeral directors in our province and the work that they do. I think that this is the company name, as in many companies that work for many agencies throughout Nova Scotia. I do not know if the funeral director would have done it but I will definitely provide the detail on this $6,000 expenditure for work that was done on a school.
MS. CASEY: I think it would be important for us to know the nature of the work and the school where that work was done. So would it be possible to get that information?
MS. JENNEX: As I said, I would definitely provide the detail around that particular work that was done at the school. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: And, Mr. Chairman, if that information could include the name of the school, please.
MS. JENNEX: I thought I did say that, if we look at the record, Forest Ridge school is where the work was done. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, if we don't have time to finish this, we'll come back. It is on Page 112, Resolve Corp for $2-plus million.
MS. JENNEX: Again, I am going to have to outsource this information that sits with the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, it is with the Student Loans Program, student assistance. I don't have the information but we will definitely ask Labour and Advanced Education to provide the information on that budget line. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the minister has mentioned a number of these lines which will now be showing in Labour so perhaps when we come back to this, we can identify those lines.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for the Liberal Party has expired.
The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes for the Progressive Conservative Party.
MR. KEITH BAIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I will be starting the time for the Progressive Conservative caucus and I'll be followed by the member for Inverness.
The first question I'd like to ask the minister, is she aware of any CUPE contract negotiations that will be taking place in the future, within the boards?
MS. JENNEX: Well, I'm aware there are going to be CUPE contracts in the boards because CUPE and NSGEU are under boards, they're the employees of the boards; therefore, I'm sure every union with any board would have a future negotiation. I'm not aware of anything in front of me at this particular time. Thank you.
MR. BAIN: I guess my question is, when there are contracts coming up for negotiation within a board, is your department aware that those negotiations will be taking place?
MS. JENNEX: Because the boards are the employees of the other unions, the Department of Education only deals with the NSTU and the boards, but I'm quite sure that our labour person, Sheila, would know what is going on in the boards. I don't have those things reported to me. I would imagine, I only get the bad news so if there's something not going right or something going sideways, I think that I would be given a briefing, just for information. I'm not involved in that in any way. I'm sure that just because boards utilize staff at the Department of Education for advice and support, the Labour division would know what would be going on in any board, at any time, around all of the unions.
MR. BAIN: Recently I and other members of our caucus, and actually the member for Glace Bay as well, attended a school board meeting when we discussed the actual effective cuts within the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. We were invited by the board members to attend the meeting. It's something we do on a yearly basis and also the member for Cape Breton Nova, the Speaker, was there as well. Sorry about that.
I guess one of the main concerns that were expressed, and it was by the director of Property Services, was the fact that janitorial staff, and the board - I guess I'll go back to where I should start. The board has already cut back drastically on the number of TAs within the board, that fall under CUPE but they're looking now at the possibility that janitorial staff could be the next ones facing possible layoffs. The concern is out there of cleanliness within the schools. My question to the minister, can she guarantee that our schools in this province, and especially the schools within the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, will be maintained in a clean and healthy way?
MS. JENNEX: As the member opposite knows janitorial work and the maintenance of schools fall under their jurisdiction. I want to add that cleanliness of a school is paramount, it's important, and especially the safety of our students. We need to have clean schools so each board will be making sure that every school is maintained appropriately. Every board has a different way of providing janitorial services to schools and it is under their mandate. I know that they share my feelings, too, that health and safety is paramount and I know that they will monitor and make sure that schools are maintained appropriately.
MR. BAIN: You're correct, Madam Minister, that janitorial staff does fall under the school board but these are the same school boards that have seen their funding cut by your department. At the end of the day their decisions are based on the funding that they receive from your department. Again, I'll use the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board as an example because it's the one I'm most familiar with. They laid off numerous TAs last year. I personally, without having full knowledge, cannot see them cutting TAs or EAs much more within that system without totally decimating it altogether.
We know that 85 per cent of school board budgets are salary driven. They've looked at administration, they've made some changes in the administration level within the school board. Even last year they had to lay off some caretakers and custodians within the school board. They've started to farm out, if I may, some of the janitorial staff so that one person could be responsible for a group of schools.
When it's cut that bare-boned at the end of the day, if indeed that is one avenue that the board has to follow, the schools are going to have to suffer because of the cleanliness. Full marks to the board administration for having those concerns because they are looking at everything possible that they can do to meet the budget shortfalls that they've been given. At the end of the day whose responsibility is it - that's the important question that I want to ask you.
If they've exhausted all avenues for their cuts and they've gone to the janitorial/caretaker/custodial staff, and our schools don't maintain a healthy condition, at the end of the day, whose responsibility is it?
MS. JENNEX: I just would like to pick up on a point that the honourable member made comment around EPAs. I think in Cape Breton an EPA might be EA in Cape Breton. The board did a study around their educational assistants - I'm going to have to use the words I'm comfortable with, it's not going to work - their educational assistants. It was based on the information that they did of the study about what educational assistants were doing in schools, based on the actual need. I know I have a graph, that's what I was looking for. They found that they had educational assistants not meeting the needs of students, not assigned to students.
Now the guidelines in the Province of Nova Scotia around educational assistants are clearly laid out. We have a document that everyone has, it's on-line and I don't have a copy of it here but the job for an educational assistant is providing support for students, and then there are criteria around that. You've heard me mention here on the floor an individualized program plan. Families are involved with their individualized program plan and when we recognize the need through the program planning for an educational assistant, then that person is assigned to the student.
The teacher provides the program for a student. EAs don't teach but they provide support. They provide support for sometimes medical - and we've had that conversation too - it can be severe behavioural, but it's to support a child in the school, with a need that has been identified and is part of a plan.
The whole idea of an educational assistant is to provide scaffolding for a student, which means that you take them along so far, let them get a little bit more independent, and move away from the child. So it's very common for a 5-year-old to have a full-time assistant when they are coming into school with a specific need but by the time of Grade 5 or Grade 6, you can see that they're not in need of that much time, more of a check-in.
