HALIFAX, MONDAY, MAY 2, 2016
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Patricia Arab
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I'd like to welcome everybody to the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply. With us today, we have the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development to go over the estimates for her budget. My name is Patricia Arab, and I'll be acting as Chair until Gordon Wilson is back.
Resolution E5 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,279,532,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Education and early Childhood Development, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I'll invite the minister to begin with some opening statements.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Thank you very much. I'm pleased to be here today to speak about the Education and Early Childhood Development budget and our government's investment in education, the public school and in the early years. I'd like to begin by introducing those at the table: Deputy Minister Sandra McKenzie and David Potter, Director of Finance Services. Between the three of us, we hope we can answer the questions that are asked. If we cannot, we'll certainly make a commitment that we will provide answers to the member who has asked the question.
As the Minister responsible for Education and Early Childhood Development and as the MLA for Colchester North, I am proud of this year's budget and what it means to our province. Budget 2016-17 invests in opportunities for growth in our province. It invests in education, youth and job training. Most important, it shows continued fiscal leadership to protect the high-quality, affordable, public services that all Nova Scotians want and deserve.
This budget is part of a four-year fiscal plan and it demonstrates what sticking to a fiscal plan can accomplish. That accomplishment is a budget that is balanced, a slight surplus and projections for more surpluses in the next years of that four-year fiscal plan. All Nova Scotians need to recognize and be recognized for their role in achieving the balanced budget because it is so important to the future of our province. To get there, there have been difficult decisions and Nova Scotians have stood by us in making those difficult decisions. I am pleased to say that those decisions were not made to the detriment of investing in our youth and in our children.
Through this budget we are highlighting the importance of the early years as the most important part of a child's development. We are investing in this area to support our children, their families and those who care for and teach those children.
Significant investments have also been made in public education in this budget. They are investments that will benefit students and teachers. They are investments that will improve the teaching environment for our teachers and the learning environment for our students.
Our provincial budget was introduced last week, and it was quite fitting that it would be introduced during Education Week. It was the perfect week, in fact, to table a budget that fully appreciates education and our continued setting of education as a priority for this government.
During that Education Week, I had the opportunity to attend the Education Week ceremony to speak with many of the teachers there who were in attendance and who were being acknowledged for their work. I had the opportunity to congratulate them for their great work and to thank them for their continued dedication. Their enthusiasm, their passion, and their commitment are impressive, and we are fortunate to have the quality of teachers that we have in our province today. That total is about 9,000 teachers working in our schools. They are providing instruction and support to about 116,000 students.
This year, our government will be investing an additional $34.9 million in public education, and that brings our total budget for 2016-17 to $1,279,532,000. That amount represents an increase of 2.8 per cent over last year. Our grants to school boards have also increased this year by $11,616,800, for a total of $1,148,463,500 to the eight school boards across the province. In addition to the increase in our overall budget and the increase in our grants to our school boards, the per pupil funding has also increased from $8,887 in the NDP budget of 2013-14 to $10,013 per pupil in our 2016-17 budget.
The question that is asked repeatedly and one that I've answered repeatedly is, so what about the $65 million? I will once again answer and clarify the $65 million. We all remember that $65 million was slashed from classrooms across the province by the NDP Government. It was wrong, and it hurt our students. In some cases, like our Grade 1 students who required support from Reading Recovery, it meant that they were denied the opportunity to learn to read. Teachers in upper elementary classes who now have these children are telling us that they are seeing the negative impact that such a decision has had.
Our commitment to all students was to reinstate the $65 million that had been cut and to do that over the course of our first mandate. We are doing that. In our 2014-15 budget, we reinstated $17.4 million. In 2015-16, we reinstated $20.4 million. In 2016-17, we reinstated $20.9 million. Out of the $65 million, we have now reinvested $58.8 million back into the classrooms in this province. That leaves $6.2 million out of the $65 million for future.
To be specific with our investments, we are investing an additional $6.4 million to maintain small class sizes from Grades Primary to 6. Recognizing the critical need for students to do well in math, we are investing an additional $2.5 million our math strategy and an additional $3.4 million in our literacy strategy. Contrast that to the previous government, which reduced funding and put new burdens on school boards. Education is and will continue to be a priority for this government. We have made it clear: education is not a line item in the budget, it is our future.
Teaching positions have also increased by 385 teaching positions from September 2013 to September 2015. Those are the first two years of Liberal Government. This is in stark contrast to over 300 teaching positions cut by the NDP. We are demonstrating that we do value public education. The 2016-17 budget continues to provide funding to hire 88 more teachers to implement the class cap in Grades 5 and 6, 30 more teachers to work as math mentors and 49 more teachers to provide literacy support. We are hiring more teachers.
We've also conducted the first in-depth look at Nova Scotia's child care sector and it is clear that we need to make improvements and we will. More than 7,000 Nova Scotians responded to our child care review consultations and concerns were raised about accessibility, affordability, quality, support and development of the workforce and structure and governance of our daycare sector. It is clear that over the years early learning has been misunderstood, ignored and definitely underfunded.
We know though research that the early years are critical in a child's development, the most critical being from conception to school age. What we found in October 2013 when we formed government was that the provincial early intervention program was very underfunded with many children on a wait list for services and support. In fact there were over 300 families with preschool children and/or some diagnosed development delays that were on that wait list. In fact many were aging-out to go to school before they ever received any service.
That was wrong and our government knew it was wrong. We invested $2.1 million, hired more interventionists and have now eliminated the wait list. In fact those families who now have a referral will receive support within one month of the referral. Our children deserved that.
We are also making necessary improvements to bring the average wage for trained, early childhood educators in Nova Scotia to the national average and to increase subsidies to low-income families so they can afford to send their children to daycare.
Our budget also includes $500,000 to expand SchoolsPlus in Halifax, Tri-County, Chignecto-Central, and CSAP. I had the opportunity to join students and staff at the opening of the new SchoolsPlus hub site at Riverside Education Centre in Milford. That hub site will support schools along the corridor in providing students and their families with a wide range of supports.
We are also providing $672,000 to place six more mental health clinicians in our SchoolsPlus sites. Mental health clinicians are an important part of the success of SchoolsPlus. They provide care and support to students who are experiencing a mental health issue or have mental illness, and they help parents connect with the resources they need for their son or daughter. With these additional mental health clinicians, now more students will have access to this critical service.
Madam Chairman, each and every one of these initiatives aligns with Nova Scotia's Action Plan for Education. This time last year, we were just getting started on our plan to bring fundamental change to the classroom. One year later we have accomplished what we set out to do and are well underway with the changes for year two.