An educational assistant is a very clearly defined role. Anyway, the Cape Breton- Victoria Regional School Board did a study around their educational assistants because they found, when they looked, that they actually had one for every educational assistant there - it was a ratio of 1 to 48, which the provincial guideline is 1 to 104. So after they did the study, they recognized that they had educational assistants not doing educational assistant work, they were doing other kinds of things. So based on that information, a lot of the reductions were based on their own information. I read the report.
The next piece I'd like to say is that it's important that educational assistants are assigned to students for appropriate reasons around the IPP. We are going to make sure school boards do that, teachers do that; we make sure that students who need support are going to get the support they need.
Right now, in your school board, your ratio right now for educational assistants - and I said that the ratio for the province is 1 to 104; the average right now in the Province of Nova Scotia is about 1 in 78 - is 1 to 53, so your ratio is for every 53 students in your school board, there's one education assistant who is hired. So there are an awful lot of educational assistants working and providing service, very good service, for students.
I know educational assistants do a wonderful job with students and I know they become very attached to the children they are working with. They are good people who are doing a good job.
In terms of making sure that schools are clean, school boards are going to make sure that schools are clean. Principals in every school do a walk-through every day, actually part of their mandate is to make sure that they are walking through the school, looking at a number of different - they have sort of a list that they have to do just to make sure that the school is safe, on a daily basis. One never knows when a desk or a chair or something could be blocking a fire door, so they are walking through. If a principal is recognizing that things aren't where they should be, would definitely notify their superintendent and talk about any concerns they have.
The model about farming out and different services, I know there's different models throughout Nova Scotia so when I did my own experience, it was a company and we never knew exactly which person we were going to have on any given day coming in to do the evening cleaning of a school, but there are different models and there are different ways that that can be approached. Clean schools are important and safety is of paramount concern for all of us.
MR. BAIN: I guess the reason I'm going at this, Madam Minister, is the fact that somebody at some point, should our schools not maintain cleanliness, has to take responsibility. You've referenced cleaning staff - custodial/cleaning/janitorial staff - and you're correct, it is different in different parts of the province. Some are private contractors that come in, but when it's something that's done by a board, without layoffs, another alternative they might have is reduced hours.
You still have the same square footage and I'll use one particular school. They have a custodian in the daytime during school hours. There's a cleaner who comes in at night and that cleaner has the responsibility of cleaning the school and having it ready for the next morning. So that individual, I think, probably works four to six hours - and I'm just using this as an example - but all of a sudden that individual's hours might be reduced from six hours to three hours, or from six hours to four hours, whatever the case might be. That individual can't do the job he or she did in the six hours, in four hours, without affecting the cleanliness of the school.
So I'm going back to responsibility again here. Whose responsibility is it? The board is forced to make those cuts, be it layoffs or reduction of hours, because of the cuts that have come down from your department and they've looked at every possible alternative that's out there. Again, I'm just being hypothetical, please. They're focusing on janitorial staff at this point. Schools are not maintained as well. The board has done everything they can, as I say, because of the cuts. Whose responsibility is it if that school is not clean?
MS. JENNEX: It's the responsibility of the principal to make sure that the schools are maintained appropriately. I just want to share that over the course of my career, not all custodians are created equal. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks of diligence on the part of the principal to get another person in, but the responsibility sits with the principal to make sure that the school is maintained appropriately.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, I don't want to belabour this but the responsibility, yes, does lie with the principal of the school but with limited resources at his or her disposal, something has to suffer. So is the principal still responsible because, first of all, the custodian of his or her school is now also the custodian of a neighbouring school and another neighbouring school. So that person is now looking after two or three schools. So are you saying the responsibility actually lies with the principal?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, the responsibility to make sure that the school is clean is the principal's responsibility to let the school board know, if there's a problem at the school. The principal needs to work with the school board if there's a problem with the custodial aspect and the cleanliness of the school. The responsibility for cleanliness of the schools does sit with the school board.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Chairman, I think the minister knows where I'm going because although the responsibility does lie with the school board, the school board has been cut back by this government and can't do the job that it is supposed to do as well.
Anyway, Mr. Chairman, I would like to give up the rest of my time to the member for Inverness, if I can at this time, and thank you, Madam Minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, minister and department staff for entertaining some questions. My questions are all mostly around history and the curriculum, so I thought I would just give you that as an introduction, maybe to help you prepare for responses.
There are a couple of ethnic groups that I represent in my constituency of Inverness: the Gaelic-speaking peoples and the Aboriginal peoples as well. I know when I went through school I didn't learn a lot about my own history. In fact, I didn't really learn about it until I went to university and while I was at university, most of it I learned about because of people I met there. It was transformational in my life and I think it would have been nice to have learned that going through the school curriculum here in Nova Scotia.
I have an interest to ensure that the people I represent from those backgrounds get a chance to learn more about who their people were. Because I think for young people it helps to ground them, helps them to maybe become interested in things like history because it is more relevant to them. Helps them value where they come from, value themselves, and I think you get better learning outcomes out of that.
My question, the first question is, would the Department of Education - and I'm sure you probably do already, but I think there's an opportunity with the newly-established Office of Gaelic Affairs, to draw upon that office as a resource for developing curriculum for history for the Primary to Grade 12 in our school system. Could you give some commentary on that, if that is something that your department is - if you're using them as a resource now or if you would look to use them, to help bring more of the history and the knowledge that could be gained from that office and bring it into the curriculum for Nova Scotian students? Thank you.
MS. JENNEX: It's one of those questions that I know a couple of things about that I want to share but if you'll just indulge me for two seconds, I would just like to share some information with your colleague.
I would like to go back to the question that you asked about CUPE and about did I know of any negotiations going on at any point with school boards and I said that it doesn't sit with the Department of Education, but I do know that we have been doing some work with Sheila Landry's office around CUPE, so I'd like just to tell you now that we have changed our negotiations with CUPE: it will now be done by the Department of Education, not by school boards. I knew we were working on that but I didn't know where we were, so I've been - we're at that point now so thank you very much. I thought that you'd like to know that information and I didn't know if we had dotted the i's and crossed the t's on that, but we have, so thank you for the question. I was glad I was able to clarify it before you left - I'm not allowed to say if someone leaves - while you are still sitting there. Thank you.
Now Gaelic, I have to tell you, I have a colleague in the Annapolis Valley who speaks Gaelic and we don't really have a component of Gaelic in the Valley, a group of people, because it's more in your area of the province that people have that richness, and especially with a Minister of Health, too, in the Antigonish area. I see the passion that this teacher has brought to a group of students and has taught them dance, songs and a little choir performs at some of our heritage fair productions and they've learned through the passion of a teacher. But we do have a component of Gaelic within our Social Studies, I think in the Grade 3 curriculum there's a little piece in there.
Another thing is that we just published a book for Her Honour, Mayann Francis, a year ago. I don't know if you've had the opportunity of seeing Angel. When we published Angel, in house publishing, we had Angel in English, Mi'Kmaq, Gaelic and French. So we recognized those as our languages here in Nova Scotia. When we send out the book we send it out as a package of Angel and the Lieutenant Governor's cat, I think the name of it is Angel.
We recognize it within the Department of Education, it is one of our cultural languages. We don't translate things into Gaelic; we do translate everything into French and into English. We also have Gaelic studies within our curriculum but your question was, we have a Gaelic Department and are we utilizing and are we partnering with it? I'm looking at you and I know that there's a project or something that I know I've read about and I'm going to have to go back and do a little bit of work on that.
There's an opportunity for students to learn the richness of the culture, especially in the Cape Breton area. I know that a lot of the students in the Cape Breton area are able to take studies at the Gaelic College too.
We're always open to providing opportunities within our school system that motivate students. If it's something that we can see that children want and they are motivated and could even be more motivated to excel in their studies by adding a component in, definitely we can look to see what we can do, absolutely. Anything that we can do to enhance our students' education, have them develop a strong sense of who they are and if we can make sure that it boosts their self-esteem, have another way of learning and actually learning another language, too, is just so important.
It's one of my biggest regrets in my life, not studying a language well enough to speak it. I've studied languages but only enough to read it, not to be able to have a conversation, but it does something wonderful to the brain to be able to learn another language and I always appreciate when you do a resolution in Gaelic.
Definitely, there are opportunities and so hopefully when the House rises later on in the Spring, summer, whenever we rise, I invite you and I to sit down and have a conversation about coming up with some ideas that we might be able to work on and I welcome that. Anything that we can do to enhance our school system, I'm there.
MR. MACMASTER: Minister, I want to thank you for that offer. That is very kind and I will certainly take you up on that. I look forward to sitting down with you. It's kind of an interesting situation because a lot of young people don't really - and actually not just young people either we could go back the last probably 60 or 70 years. A lot of people . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order please. The discussions seem to be getting kind of loud and if you would like to carry them on that's great, just do it outside the Chamber please.
The honourable member for Inverness has the floor.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I was just saying that we could probably go back 60 or 70 years, where people don't really understand where they came from. I remember, just for your interest, I remember meeting with a gentleman who was quite older at the time. When I was going to university I went to see him because he was a native Gaelic speaker and he was telling me what they went through when they went to school and it was surprising because Gaelic was seen as something backward. It was discouraged and actually, if some of the children came to the school speaking it, they were even punished for it.
There was all this negativity around the language and when you're living in a world where everybody tells you that what you are speaking is backwards and you are a child, it becomes an embarrassment to the parent. Then what we saw was that people stopped speaking Gaelic at home because people saw all the pain that it caused for them and not wanting their children to go through that, the language started to die and that's really why the language died.
I think it's nice to see that you are open, and the Department of Education today is open, to helping to fix that because otherwise we will see our population cling to things that they feel may be representative of their culture but it may not have a lot to do with the culture and we've seen that, too. I just wanted to make that point, just to put it in context. That's where I'm coming from anyway. So I will definitely take you up on that and I appreciate that.
The next question I have is around the Aboriginal population that I represent, which is quite significant. In Waycobah there's a population of about 800 people. Again, I guess I like to put things in my own personal experience. I didn't know a lot about those people growing up, even though they were just a short drive away, but becoming educated and learning about their history has made me appreciate what they went through and I think Nova Scotians would benefit by learning more about them as well.
I know there is information in the curriculum now, which helps to educate people. There's an excellent book by Daniel Paul, you're probably familiar with it, We Were Not The Savages. Is there some way that that book, or segments of that book, could be brought directly into the curriculum for the benefit of young people in Nova Scotia because if they understood what our First Nations people went through, I think that would help our First Nations people but, more importantly, I think it would help us all in our interactions with our Aboriginal people so that we have more interaction with them?
I know the reservation system, in the sense that it keeps them together, is good to help preserve and maintain their culture, but at the same time I think it's important for us to be interacting with them more and what better way to start that off than to give people an understanding of their culture and their history - where they came from. Specifically, I would like to reference Daniel Paul's book and whether or not that book could be brought into the curriculum, perhaps for high school classes, as an entire book to be read, or segments of the book could be brought into history courses in the curriculum.
MS. JENNEX: You've just hit on one of my passions. The education of our population around all of our groups that have been marginalized and oppressed is something that I hold very dear to my heart. Nova Scotia is a great province but we still have a lot of work to do around the understanding of the diversity in this province. The Mi'kmaq nation, here in Nova Scotia, has been marginalized and oppressed for many, many years and their language almost disappeared for the same reasons that you spoke about Gaelic, about not being able to speak the language and so the language being lost.