In February of this year I released our first annual report. Improvements in year one of the Action Plan included but were certainly not limited to a streamlined Primary to Grade 3 curriculum with greater emphasis on math and literacy; the earlier introduction of coding to help today's students become more career-ready; a greater focus on financial literacy and homework standards; more supports for young children; more support for children in math and literacy in our classrooms; four new Early Years Centres; reduced wait times and elimination of the wait-list for early intervention; expending the number of schools offering O2; and expanding the number of skilled trades.
Those are eight of the many initiatives and accomplishments in our first year of the action plan. A key part of the success to date has been our work with teachers. I cannot stress enough how critical teachers have been in the successful implementation of the action plan.
I also want to talk about the government's effort to bring our Syrian newcomers into our province and in particular into our public school system. The department is supporting the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration and Immigration Settlement Association, who are leading the newcomer initiative, and working closely with municipal, provincial, and federal governments - along with community organizations such as the YMCA's school settlement program. We are pleased that our schools have been welcoming places for newcomers, and we heard that many are enjoying their new schools.
Nova Scotia has been welcoming international students in our schools for many years, and we have been providing support to help them integrate. This is something of which our province has always been very proud. More than $2 million is provided to the boards each year, based on need, to support students who require EAL, or English Additional Language.
This year, with the influx of more than 300 Syrian newcomers to our schools, we are taking a proactive approach with school boards to ensure that students receive the support they need. To that end, government will work with boards to ensure that they have funding for their EAL services. In addition, the department is providing $100,000 for additional learning resources, school supplies, and translation services for Syrian newcomers to help them with the integration of both culture and language.
Some of you may have seen, on a CTV newscast a couple of weeks ago, a visit to one of the schools in the Halifax area where there were twin Syrian children who had arrived at the school. When the reporter was there, the little Grade 1 boy was doing the translation for the reporter so that they could understand and hear and be aware of the success and the excitement that these little children were experiencing in that school. It was certainly heartwarming. As the recess bell rang, the door burst open, and in ran the little brother from Primary. He gave his sister and brother a big hug, and away he went.
I think it was a clear testament to the fact that these children are being integrated well into our schools, welcomed with open arms, learning the language, and having fun doing it. It was an excellent clip, and it was not scripted. Government will continue to work and support boards to ensure that they are responsive to those needs, and we've asked boards to identify costs related to the needs that arise as they provide services and supports to the Syrian children.
We are very fortunate to have a team of professional and dedicated teachers who continue to make a lasting and positive impact on our students. We're also very fortunate to have a talented and hard-working team at the department who are all working in the best interest of students from the early years to graduation.
The action plan, of which I've spoken, is a four-year road map to respond to the voices and concerns of over 19,000 Nova Scotians. Our success with that plan, as I've said, is directly related to the work of teachers and the co-operation between the staff at the department and the teachers in the classroom.
Beyond their commitment in the classroom, teachers have worked with us on a new model we are using at the department to make sure that the expertise that's in the classroom is utilized when we are looking at new policy. More than 320 teachers work with us directly at the department to realign our elementary curriculum and to develop new teaching standards. Bringing the expertise from the schools into the department allows the teachers to feel valued and appreciated because they are the leaders as we move forward.
Madam Chairman, I am prepared to take questions from the members here and to respond as best we can to the concerns that are raised.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Minister Casey. We'll start our questioning with the Progressive Conservative caucus and Mr. Dunn.
HON. PAT DUNN: Welcome, minister and staff. I want to thank the department staff for their commitment to improving our educational system. It's something that, because of my background, I'm very interested in.
I'm very pleased to see some changes that have been occurring over the last couple of years. When I think of an influx of dollars and resources into early childhood development, I can't think of another place that is more important than that area to put the resources - teachers, materials - of all the areas of the school system. If we do a good job in that area, I think it pays dividends as they continue to go through the school system. It's very difficult to dispute that education is a top priority for the government.
The first number of questions I have are right from the Budget Estimates. Number one is, looking through it, I noticed some significant fluctuation in the budgeted number of FTEs since last year. Last year's estimate was 211. The 2015-16 forecast was around 185. This year's estimate is hovering around 200. I'm just looking for an explanation of this variation.
MS. CASEY: You will see a difference there, a decline in the FTEs at the department. That is a reflection of the finance staff within departments across government being transferred to the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. So rather than having our own finance department within Education and Early Childhood Development, those people are now part of the larger Department of Finance and Treasury Board. That would account for that reduction. I believe there were 12 FTEs who were moved out, so that's the difference there.
MR. DUNN: Just staying with that question, I thought there was an increase for the current 2016-17 year up to 200 from maybe 185?
MS. CASEY: Could I ask, are you looking at Page 8.3?
MR. DUNN: Page 7.3.
MS. CASEY: The forecast is 195.9 - is that what you're looking at?
MR. DUNN: Yes. I was looking at the figures below that, the bottom three figures, 185 to 200.8.
MS. CASEY: Would you repeat that, please?
MR. DUNN: When I was first looking at it, I thought there was quite a significant fluctuation in the numbers of FTEs. I thought they jumped up significantly from 185 to 200.
MS. CASEY: When we're making a comparison, we're looking estimate to estimate, which is 229 to 217. That was the transfer of the finance people out.
MR. DUNN: I see that now. All right, thank you.
In the office of the deputy minister, it appears that the forecast was higher than the budgeted amount for 2015-16. It looks like it was up approximately $150,000, but this year I can see that the estimate is slightly lower than last year's. A couple of questions - why did the office of the deputy minister go over budget last year? The second question dealing with that - unlike last year, do you expect the office to stay around their budget that they have figured out for this coming year?
MS. CASEY: When we introduced the action plan and we established a centre of excellence within the department, there were some positions that were moved around within the department answering to different associate deputy ministers. The increase there was from when the regional education officers were transferred into the responsibility of the associate deputy minister. That would have happened mid-year, so that's why I believe you're seeing the increase in the forecast, and then estimate to estimate would account for the full salaries for the REOs.
MR. DUNN: The answer may be similar to my next question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. The same thing appears to have happened in the office of the associate deputy minister by approximately $500,000. I guess I'm just going to get you to explain that.
MS. CASEY: The answer I gave was with reference to that line, and that was the transfer of those FTEs into that associate deputy minister's department.
MR. DUNN: Looking at the increase of over $6 million for Early Years Development Services - I think that's Page 7.5 - could you explain specifically how those additional funds will be spent?
MS. CASEY: Yes. When I spoke earlier, I talked about the child care review that we had conducted and the findings that we received from that. I did reference accessibility and affordability as two of the key areas that were identified as important to the sector and that were underfunded.