The nucleus, the heart, the core of any culture is their language. You need to speak the language and I know that in a number of our schools within the province we do have the language being relearned and taught in the community, which is important in language, you know, books in Mi'kmaq. It is an oral language but it has now been transcribed, of course, into books. It's so important that we do this work. The Department of Education has - is Candy's title, a coordinator or director? Candy Palmeter is our education officer and works in the Department of Education. Candy, I think most people know Candy Palmeter. She's a lawyer, activist, comedian, you name it, Candy can do it all. Anyway, she works in the Department of Education and she is our education officer and keeps the Education Department connected with all of the communities, works within the community, makes sure resources are in the community, negotiates agreement. Of course, as you know, First Nations education is covered under federal, but there are students here in Nova Scotia, so we support them through that division in the department.
Dan Paul and his book, We Were Not The Savages - I think it's in its fourth print at this particular point - is a book I think all Nova Scotians need to read but not all Nova Scotians are going to take the time, one, to read and not all Nova Scotians learn by reading a book. (Interruption) We're having a good conversation here.
Your question was, can we use this book in our school system as part of a course? I think it is part of our Book Bureau course for - I don't know if it's taught, per se, as a book because we have bias evaluation that it needs to go if it can be used as a classroom book, but I think it's in supplemental reading for sure. We have a course, Mi'kmaq Studies; one of my own children took that. It's not offered in every school in every year because we have Black Cultural Studies and also Mi'kmaq Studies. It's one of the histories that you can take. It is a very popular course and a lot of students who take that course, their eyes are opened. I know it's a very intense course for our young people.
You're asking about Daniel Paul's book, I think it is in schools. We take this very seriously to not only support our First Nations students here in Nova Scotia but to support all of our students in learning the culture of the First Nations community, their history, the oppression. I want to share something that was heartbreaking to me as a teacher, in talking to some of my students over the years. I remember this one moment when I was talking about somebody that was a First Nations, one of the children in my class looked up at me and said, but they're all gone. They didn't recognize that the Mi'kmaq nation is alive and well here in Nova Scotia. Their idea of a First Nations person was a stereotype in a book - one of our history books that is on a shelf - back in the 1800s when Europeans first started landing. That's their stereotype.
We need to break that. We have to name people who are in our community who are First Nations, who are doing fantastic work. We have to recognize that we have a lot of work to do. We're going to continue that work; it's not going to be done overnight. We have a lot of barriers that we have to break down in people's minds because it is hard to break down a stereotype, as you know.
We're doing that work within the department. We have courses in the school. We have Candy, who is an excellent resource. We have good communication with First Nations communities because of the work that Candy's doing. We're also doing work, of course, with our African Nova Scotia community and also, I don't want to ever forget our Acadian community. Our Acadian community and our African Nova Scotia communities have also been oppressed in this province over the years. The Acadian language, I know at one point, was never allowed to be spoken in school and they almost lost their language. As you know now, in this province, we have an Acadian school board and so that language is being revitalized here in Nova Scotia. We have Mi'kmaq language being taught in many of our First Nations communities, which is the ability for that language to be alive and well within the community. We'll start working on making sure we get some more Gaelic going here too.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, minister. Of course, the Acadian people are another significant cultural group that I represent in Inverness. It is great to see the developments they've made over the years to have their own school board and to have some more control over ensuring their culture continues.
My next question is - I have a couple more questions. How much time do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Roughly 23 minutes.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay. My next question, last year I asked a question - I'm just curious to see if there has been any progress made. One of the challenges in teaching Gaelic in the school, because there are not a lot of Gaelic teachers and there's not a lot of opportunity for Gaelic teachers, for people who are getting educated to be able to teach. What is important, and I guess what I asked last year, would there be multi-year funding put in place so that there would be some more stability around the program offered? What was happening was the schools didn't know, until very close to the start of the school year, whether or not they would be able to offer a class. So somebody who was ready to teach, and maybe students ready to learn, the decision whether or not they could offer the course was happening right near the start of the year and was causing a lot of disruption and problems.
A suggestion was made to have a multi-year funding approach to it so that it would bring stability and remove that risk. Has there been any progress made towards that multi-year funding support?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, yes, because we have it based as grants, we have $300,000 in grants available for Gaelic language instruction. Now I would like to - my department did give me information. Gaelic language instruction is offered in six schools in Nova Scotia. It is at varying levels but it is - so we have six schools that have it. We will find out a little bit later, this isn't the fine detail, but Gaelic Studies is offered in 15 schools and expanding.
So to answer the first question you asked earlier, so we do have some language in schools, we can find out which schools, probably I would imagine in the Antigonish area or in your area, but we have Gaelic Studies offered in 15 schools and expanding, so that's good news.
In terms of stable funding, we provide that through the department, so it's not in the formula, it's in a grant basis, so it's stable.
MR. MACMASTER: I appreciate the fact that it is stable and the commitment is made to it. I guess I'm not sure if it addresses the issue or not. I guess if it's stable they can depend on it going forward, so there shouldn't be any pushback from a school board or a school that would suggest that the money is not there to support the teacher to teach for the year. So if that's the case, we'll stop at that and we'll move to the next. (Interruption) Oh sure, I'll let the minister respond.
MS. JENNEX: There has been no reduction in that, so that's stable. The other thing, I have had clarified, I just happen to have all the copies of Daniel Paul's We Were Not The Savages book myself and know that fine man personally. He has done a lot of fine work in Nova Scotia. I can imagine that it's a painful process to tell his story to so many people to inform them, so that you can do that shift. I just wanted to let you know that the resource We Were Not The Savages is the resource for Mi'kmaq Studies 10 and it is on our approved reading list. So it is in the schools and it is being used.
MR. MACMASTER: That's excellent, minister. I know I speak with Mr. Paul myself on occasion and so that's good to hear that that's the case. I know at one time we talked about it and tried to get it incorporated so I'm glad to hear that it's happening and it has happened.
My next question, I expect there probably is somebody at the Department of Education - I think the person who used to be responsible may no longer be working in the department but the question being - is there a person at the Department of Education who is devoted to ensuring that any initiatives out of the Office of Gaelic Affairs would be supported within the education system? Is there a person identified in the department to be responsive, to ensure that there is good communication flow and that things are moving in the right direction?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, we do have someone in the department who does coordinate that. That is Ann Blackwood's department so, if it's not Ann herself, it would be someone in that department who would be overseeing that.
MR. MACMASTER: Here's another question, and I know this is a small part of your department, I almost feel bad asking these things because you may not be aware. I'm sure you're familiar with the International Baccalaureate program and there was a move afoot to try to get Gaelic accepted under that program so that it could be offered in Nova Scotia, so that the education could be taught in Gaelic and it would qualify for that program. There are numerous languages around the world that are acceptable or that have been approved. Has the department advanced anything in that for Gaelic, in terms of that International Baccalaureate program?
MS. JENNEX: That is information I don't know anything about at this time but we definitely can have a look at that. I have two things I'd like to say about the International Baccalaureate program but I'd like to backtrack, too, on something I just thought of around the Gaelic language.
You've heard me speak about the personal credit that we are going to be offering for high school students. One of the things we are working on right now is recognizing a student's ability to have another language. We come to school, if we're English speaking, we'll learn French in school, or another language. Or, if we're French speaking, we learn English - what students start learning - another language in our school system, there's always English-French, French-English. Many of our students actually know another language or have learned another language and they need to be recognized for the fact they've attained a language or have a language that they didn't learn in our school system.
So if we have a student that does not have Gaelic in the school but is learning Gaelic and gets to a certain level in Gaelic, they will be, through this framework with the personal development credit, able to count that as a credit for their graduation. So, we are starting this course - or non-course, if you know what I mean, it's something students do outside of school but get a credit for it in school. We know we have the framework around cadets and 4H, there's a framework in place, but we're working on how we can evaluate the language and the music and the dance component of it for a student. That would fall in under that particular piece.
This is from Ann's office - the International Baccalaureate said, no, they wouldn't be considering Gaelic. (Interruption) I gave you a little bit of good news with the first one. The International Baccalaureate program is something that I think all Nova Scotians, especially all of us here, should be very proud that our Province of Nova Scotia offers the International Baccalaureate program for any student who wants to take it. If a student wants to take it, we have enough centres around Nova Scotia where teachers get trained to do that, that any child that wants to take it can take it at no charge to them.
Mind you, if you're a student who needs to travel, you would have to pay your own travel; your family would have to arrange that. School boards wouldn't be arranging transportation. You would be able to take it at another school if you're outside the district. We are finding children in Nova Scotia who take the International Baccalaureate program are outperforming pretty well everybody. It's interesting because we, in Nova Scotia, take students who want to take it. They don't have to jump through any hoops. If they want to take it and they are dedicated, they can have it.
The investment that we, as a province, are putting in for our students to do that is actually reaping the rewards for these students who are receiving millions of dollars in scholarships. It's absolutely unbelievable how much these students are able - so they're actually leaving our school system all with scholarships, paying for their post-secondary, which is fantastic. We are the only province in Canada that publicly funds IB and I didn't realize that until I was being interviewed around the IB. It is different models throughout Canada. It's offered through private schools in some provinces. It's offered in the school system at a fee for other provinces. In Nova Scotia, where anyone can take it at no charge, we are actually outperforming everyone else in Canada. So we've got to be proud of that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness with approximately 11 minutes left.
MR. MACMASTER: That is a wonderful thing, minister, that's a great thing.
I do have one question left here. I think about in the area that I represent we have - it's funny, I noticed an announcement that I think came out yesterday about funding support for rural schools or schools that were considered isolated and I believe every school in my constituency was on the list - but what it says is that we have communities that have declined over the years, like everywhere else in rural Canada, or the world I suppose for that matter. What we have is a situation where we have buildings, some of them are fairly new, so the school boards can't change those costs, they are fixed. The population is declining, the number of children is declining, and I guess what I'm thinking about is you still have to have a school every so far apart because you can't have children on the bus for an hour and a half, or if you count both distances, two and a half hours a day to and from school.
So I guess I'm trying to think of ways that government could try to keep schools alive in these communities and my question is, are you looking at any ideas to maintain education in rural areas and, specifically, have you considered allowing students in urban areas to take classes by tuning into classrooms in a rural area? I'll give you one example - and I learned this on Take Your MLA to School Day - I was in Inverness and one of the classes was a music class. We have lots of musicians around home so I think it's very appropriate that the school offers a music class. I think of the school I went to - tons of musicians who are making their career at music today came out of that school - we never had music. It was all learned at home or on the side. So I think it's important that music is offered in school. We see it in Inverness now, which is good.
So my question is, have we considered - I know there are students in Halifax who are taking Gaelic and there are probably students in Halifax who would like to learn to play music that comes from Inverness County and they could tune in by way of modern technology. That would keep the teacher in Inverness and it would keep the class alive in Inverness and it would give the students in Halifax a unique experience of being able to tune into something, maybe their parents are from Inverness for all we know, but (Interruption) Yes, well, there you go, there you go. So I guess my question is, are you looking at initiatives like that that would help to bolster a case to keep these schools alive in rural areas by tuning into students from the urban areas so that we're not just all about centralization and letting the weaker or smaller areas die?
MS. JENNEX: I won't say they're weaker. They might be smaller in number but our rural areas are not weak, they're strong. They just don't have as many people in them. (Interruption) Thank you for bringing this up.