When we looked at accessibility, for example, we recognized that the subsidy to some low-income families was still not enough to allow them to close the gap between the fee that the operator was charging and the subsidy that the parents were getting. We made a commitment in this budget to address that subsidy for parents. We also looked at the wages of the early childhood educators and recognized that, in 2012, the average salary for early childhood educators in Nova Scotia was the lowest in Canada. That was totally unacceptable. The second investment in this particular budget is to bring the average provincial salary for early childhood educators up to the national average. That accounts for between $6 million and $7 million that's invested in this budget - directly to support subsidies to families and wages for early childhood educators.
MR. DUNN: Under the Centre for Learning Excellence - again, I'm referring to Page 7.6 - there appeared to be a sizeable increase under Teacher Education. I just want to know what accounts for this particular increase, this particular jump.
MS. CASEY: As I said earlier, when we started doing the realignment within the department and moving positions in keeping with the action plan, it's reflecting part of a year, rather than a full year. The 94 would be a partial year, and then 351 would be the full year. So that's why there's such a big difference there.
MR. DUNN: I can see there's a $4-million drop in Education Innovation Programs and Services. I'm just a little surprised to see a reduction in spending on learning resources, like technology, personal development, and wellness. My question is, how will these reductions impact children in the classroom, particularly when we look at technology?
MS. CASEY: It's a very good question because I don't think any of us want to see resources that support children having any kind of a reduction. What you're seeing there is a transfer of the dollars from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development out into funding directly to school boards. So it's no less money going to support children. It's just being accessed through the grant to the school boards rather than through the department.
MR. DUNN: Why was there a drop of approximately $700,000 in French Language Grants? If you refer to Page 7.8, there appears to be a drop of around $700,000 in French Language Grants.
MS. CASEY: A lot of the funding for French-language programs comes from the federal government, so there are always negotiations between the provincial and federal governments for that funding. A lot of it is directly related to project grants that are funded by the federal government. It's not a decrease in the funding. It's just part of the negotiations of where that money is coming from. It is directly related to the federal government's funding for French programs.
MR. DUNN: The next question is dealing with school lease costs. Why did school lease costs increase by $500,000 in the 2015-16 forecast versus the estimate? My question to go with that would be, do you anticipate this number declining in future years? I'm thinking of the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board, where I think they made a decision to close a couple of P3 schools. Again, why did the school lease cost increase by $500,000? Do you anticipate this number declining with regard to what's happening across the province with the P3 schools?
MS. CASEY: If I look at those lines, I'm seeing that, estimate-to-estimate, there is no change on that particular line, the school lease cost.
MR. DUNN: Do you anticipate a decline in the cost of school leases with regard to what's happening with some of our P3 schools and what will happen in the future?
MS. CASEY: As we know, a number of the leases are up for decision on whether the government will continue to lease, whether they will purchase the building, or whether they will walk away. We have asked all the boards to look at the P3 schools they have in their jurisdiction and to share with us any information they have about the educational need of those buildings. The first step is to determine if the building itself is required to deliver programs, and boards have been asked to make that decision and to let us know.
The first notification to the owner, the partner, has to begin in June 2016. At this point, there's no decision made on any of the schools that are P3s. We recognize declining enrollment and some of the decisions that have been made. We know that the Cape Breton board has announced some of the schools they are considering for closure, and I think there are two P3 schools in that. Those will not have an impact on this budget. Those will be decisions made later on. We will see the impact, depending on what that decision is.
MR. DUNN: Going to Page 7.9, could you explain what grants the department has increased by $13 million? If you look at the grants, there appears to be an increase of $13 million. Could you explain the areas where this $13 million is earmarked?
MS. CASEY: The difference between the $14.9 million and the $27.2 million I think is the question. Those increases are directly related to items in the action plan. Some of those include capping class sizes. We were at Primary to Grade 2, then capped Grades 3 and 4, and then Grades 5 and 6 in this budget, so the class cap initiative is there.
Also, guidance counsellor funds are there, student support grants, early literacy, special needs supports, the math literacy, virtual schools, and mental health clinicians. Those are some of the things that are included. Some of them are directly related to the action plan, and some of them are directly related to our commitment to class size.
MR. DUNN: A couple of questions dealing with the hub schools - I'm going to get away from these estimates for a few minutes. Up to this point, how many successful hub schools have been established in the province?
MS. CASEY: As the member would know, the new school review process did provide an opportunity for communities to look at what was described as a hub site or a hub school in their community. Bob Fowler went about the province asking parents and other community members about the school review process and how we could improve upon the one that was in place at the time.
There was conversation in some of our communities about two things in particular: wanting to keep the decision about school closures or the future of schools as close as possible to the community, in particular, that decision would be kept with the school board. When Bob Fowler gave his recommendations - I believe it was Recommendation No. 17 - he was recommending that that would, in fact, be part of the new school review process. As minister, I accepted those recommendations. It was stated very clearly in the school review policy that the decision about school closures is a decision of the school board, and it cannot be overturned by the minister. That was very clear. That was respecting what communities were looking for and what they wanted to see in the school review process.
The other thing that Bob Fowler heard very clearly was communities looking at using the facility in their community - i.e. the school - for activities other than, but including, public education. Out of that conversation grew the whole concept of a hub. When that conversation was going about, I happened to be the critic, so I asked the department at the time and the minister of the day what the definition of a hub school was. Nobody had a definition. Nobody knew what "hub school" meant, yet communities were talking about it. It became quite confusing for communities because they were asked to talk about something that nobody could describe.
Fast-forward a bit to when we became government, one of the first things we did was to set down the criteria for the establishment of a hub school so that communities would have some direction and some idea of what the components of a hub school would be. We put those guidelines together, communicated that out to all the boards and all the communities, and made sure that if communities believed they might be able to establish a hub school, they knew exactly what was involved in that.
There were three proposals that came forward last year as a result of communities looking at the guidelines. It was very clear in Bob Fowler's report, again, and in the guidelines that were presented that proposals for hub schools would be prepared by the community, that they would be presented to the elected board, and that the elected board members would make the decision whether they accepted the proposal or not. The three that came forward were all in the Chignecto-Central board, and they were three very different communities. Each community had an opportunity to present their proposal to the board. In all three of those situations, the proposals were not accepted by the board.
Since that time, we certainly have had inquiries from other communities about a hub school. They have been made aware of the guidelines. In some cases, I would expect that communities have looked at the guidelines and determined whether they thought it was feasible or not for their community. But the minister and the department are not part of the process for preparing a hub model proposal, for receiving it, or for approving it.
Respecting what Bob Fowler heard from communities, that whole process is between the community and the school board. If other proposals come forward, they come directly to the school board. To answer your question, I'm not aware of any other proposals that have been received by boards, but I do understand there's conversation in some communities about whether it's feasible. Is it possible? Is it something we want to look at?
MR. DUNN: There seems to be a lack of success in communities as far as having school boards vote in favour of their hub school proposals. I'm just wondering, is the department looking at this? You mentioned the three. Of course, the area I've talked to is the River John area. It's the closest area. Since there seems to be a lack of success for a community to acquire a hub school through the co-operation of the school board, is the department looking at this process, looking at the criteria?
MS. CASEY: I would be more optimistic than that. I think the fact that the first three proposals that came in to one school board were not accepted by the school board is not an indication that there can never be a hub school in the province. I firmly believe that there can be, and I firmly believe that there will be. So I'm not prepared to accept that that's not possible. I'm optimistic; I believe it is. The terms and conditions within the community, within the business community where the school is, within the different levels of government in the area - all of those things, when there is an opportunity for them to look at how they can have a prosperous site, there will be success.
But I would also like to add that a hub school should never be designed and was never intended to be the salvation for a school that might close. I believe we have examples of hubs in some of our communities now where we have medical services, and we have other services that are delivered out of a school, and communities come to that school. I think of Rockingstone Heights in Halifax here, in Fairview. That is an example of services being delivered out of a school, beyond the classroom and the academic program and the delivery of public school programs, but they are delivered out of a site. I think it's wrong to connect a hub school model and a school closure. I think we can have, and I believe we will have, sites where there are a variety of services delivered out of a school. It's not because the school might close. It may be one of the most thriving, progressive schools in our province.
MR. DUNN: Talking with some members from the River John area, they were looking at reasons why they were unsuccessful. One thing that some of them were saying was that the criteria doesn't actually work. Communities are putting in a lot of hard work trying to perfect this model and so on. They felt like there was false hope there for them, that the school board decision had already been made prior to their final presentation. Again, there's just an air of frustration with them.
The department is removed from it. In the end, though, does the department set some of the ground rules for hub schools?
MS. CASEY: I think it's important we know what role everyone has in this. The first involvement of the department prior to us forming government was to have someone meet with the public, through the public consultation process, and that was the Bob Fowler consultation. The report that came back from Bob Fowler was looking at school review and the process that would work best for communities, for school boards, and for the province.
Out of that came the desire and the interest to look at the hub. The guidelines that are being used were developed in consultation with and as a result of Bob Fowler's report - put together at the department based on the findings of that report and shared with the school boards and subsequently with the communities as the guidelines. The department's role was looking at the input that came from the Fowler report, putting it together into a set of criteria and guidelines, and then providing communities and boards with those guidelines.
MR. DUNN: I mentioned earlier that the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board voted to close two P3 schools in Sydney. Does the department anticipate many other closures of P3 schools in the future as contracts expire? The school board in Cape Breton voted to close two of them. Is your department expecting further closures as contracts expire?
MS. CASEY: One of the things we've done, again as a result of the Fowler report, was to ask all boards to do a long-range plan and also to provide the department with the results of their findings. They can go into that school review process at any time, so they don't all begin and end at the same time. Cape Breton began the process, and they have come out with their findings.
I can't predict what other boards will have as a result of their review. It may include P3 schools, or it may not. Cape Breton has completed their review. Their findings have been made public, and as we know, two of the schools on their list were P3s. That is a board process, and we will respect that and allow boards to go through that to determine what facilities they need in order to deliver programs to their students.
MR. DUNN: Just staying with that for a few seconds, it's a total board process, but does the department have any role in suggestion or renegotiating any of these deals? Does the board work with the school board as far as assisting them during the negotiations?
MS. CASEY: Once the board has determined what schools they need, if there are schools that are P3 schools, and I think most boards have them, then the negotiations with the partner will take place between the partner and the provincial government. We need the information from the boards before we can enter into any kind of negotiation because it may be to terminate the lease, it may be to buy the building, or it may be to extend the lease. Those are options that will be negotiated once the decisions have been made as to what the need is in our boards for those schools.
MR. DUNN: Just thinking of capital upgrades, if communities are closing P3 schools, and students are going back to older buildings and so on, do you foresee a problem there as far as potential capital upgrades?
MS. CASEY: One of the things that we try to do is to extend the life of our schools. We know that there have been years of neglect in some schools by some school boards. There has been a lot of deferred maintenance. We know that if you have a leaky roof, and you patch it, you control the extent of damage. If you don't, you contribute to the extent of damage, and it will continue to worsen.
Two years ago, we as a government recognized that there were lots of schools that had deferred maintenance, and the boards were telling us that they did not have the dollars to address that. So we set aside $15 million in what we called maintenance capital, and boards could submit to the department projects that they identified and they costed to access that $15 million.
The response was huge, and the results were impressive. Boards were able to go into between 40 and 50 schools. Every project that was submitted was approved, and they could go into those schools and do that kind of deferred maintenance and extend the life of the school. Because that was so popular, the next year - last year - we identified another $15 million. Again, we had between 40 and 50 projects that were identified by schools. They received the money, and they did the deferred maintenance, so they have helped to prolong the life of that school.
Having said that, we recognize that some schools need more than a short term fix. They need what we call and A and A, or addition and alteration. The request for that comes from the boards to the department on an annual basis, and capital dollars are allocated to the boards as projects are approved.
I'll go back to 2013. At the time we formed government, there were over 40 additions and alternations in some various stages across the province. That was a huge inventory. We made a commitment as government that we would support the completion of those 40 A and As before we started adding any more new projects to the list. At this point in time, there are three projects left on that list. River Hebert is nearing completion and will be ready for students in September. Parkview and Wolfville are the other two A and As. The work that is being done in those A and As will not only allow those schools to accommodate the students in the school at the time, but they may also allow the board to look at consolidating some students into those buildings.
One of the things that we are always mindful of, and I know boards are always mindful of, is the importance of safety in the buildings. If we can help make the buildings safer for students and staff, then that is our goal.
Once we have schools that have had additions and alternations, some of them are almost like new schools when those projects are completed. Then boards look at that and think about the students who can be accommodated in that, whether it is combining two or three smaller schools into a larger one or whether it's looking at bringing students together. One of the things we have in this province - and unfortunately we can't avoid it, we're a victim of it - is so much excess square footage in our schools that boards are having to heat and light because our enrollments are going down so quickly. Part of that has played into the decision that the Cape Breton board made with respect to all of the real estate they have that is not being fully.
Rather than spending millions of dollars to heat and light empty space, they're looking at how they can consolidate their school population into a safe school and deliver the program and allow the money that we're paying out for excess square footage - for heat and light - to go into programs for kids. So although they're tough decisions that the boards are making, I commend them for recognizing that it's not a good investment of taxpayers' dollars.
I would say to the member that he's very well aware of Pictou East and the empty space that's being heated and lit in that particular school. That's just one example. I know there are requests from that particular board about that particular school because there's an example of thousands of square feet that are not being used. If those students can be accommodated in another facility, we want to work with school boards so that they can do that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Dunn, you have 19 minutes.