We've done a number of things in this government to make sure that school boards are going to have the appropriate funding around isolated schools. Just our geography - we have areas where it's just not feasible to consolidate. It's not feasible to close small schools to take them to a bigger school because we cannot have our children on buses two hours one way and two hours another. So meeting with the boards over the last number of months and revising the formula, we now factor in what we call small, isolated schools. Sometimes it can be a small school, and I'll explain that in a minute, but isolated. I know you're dealing with isolated schools.
To be a small and isolated elementary school is defined by 20 students at a grade level, so if there are only 20 - it's not by class, 20 less in a class - it's by grade level, per grade, less than 20 students per grade and for small and isolated junior high it's 40 in a grade level. So that defines the small. But isolated is very clearly defined by - if it's an extra half an hour from the school to another school but that also the formula is taking into consideration the geography around the school. You might have a child driving on a bus to get to school for 45 minutes, once they're at school that's factored in too. It's the factor of the 30 minutes from a junior high to a junior high, an elementary to an elementary, the like kind of school.
We've looked at that. We're providing, within the formula, $22 million in the formula that goes to the school boards to support the isolated school. The money doesn't go to school. It's not divvied out to the school; it is the school board that then funds the teacher, or paying for the extra space that the school has for the maintenance of that, because if you have to heat the whole building and it is half empty, you still have to heat the whole thing. You can't heat just a part of a building; you have to heat the whole thing and maintain the whole building, so that is factored into the formula to recognize, especially in your area, that we have isolated schools.
In small schools, in high schools, once the capacity in a high school is a certain level, even though it might not necessarily be a small school in anyone's eyes, to have all the programming there we've added extra FTEs into the formula for smaller high schools. We grandparented all the schools that were small, in the formula, too - 98 schools in the province that fall under that, that's the uniqueness of Nova Scotia.
In reaching our small, isolated schools or isolated schools, we have brought in the virtual school, which is now part of Kids and Learning First. There are 22 courses now offered by this and we're expanding to 44 so that every student in the province can get their high school in a virtual way - not that we would want them to - but so every course will be taught that a child would need to graduate and have the choice.
So if you're up in Inverness and you want to take chemistry and you're the only one in your class that wants to take advanced chemistry, you can tap into a live-time, virtual class. Now where that teacher sits - the teacher that teaches virtual school can sit anywhere because the technology is in place. Some teachers actually sit at Central Kings, there are a couple of courses that teachers teach from Central Kings; I know down in Chignecto they have a couple of teachers down there that teach courses, and I know in Halifax.
It's the expertise of the teacher that brings that to the class of virtual high school. I've done it myself and I've watched it and I've done it. It is just amazing. We also have Skype in schools and other technology but the virtual school, the actual course, is all done on-line. The curriculum - the child does the curriculum, all the lessons, everything is on-line. It's absolutely fabulous and it's live- time with the teacher.
You can talk to the teacher. You just press whatever button you want to make sure that the teacher is the only one who sees your text, or you can talk to the whole class. You can talk to the class and to the teacher using the mike system but you also can communicate using text back and forth. You can do your lessons in the evening.
I'm actually hearing from teachers - and I haven't mentioned this in the House - that teachers are saying that they thought, when they first started doing it, that you would be teaching a group of children in the province and there wouldn't be a sense of community but the interesting thing is that our children are being raised in a different era and they actually have a great sense of community because I guess these classes communicate with each other as friends through Facebook and Tweeting and all rest. Their class is as tight as a class that would physically be together. They really develop friendships, which is good to know.
In terms of the Gaelic Studies one, I don't know if that's one that's part of our list. I know that we've got music as one of the ones that we're working on and I know that we've got an art one. I can get the list that we're working on but when you and I sit together after the House rises and have a cup of coffee, we need to do a little brainstorming. I think that we can see what we can do there.
We need to make sure that (Interruption) What did you say, sir? Maybe we might not have coffee, he is from Cape Breton.
So we've got the funding formulae for your schools. We've got virtual school. We also have the Community Use of Schools Grants, so that people in your community, especially the richness that you have in your community around music, that they can actually now have a grant to be able to open up the school in the evening and cover the cost of either the janitor, security or the cost of the facilitator. That is what that Community Use of Schools Grants - the school boards have it, so it doesn't need to be a teacher or a parent, it can be someone in the community who can use the school, so the Community Use of Schools Grants is there.
We recognize that in Nova Scotia we are going to have small schools. I think I went to probably one of the smallest small schools in Nova Scotia because I went to school in a one-room schoolhouse when I was in elementary school and all of my cousins were in that school, in every grade, from Primary to Grade 6. So I went to school in a very isolated school and it was a wonderful experience. So, small can be mighty when you have the services and we're going to make sure that we have the services for the isolated schools.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for the Progressive Conservative Party has elapsed. We will now turn to the Official Opposition.
The honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. ZACH CHURCHILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My first question to the minister is, has the cost of educating a student in Nova Scotia increased or decreased over the course of the past 10 years?
MS. JENNEX: A good question and an interesting question. We are in changing times right now and if the member heard my comments on isolated schools, we recognize that we have costs that we have to provide for schools that don't have students at the capacity that we have. We are in a situation with as many students who have exited out of the system - 30,000 - and we're going to actually be down. By the year 2020 we will have the same number of students that we did in 1910. So actually the costs are not going to be the same because we have fewer students but that's balanced out, too, with the fixed costs that schools have. So we are increasing our funding, even though our enrolment is going down. School boards are doing a good job of looking at regional - we're asking them to look at schools regionally, to be more efficient. So the cost of educating a student, we are recognizing and providing an increase to the school boards' per-student funding.
MR. CHURCHILL: So I assume when the budgets are being proposed that the allocated amounts will be based on the actual costs per student? We hear a lot in this House about funding per student, so specifically, has the cost per student to educate a student in Nova Scotia, has that increased over the course of the past 10 years or decreased - the actual cost, per student, of educating that student?