MR. DUNN: I have just a quick question dealing with French immersion. It's my understanding that in some areas of the province, the demand for French immersion is greater than available spaces. We know that in many cases, because of the availability of French immersion in a particular school, it has been a great motivating factor for families to move to that area so that their children can be in to a French immersion catchment area.
I don't know if this is true, but I've even heard that some schools - because they have too many - have even drawn from a box or a hat or something to decide which children from a list get a placement in the program. I can't verify that, but I've been told that by a parent. If that is a fact, and again I'm not sure if it is, I just want to know your thoughts on the fairness of this practice if it does exist. If it is the case that there is a need for more classroom space or capacity for French immersion, should the department be looking at that, making that space available?
MS. CASEY: I'm not sure if we heard from the same parent or not, but I did hear that one school had more students than they could accommodate in one French immersion class, and so they had to decide what they were going to do. Having a lottery is nothing that I would support. The board decisions are made at the board level. It is their decision. But we did work with that particular school board to remind them that there are dollars available through the minority-language funding, which is the federal money, to help with the start-up of an immersion class. That particular school that I'm speaking of was able to start a second immersion class so that there was no lottery. All of the parents who wanted their children in the immersion class were accommodated.
I think it's an example of us having to use both federal and provincial dollars wisely. We would not want those children to be denied that opportunity for French immersion, so we needed to make sure that the federal dollars that did allow for that to happen were accessed by that particular board. It is a board decision, but when those concerns are brought to our attention, we try to help them with a resolution. We are not the funders, and we are not the decision-makers, but we do try to work with them so that the interests of students and parents can be met.
MR. DUNN: I'm going to leave that particular theme. Just a quick question: what is the status of negotiations at the moment between the government and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union?
MS. CASEY: As we know, there were negotiations between the government and the Teachers Union. A deal was agreed upon, it went out to the teachers for ratification, and they did not ratify that. That put us kind of back to square one.
The Teachers Union came to government very soon after that, within days, and wanted to go back to the table. We were quite happy to accommodate and to go back to the table. There have been meetings held. That particular ratification vote was in January. Since that time, there have been meetings where the two sides have come together. I believe there are some dates set in May for them to come together again. I am encouraged by that, and I am optimistic. Teachers do need a contract. We want the teachers to have a contract. It's in everybody's best interest to sit down at the table and negotiate. Conversations continue, discussions continue, and negotiating dates have been set.
MR. DUNN: What is the status of the Education Action Plan items that were listed as requiring additional consultation with the Teachers Union, such as the creation of a robust system for teacher performance management?
MS. CASEY: When we put together the action plan, it was in direct response to what over 19,000 Nova Scotians told us we should be addressing. We went through all those responses and looked at what actions would be required in order to respond positively to the concerns of Nova Scotians. At the end of that, I know we had 117 actions spread out over the next four years.
Within that set of 14, we asked the question of ourselves, are there any of these actions that will require either co-operation or negotiations from the Teachers Union? We identified eight of them. So we set that eight up in the action plan with the header that they would require co-operation or negotiation. I can't speak to whether those are in the conversations that are going on between the two sides now or not. But we recognize that we are moving forward with the action plan, and those actions are there. To respect the collective agreement, they will still require either co-operation or negotiation.
We would be happy with either. If the union wants to co-operate with us, we will continue to work with them. If they want to negotiate and put it on the table as a negotiating item, we will work with them on that.
MR. DUNN: The annual report on the education plan stated that we are using a new model for developing curriculum that is led by classroom teachers and is technology-based. You mentioned that in your opening comments.
I have two or three questions dealing with that. Could you speak to how this is being accomplished? What technology, and how are teachers being trained to use this technology? How does this match up with the reduction I was talking about earlier, the reduction of funding for technology in the budget items?
MS. CASEY: First of all, the model we're using - the member would probably have some recollection of changes in curriculum over the course of his career. Many of those changes - I would suggest most of those changes - were made by staff at the department and dispersed out to us in the classroom. That was the model that had been used, and it continued to be used.
No disrespect to anyone who was in the department at the time making those decisions, but it became obvious that there was a lot of expertise out in our classrooms. A lot of teachers have a lot of good advice and good ideas, and want to be part of change. What we proposed to do was to bring that expertise into the department. I can't speak for that member, but he and I have both been in administration, and we know that the difference that teachers make is in the classroom. It depends on and is very much influenced by the skill level and the ability and the expertise of that teacher. We were wanting to tap into that expertise. We invited teachers to come in and work at the department side by side with our staff. I think the number here was something like 320 teachers who came in and worked with our staff on streamlining the curriculum.
Teachers had said to me back in October 2013 that one of the things that they found challenging was managing the huge number of outcomes in the curriculum. Rather than have staff at the department decide which outcomes were important, we brought the teachers in to tell us which outcomes were important. So when we were streamlining, we knew that what we were leaving in the curriculum as critical components of that curriculum were what the teachers recognized as being the most important. As a result of that, we have looked at the curriculum from Grades P-3 and Grades 4-6 to make sure that teachers are part of the new way of doing curriculum in this province. I'm confident that when they see the streamlined curriculum, they will see their fingerprints on that, and they will know that they have had an important part in that.
The other benefit to the new model is that the professional development that's done out in the schools is done by the teachers themselves. Again, it's not somebody from away coming in to tell them what they should do. It's their colleague down the hall or in the school across the street or wherever, whose opinion they value and respect, who is sitting down with them to look at the curriculum. That is the new model that we're talking about. It has been very successful, and it's a model that we want to continue.
With respect to your question about funding for technology, we did identify in the action plan that we would be having more hands-on activities and better use and understanding of technology. The line that you're referring to is an amount that has been transferred, again, over to the grants to school boards so that they have direct access to the funding for programs and resources and supports in their schools. There's no reduction in the funding. It's just a transfer from the department to the school boards.
MR. DUNN: I have just a few questions on math mentors. The updated document stated that early intervention programs to support students in math are under way in each school board, and we're aware of that, for students in Grades P-3. Funding was provided for 52 math mentors, as you mentioned earlier, for on-site classroom-based professional learning, of course for educators teaching Grades P-12. Within that total, 18 new math mentors were introduced to support Grades P-3 teachers. My first question: are there currently 52 math mentors on site throughout the province at the present time?
MS. CASEY: That's an important question, and I'm glad we can have a bit of a conversation about that because we know that in this province, our standardized test scores in math have been declining. When you see that, you look at how we turn that around. It's not because our students aren't as bright as the kids in any other province, but something is happening with the introduction of the curriculum to them, the instructional part.
For some teachers, there is a fear of math. For whatever reason, they don't believe they are capable and competent to teach math, but if they are in an elementary grade, they teach math. So we wanted to do two things: provide support for that teacher so they would learn new strategies from a mentor, and they would have someone in the classroom who would be able to team-teach with them, coach them, and provide them with support. That was really the foundation of math mentors.
We also recognized that some of the value in having experts in the school was also to work with the students. In some cases, that math mentor may be giving direct instruction to a student, either one on one or in a small group. It's just having that level of expertise in a school to help build the confidence of the teacher, to give the teacher more strategies and more confidence in themselves that they can do the job and do it well, and also to give that one-on-one intense support to an individual student who may be struggling.
We started reinstating the math mentors, because that was another thing that was gone in the previous government, and then built on that each year. The expansion of that is now going into direct instruction to the students, as required. We believe that short-term intervention can certainly close a gap and allow the student to be more successful and more confident and allow the teacher to have that same level of confidence.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Dunn, you have a little under three minutes left.
MR. DUNN: I couldn't agree with you more with regard to the math mentors being in with teachers P-3 and then moving on, 4-6 and so on. I feel very strongly, and I think we both probably agree from our former careers, that that was really lacking over the years. I'm hoping and expecting to see a significant change because of what's going on now. It's all good.
A couple of things you mentioned in the previous answer about managing the huge number of outcomes, I'll get to a little bit later because that is still hovering around a lot of teachers I've talked to. Again, I think one of the most important things is that teachers are finally being involved in creating and improving the curriculum. That was certainly long overdue. I'm really happy to see that because I think that's critical to improving our educational system.
Staying with the math mentors, and I'm not sure you would have this information at your fingertips, is there a breakdown by school board, where math mentors are situated across the province?
MS. CASEY: There is. We may be able to get that for you. I know that initially math mentors were primarily elementary, but we recognized that they need to be deployed across all grades and across all school boards. If I could look at this, we do have a breakout here by board.
We have a total of 52 math mentors. By board, there are 6 in Annapolis, 6 in Cape Breton, 6.5 in Chignecto, 5.5 CSAP, 11.5 in Halifax, 5.5 South Shore, 5.5 Strait, and 5.5 Tri-County. The advantage to having the mentors is that they are not attached to any one particular school, but they work with the staff at the central office of the school board . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has elapsed for this caucus's questioning. You'll have to hold off till the next hour. I would like to turn the microphone over to Ms. Zann for the NDP caucus.
MS. LENORE ZANN: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm going to talk a little first about early childhood education, and then I want to ask a few questions and specifically focus on that for my first hour.
It was a 1970 report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women that first called for a national daycare Act. In 2016, it seems we've still not really met the goal of a high-quality affordable system of early childhood education and care. The evidence of the benefits of investing in early childhood education is really clear, I think. I believe the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development and I are both in agreement that the early years are indeed critical for positive growth, development, and long-term well-being of children.
Investing in a coordinated system of early childhood education also has a long list of well-documented social and economic benefits. It enables women to have greater participation in the labour market, it boosts GDP and tax revenue, it reduces poverty and income equality, and it addresses population decline. Nova Scotia needs skilled workers, and we also need to grow the population. A properly designed early childhood education system can meet the diverse needs of children and support parents, especially women, as they work, study, and participate in community life.
Developing a system of early childhood education is also good economic development. Having access to affordable, accessible child care increases employment and spending. It can enable families to move out of poverty. Child care also creates jobs within the sector. The development of a system of early childhood education in Nova Scotia would actually provide more short-term economic stimulus than investing in other major sectors of the economy. This is from an economic report that just came out about that. Those economic returns can be even higher in rural communities.
Currently in Nova Scotia, there are just under 18,000 regulated child care spaces, which is enough for only 11 per cent of children aged zero to two and 39 per cent of children aged two to four. Many parents begin adding their names to child care centre waiting lists before their child is actually even born. Once they are able to secure a space, families then have to consider the enormous cost. Parents in this province can pay between $10,000 and $12,000 per year for child care, which is actually more than university tuition.
Many women are put in the impossible position of having to decide if they can, in fact, afford to return to work. For the families of the less than 5,000 children who do receive a subsidy from the province, cost is still an issue. Maximum subsidies are far below what is currently being charged to parents. A full subsidy can still leave parents on a low income with a bill of up to $14 per day, which means that even those employed at child care centres in Nova Scotia are unlikely to be able to afford the cost of care for their own children.
The female-dominated child care workforce is one of the most underpaid sectors in the country. Early childhood educators in Nova Scotia earn only 42 per cent of the national average. So we can agree that there are many benefits to investing in early childhood education - it's good for children, it's good for families, and it's good for the economy.
In fact, I know that the minister attended the Teachers College in Truro, where my dad taught. He taught early childhood education 40 years ago and tried to tell people at that time that this was something that we really needed to be moving forward on. I was very pleased to be part of the NDP Government that actually added Early Childhood Development to the department and decided that they were going to go forward in this direction. I am very glad to see the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development moving forward with this. I think it is the way forward for Nova Scotia, and I commend the minister for doing the work she's doing on it.
Here's my first question for the minister about this year's budget. The budget includes an additional $6.6 million to subsidize child care spaces, to increase wage grants for early childhood educators, and to support child care centres in providing inclusive programming. Could the minister please explain how that money will be allocated among those three areas?
MS. CASEY: When you look at the statistics on daycare and child care - as I said earlier, being in last place across Canada is not a place that we should ever be. It's not a place we want to stay. It's something that our government is prepared to do something about. When you look at the You Bet I Care! reports, the first one from 1991, Nova Scotia was in sixth place in Canada; in 1998, we were in seventh place; and in 2012, we were in last place. The message that I took from that was that it's a downward spiral. No government has grabbed hold of that to do anything. Somebody had to because it is the parents and the children in this province who are paying the price for that inactivity. It was not difficult to put something in the budget that would allow us to turn that trend around.
Before we did that, we wanted to do a comprehensive review of child care in the province. We wanted to talk to the sector. We wanted to talk to the people who work in the daycare centres. We wanted to talked to the early childhood educators, to the operators, and to the parents. So there was a very extensive child care review conducted. Over 7,000 people participated in that consultation in some way or another, either through the survey or through a submission they may have made or written correspondence.
There was overwhelming support for addressing some key areas. They are, as we have said: affordability, accessibility, the quality of programs, support for the workforce, and the structure and governance. In the findings, we found some discrepancies. We found that there was no common curriculum. We found that the fees varied depending on the operator, for-profit or not-for-profit.