MS. JENNEX: We are increasing funding per student and that money goes to the school boards based on the enrolment, for them to provide a service to meet the needs of the students.
MR. CHURCHILL: So the allocated amount of funding that is delivered per student, based on what we've heard from the minster, I would assume that is based - based on common budgeting practices - on an actual cost of funding per student. Has the actual cost to educate a student in Nova Scotia increased or decreased over the course of the past 10 years?
MS. JENNEX: We met with the school boards over the last number of months to talk about allocations of funds and how funds have been allocated. The formula was problematic for all eight school boards, for different reasons.
After the 24 meetings there's a consensus that the formula, which is still the Hogg formula but with revisions, allocates the money to the school boards based on the needs that the school board has. It looks at the transportation costs; it looks at the student programs. All of those things are taken into consideration when they go through the formula and then translate out into the budget allocation to each of the school boards.
Our government has looked at the issue of fixed costs and also the costs that will - 85 per cent of education is people. That's because education is all about people so that is taken into consideration in the formula. Based on our enrolment figures, there are 361 more teachers teaching right now than there were 10 years ago so we're meeting the needs in terms of smaller class sizes as we have our declining enrolment. We have increased funding per student that goes out to the school boards.
MR. CHURCHILL: The fact that the minister can't clearly answer what the actual cost of funding per student is, shows that the issue is a lot more complicated than has been portrayed in this House and in the public. The minister and this government have actually shown a graph that indicates that because enrolment is going down, for some reason the costs of educating students goes down, but tonight the minister can't even actually explain whether the costs of educating each student in the province has gone up or not. I think it's important to recognize that the issue is a lot more complicated than presenting a graph and saying because enrolment is going down, funding should drop as well. I think it's important to recognize that and the minister has made that very clear by her inability to actually answer that question.
My next question is, the amount of children with identified learning disabilities, how many of those children are in our system now compared to 2002, 10 years ago?
MS. JENNEX: The question that the member opposite asked was how many students did we have 10 years ago compared to how many students we have with identified learning disabilities. I don't know the data collection 10 years ago and how it was compiled. Now we have a better system in place for identification. That's another consideration too - that we need to make sure we collect data and that we assess and evaluate programs to see if they are being successful. We also need to have data and documentation, and through iNSchool we'll be able to track and identify when a child has been identified with or diagnosed with a learning disability or some other area of special need.
I don't have any information in front of me here that has any comparison. The only thing I have information on is that we know that in terms of autism, we have some numbers associated with diagnosed children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism over the last number of years. I don't have that information but I do know that has risen over the last number of years.
In terms of data to compare 10 years ago to today, I don't have any here and I don't know if we would have that in the department. Even if we did, we have to make sure that it's very standard documentation that we're comparing apples to apples and not what someone considered a learning disability 10 years ago to what's considered a learning disability now. I know that 10 years ago certain learning disabilities had a name and were narrowly defined but we're recognizing that learning disabilities are not a one-size-fits-all disability. They are quite unique and need to be treated in an individualized manner.
The current rate of autism in Nova Scotia is 1 in 110, at this point. We are now gathering statistics and it's important that we gather the statistics so that we are able to respond appropriately with programs and services. If we don't compile information appropriately, then we won't be able to provide the services, so iNSchool is one area where we'll be able to collect that.
MR. CHURCHILL: Does the department not have data which identifies an increase or decrease in students in our education system that have an identified learning disability?
MS. JENNEX: The Department of Education, teachers, and schools identify a child by the child. We don't identify children under categories. We have data around autism and the prevalence of autism in terms of casework, but we don't identify in terms of categories and students by a disability. We identify the student as having a - we have a Student Services Division component in the Department of Education with people who have a great deal of expertise and experience with children with any form of significant need. The information or data comparing a 10-year - from point A to point B - is not information I have and I don't know if they have.
We deal with children on an individual basis to make sure that we're meeting their needs.
MR. CHURCHILL: So this is the challenge that we are faced with. We have a Department of Education that is unaware of whether the costs of educating a student has increased or decreased in the last 10 years, is unaware of an increase or decrease in students in our system that have special needs, yet will argue in this House and in public that because enrolment is going down, somehow the costs go down with it. This is the challenge that we're faced with here. If the data's not there to support the argument that enrolment goes down, costs should go down, minister, how can we support decreasing funding to education just because enrolment is going down? What has become clear is that there is not necessarily a correlation between the cost of education and enrolment, as clear and defined as the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Education and the Premier would make us believe.
My next question is, does the minister still assert that because enrolment is going down, costs associated with educating our students goes down as well?
MS. JENNEX: I'd like to make two points. The information we have on our students, year over year, is provided through the school boards to the Department of Education. The Department of Education meets regularly with the superintendents. Student Services also meets with teachers and people in the school boards who deal with students with special needs, to talk about services and what is being provided and the costs associated with that.
That, year over year, is articulated back and forth between the board and the department. So we met with the school boards, 24 meetings, which was one component that the envelope for special education felt was not - they were spending in the end more than the envelope, so we increased the allocation, $12.2 million. So year over year, with the communication back and forth from the school board to the department, is how that is calculated.
The second question he asked, I'm getting a little tired so I missed - your question was?
MR. CHURCHILL: My question is, does the minister still hold that because enrolment is dropping, that means that the costs of education need to coincide with that decrease?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for that, I appreciate that. As you know, I taught for many years. When I first started teaching, I taught a Grade 2 class in Canning. I had over 30 students in that Grade 2 class - actually, well over 32, I think; I should actually look it up - it was about 35 students in that class when I started teaching in 1979.
The school was busting at the seams and the teacher who taught across from me was actually teaching a class in what was almost a closet, it was so small. Every bit of that school was being utilized, it was busting at the seams.