The findings were very revealing, and when we released those findings, there were tears in their eyes when we brought some of the people in the sector in to learn about the findings. They said that for the first time, there's a government that cares. They knew that we were listening. They told us - we wanted to hear, and they told us - it's fine to do the consultation, but you have to go the next step, which is, so what are you going to do about it? They would have every right to ask us, what are you going to do about it? Immediately, we thought, okay, we can't change all of this overnight, but we can address some of it, and we will phase in what we're going to address.
In the budget, we put additional money to address two key areas. On those wages that are the lowest in Canada, our goal is to bring the provincial average salary up to the national average, which will be huge for those workers who are trained and deliver quality care to our children. They are respected and valued, but they need to have that acknowledged.
The other area that we're looking at to help with affordability is to increase the subsidy to low-income families and to make the subsidy available to more families. We will move forward with all of the findings, but the additional $6.6 million that's in the budget for this year is to address those first two items.
MS. ZANN: I appreciate that answer but I am curious, though. In a press release, the province's largest child care union, CUPE Nova Scotia, said that this particular budget raises more questions than answers for the child care sector. President Dianne Frittenburg said, "What we were promised from the Premier and the Minister of Education were real wage increases for Early Childhood Educators (ECEs). Instead, we were given no real details in the budget, only that there will be wage grants."
How much extra are they going to be paid for their salaries in this particular budget? Will early childhood educators be making more money in this budget?
MS. CASEY: First of all, the budget is before the House. It has not yet been approved. But our plan is to have the increase in wages effective in October, pending the approval of the budget.
We have certainly seen press releases from a couple of folks in the sector that support exactly what we're doing. For a union to come out and question what is there - I would be happy to side down with the CUPE president and read the press release to them because it's very clear that our intent is to address subsidies for parents and wages for early childhood educators.
MS. ZANN: So would it be fair to say then that the amount of money to go towards wages will be more in line with entry-level teachers' salaries?
MS. CASEY: The details of what and where and how will vary depending on the wage that the early childhood educator currently receives because, again, there's no consistency across the province. Our goal, still, is to bring the provincial average wage of early childhood educators up to the national average.
MS. ZANN: Will the minister be trying to make it more even between the for-profits and the not-for-profits in the upcoming year?
MS. CASEY: We would want to look at the early childhood educators' wages regardless of whether they're working in a for-profit or a not-for-profit.
MS. ZANN: Yes, I understand that. I was just wondering if you're going to try to make them level right across the board.
MS. CASEY: There are certainly different classifications within the early childhood educator staff, and the wages that they get now vary. For some, it will be a big increase. It depends on where they are at this point in their wage scale. Our goal is to get to the national average. For some, that's a bigger jump than others, depending on where they are at this point in time. Where they are at this point in time is determined by the operators. We want to bring consistency so that the early childhood educators, regardless of which centre they're working in, are paid accordingly.
MS. ZANN: I wonder if the minister might be able to tell me what the actual national average salary is?
MS. CASEY: I can. In the statistics that I was sharing with you about 1991, 1998, and 2012, the national average in 2012 was $16.50. We in Nova Scotia were at $12.84. That was 2012 statistics.
MS. ZANN: Can the minister tell me what the salary is in Nova Scotia today? I know it's different in different areas, but can she give me an idea, for-profits and non-profits, where it swings?
MS. CASEY: The most recent results that I have are 2012. The 2014 report is not yet out. When that comes out, we certainly will share that. I can only go from these stats I have, which are 2012.
MS. ZANN: I appreciate that. Also, I'm just curious, is the minister interested in changing the system to a model that will work better? I've read many things about it, and I've heard lots of people saying that just giving extra money to the system as it stands now isn't necessarily addressing the problem. In the government's own report on the review of regulated child care, it was stated, "The current model of funding child care is not effective or sustainable." Has the minister got any plans to change the model into one that will actually work better?
MS. CASEY: To go back to the focus of the review, the findings as a result of that review were kind of categorized into five main areas: affordability, accessibility, quality of program, support for the workforce, and governance and structure. We definitely will be looking at what is a more efficient, more effective, and more sustainable governance model.
But what we plan to do - and the sector wants to be part of this - once we get the budget passed, is to sit down with the sector and look at what is the best model to deliver child care in this province. We know that there are discrepancies with wages. There are discrepancies with the fees that operators charge. But we also know that there are areas of the province where there are no daycare facilities, and we know there are others where there's a concentration. So it's trying to make sure that we look at rural Nova Scotia, that we look at the rural-urban split, and that we look first of all at quality, curriculum, and governance, so that at the at the end of the day, we have the best places for our pre-schoolers to be when they're not home with their parents. That is our goal.
We did not get to this point overnight, and we will not correct it all overnight. We have a phased-in program, and we wanted to look first of all at the two phases that we believe are the most deplorable, and that's wages for early childhood educators and subsidies for parents.
MS. ZANN: Of the funding that's going to be put into existing wage grants, how much more money is being put into that in this budget? Is it $300,000?
MS. CASEY: The budget line says, I think, $6.6 million of additional money to address those two major concerns first of all. We will be sitting down with the sector to make sure that they are well aware of it. We will be getting information from them about where they are now, what this will look like, and how we will deploy those dollars so that we can meet our target of the national average, and we can also work with the operators.
As you know, the money flows from the government to the operators through a grant, if they do get a government grant, to make sure that we achieve what we all want. The how and crossing the i's and dotting the t's will be done in consultation with the sector.
MS. ZANN: How much of the $6.6 million will be used to increase subsidy rates?
MS. CASEY: That will certainly depend, when we look at what the subsidies are now, what the operators are charging, the gap between the subsidy for low-income families and what the operator is charging. How big is that gap? What do we need to close that gap? All of that detail has yet to be worked out. But we believe that the additional $6.6 million that we put in this budget will allow us to address that adequately.
MS. ZANN: What about increasing the number of subsidies available? Will rules around subsidy eligibility stay the same, or is that going to change?
MS. CASEY: One of the things that we recognize is that we believe there are parents or moms who are not able to pay the difference between what the subsidy does for them and what the operator charges for them. We want to work with them to close that gap. Again, it will depend on the income of the family. We want to make sure that we include more families in that catchment area and that we also recognize what the gap is. If you look at income, and if you look at expense, and you try to close the gap, that's where the subsidy will help us close that gap. Our goal is to have the subsidy available to more families.
MS. ZANN: Could the minister please explain exactly what the formula is that is used to determine subsidy amounts based on income?
MS. CASEY: Again, that is detail that will be determined when we sit down with the sector. Once the budget is approved, we'll be freer to talk about the amount of money and how that's going to be deployed. We recognize that it's not one-size-fits-all, that there are a lot of factors that play into what that formula will look like. Our goal, as I said, is to ensure that more families with a low income are eligible for the subsidy. But again, what the formula looks like will depend on the factors that you put into it, and we know that they differ across the province.