Then Coldbrook and District School was built. It was a school built for 500 students. When I went to work there they had a science lab, a music room, a class for French, a resource room. Within a year the music teacher lost the music room. There was no lab anymore because every bit of that school was utilized by people. It was busting at the seams and then we had to put - we called them cottages - out back, two portables. Every bit of the school had desks and chairs because the school had well over 600 students. We just had to utilize every space.
Today that school, half of it is being used as offices because the students have disappeared, the cottages are gone - I don't know where they went - they're gone. So what we're seeing is buildings without students in them anymore, so the cost for education has decreased in the province, in terms of - we don't have the students. We have classes that are not coming to school.
I talked to a principal in the Hants area and when I asked him - and Dr. Lowe was with me - I said, how many students are you expecting for Primary next year? I have a vested interest in Primary since my 5-year-old grandson is in Primary this year. He stopped and looked and he just stared for a few minutes - none. So we have schools where literally no Primary students will be coming into next year. We're finding that our schools are losing students. It's sad, it's a challenge; it's heartbreaking. Because we are losing schools and schools have been consolidated, the cost is decreasing that we need to have - we don't need to have as many teachers when there are not as many students but we are still making sure that we have appropriate funding in place to make sure that we have low class sizes in the province. We have, on average now, the lowest class size that we've had in a generation.
When I first started teaching I taught over 30 in a Grade 2 class, well over 30. We do make sure that - and principals are great about knowing their students and how to put a class together, so in some schools you might have a low number in one class and a little bit bigger in another. Some classes do a multi-age, sometimes - I don't like to use the word split because that is not looking at the whole class - but a multi-age class. Principals are combining classes or putting classes together. Some schools have only seven children in one grade. We have challenges.
But absolutely, yes, the funding does not need to be increased. It needs to decrease based on - we have schools now that don't have students in them, so it is much more effective and efficient for the school boards to consolidate in some areas. In the areas that they can't - the member opposite is in an area where most of the schools in his area are isolated and we have that in the formula to provide the funding for the schools that need - well, we don't give it to the school, we give it to the school board to put that in place.
Also, we are providing services because of the small class sizes in some places and not being able to have a teacher teach one class in advanced chemistry, for example, that just doesn't make - well, we might not have the teacher for chemistry, providing that expertise through Virtual School.
There are cost-effective ways that we are reaching our children so that they are still able to have the services that they need.
MR. CHURCHILL: What we've identified is that just because - and I want the minister to clarify her position on this - just because enrolment is dropping doesn't necessarily mean the cost of educating our young people is dropping. The actual issue is much more complex than that and so I would like the minister to clarify her thoughts on that and also answer this question: when it comes to the fixed costs of education, the fixed costs, have they decreased in our education? Have the fixed costs decreased in our education system over the course of the last 10 years?
Just because there are, say, 30 people less in a school doesn't necessarily mean the costs associated with running that school decrease. There are still custodial services. We still need a principal. We still need teachers. We still need buses. Whether there is one individual on a bus route or 20, that bus still needs to go that route to make sure those children are able to get to class.
So have the fixed costs associated with our education system dropped, and if so, by how much? Could you please provide the data to the House?
MS. JENNEX: The fixed costs have definitely been taken into consideration with this budget, and as I said, we are making sure our budget does meet the needs of our students. The budget reduction is 75 per cent of enrolment decline.
I just would like to add to the member opposite's comments. The costs in the public school system were rising and rising under the other government and we are recognizing now, with data, that unfortunately, even with the increased spending, our students were faring no better in some areas and less in others. Adding more and more money for more consultants and more mentors or more programs or whatever, the price was going up like this and our students were not doing any better.
We are making sure the money that this government is investing in students is going to meet their needs. We have a plan - it's Kids and Learning First. We are making sure that we are investing in skilled trades, Virtual School. We're investing in making sure that in every county in this province - and there are quite a few of them, over 50 - that there is going to be a SchoolsPlus site in every one of the counties so that children have access to services in their community through a school.
We need to have schools alive and vibrant, in our rural communities as well as being in our urban centres, so we're investing in SchoolsPlus, Virtual School, skilled trades. We're also investing in the Community Use of Schools Grant Program so that schools can be used after school for the community, to provide - it could be physical activity, arts and culture.
We are also expanding by doubling our skilled-trades site in this province. We have funding in this budget to make sure that we are going to be providing experiences for our students which will motivate them, give them the ability to move towards a skilled-trades job, if that's their choice.
We also fund IB; we are the only province in Canada that, in our funding formula, funds the IB program. Any student in the Province of Nova Scotia in high school, who wants to take the International Baccalaureate program, can take it. That is funded publicly.
We are making sure that we are meeting the needs of our students, through our Kids and Learning First. We are recognizing what we are doing well. We are recognizing what we need to build on. One of them is to make sure that we provide them a math program that they're not only going to learn, they're going to excel. We're working on making sure that what we're working on is going to be appropriate and make sure our students are successful.
We have a lot of projects we are working on that we have already started, and we're working on making sure that our students are successful. We are providing the supports that students need in our school. We work with the school boards. We hear what is happening in the school boards. We know what learning looks like in the 21st Century. Children in our system are well taken care of by the Kids and Learning First plan. (Applause)
The teachers in this province are the best-trained teachers in Canada and they're doing a great job, and they are part of the Kids and Learning First plan. We are going to continue to make sure we have standards in place that teachers teach the courses that they are trained to teach and have the experience to teach. We are going to be working with them to provide professional learning communities in schools.
We have a plan; we are going to make sure that we are successful with our students.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Yarmouth with six seconds.
MR. CHURCHILL: We have learned that this government doesn't know how much it costs to train a student, we've learned that they don't know what the . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Committee of the Whole House on Supply has elapsed for today.
When we start it again, the Official Opposition will have 24 minutes left in their time period.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I move that the Committee of the Whole House on Supply do now rise and report progress and beg leave to meet once again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 9:13 p.m.]