MS. ZANN: I guess we'll be waiting to hear more on all these questions. When did the minister say this information would probably be available? After she's met with the various sectors?
MS. CASEY: Well the first thing we have to do is have the budget pass. It is our goal to have the wages addressed by the 1st of October, so we will begin work immediately with the sector on that. We also will begin work immediately on the subsidy and the gap, to try to close that. I guess my answer is, get the budget passed, continue the work with the sector because they've been engaged with the findings so far, and come up with a formula that will allow us to reach the goals that we've set: more families and more money for early childhood educators.
MS. ZANN: I noticed that the budget says that the $6.6 million is not just to subsidize child care spaces and increase wage grants but also to support child care centres in providing inclusive programming, inclusion. Can the minister please explain where that fits in, how much money will be allocated there, which centres they are, and how she sees that rolling out?
MS. CASEY: I think it's important that we do recognize that children who have some challenges or developmental delays have just as much right to be in a daycare as any other child. We also recognize that, in some cases, it takes a different skill set, a different set of qualifications, for employees, early childhood educators, and others to provide the quality and level of care that those children need. We want to make sure that we have that inclusive model in all of our daycares.
We know that some daycares now provide quality care for children with some developmental delays, but we want to make sure that that inclusiveness goes to all daycares around the province. Again, what do we have? Where are they? Where do we have the gaps? What changes do we make so that parents can have a centre that will provide good-quality care for their child regardless of the child's needs? The cost of that has yet to be determined because we don't know for sure where those centres are and what the cost will be to provide the professional care that those children might need in that centre.
The findings showed us that there is a problem. The findings didn't give us the solution. What we want to do, with the support of this government, is to work with the sector to come up with solutions. We've said that it will be phased in. It will not all happen at one time. It will not all happen in one budget. But this is a great beginning.
MS. ZANN: I'm trying to follow this. Just to be clear, part of this budget, the $6.6 million, is supposed to be going to support child care centres in providing inclusive programming. But you're saying you don't know how much of this particular budget will be used for that.
MS. CASEY: There are a number of ways that we respond to children with some diagnosed developmental delay. Part of that is through our early intervention program because these children who are identified - sometimes at birth, sometimes at IWK, sometimes through their pediatrician, sometimes through observations of the parent - need intervention, and they need it soon.
We want to work, and we have worked, with early interventionists to ensure that there are no children on a wait-list waiting for that service, that there are interventionists who can provide that support, and that those children have that service and support early on. Some of those children may well be in a daycare, so we need to make sure that, when they are there, the continuation of that professional service and that quality care in an inclusive model is there. But to determine now where and what and how much would be premature because you need to know where those are, where those spaces are needed, and what professional support is required.
To go back to the whole notion of trying to do everything at once, I'm not going to apologise for that. We are not going to do everything at once. We are going to begin a process that no government has ever addressed before, and we are going to start with the two areas that our findings showed us to be the most critical: affordability and accessibility. Inclusion, the governance structure, professional development of early childhood educators, a new curriculum - all of those things that together, at the end of this process, will give us what we believe and what we strive for to be quality daycares are things that will not happen overnight.
As I said, we didn't get where we are overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight, but we are going to take a phased-in approach. We will look at continuing to do some of the good things that we have started, and we will build on that. The fact that the sector has told us and that parents have told us and that we've accepted the findings is a very positive start.
One of our goals is to work on an inclusive model. One of our goals is to have more spaces for infants. One of our goals is to have more facilities in rural Nova Scotia. All of these things that we believe can, at the end of the day, provide us with a quality daycare program are things that we are working toward. This is the first step, and it's a huge one, in our budget to begin to address all of the concerns and all of the findings.
Which centre is going to get what now - it's premature to ask that question and premature for me to try to answer that question. I'm not going to try to answer it because we do not know where those needs are, and we do not know what is required in order to meet all of those needs. We will continue to work with the sector. They are the best people to identify that for us.
MS. ZANN: To be clear, out of the $6.6 million that has been put in this budget, is any of that $6.6 million going toward funding inclusion to be put into existing grants and programs?
MS. CASEY: I think if you read it carefully - the $6.6 million is additional money. This is to build on what we currently have. So to suggest that we're not going to do the things that we have been doing is not accurate. To say that we're going to build on what we're doing and extend the supports for those two particular areas with the $6.6 million - that is our intent, and that's why that particular amount of money is there.
That's not all of the money we're spending. It's not all of the things that we're going to do. Some of the things that we will be doing will not be costly. We need to get the data so that we know what the cost will be when we get to the implementation of inclusion, more infant spaces, more in rural Nova Scotia - all of those things that we believe will make a more affordable, sustainable and better daycare system in the province. Those are things that we strive for. Those are goals that we've set. But we will not be there tomorrow.
MS. ZANN: I'm so sorry to harp on this, but I'm trying to get it straight here. The $6.6 million extra in this budget is going towards only two things: subsidizing child care spaces, and increasing wage grants for the childhood educators. Is that correct?
MS. CASEY: I will repeat that when we looked at all of the areas that needed attention in the child care sector, based on the findings that Nova Scotians gave us, it was clear that the priorities were affordability and accessibility. That's not to diminish the other areas that were identified. What we took from that is that those will be our priorities. The sector has told us that. We respect them, and we will address what they've identified as their priorities.
That does not mean that we will not continue to look at inclusion. It does not mean that we will not continue to look at rural Nova Scotia. We recognize that a lot of good things have started to happen. Those will continue, but our priorities out of this budget will be the two things that I've identified. Those are based on the findings that we received from the sector. We will continue to look at how we can improve daycare in this province. We would have continued anyway without any money added to this budget, but we would not have been able to address subsidies and wages without the $6.6 million.
MS. ZANN: Thank you very much for that response. I think that answers my question.
In the House, the minister indicated her intention to act on all of the recommendations from the Review of Regulated Child Care. Can the minister please explain what funding will be allocated to address each of those recommendations? For instance, the first recommendation was to develop a way to share information and resources with families and early childhood educators across the province.
MS. CASEY: The suggestion, again, that everything can be addressed at one time is not how you implement a plan. Saying we're committed to addressing all of the findings is a position that we as a government have taken, and it is something that we will do.
Each year there is a budget that's presented in this House, and each year it identifies where a particular department plans to invest new money. The budget that's before us now identifies an additional $6.6 million to address subsidies and wages in the early childhood sector. The budget next year will address other priorities that the government has set and that this department has set to respond to the findings that came from the sector. But we don't budget now for next year's budget. We are budgeting now for the one that's before the House.
MS. ZANN: Would the minister be able to explain how she intends to improve the support for low- and middle-income families to actually make it easier for them to access child care?
MS. CASEY: A couple of the findings indicated to us that the income threshold was a factor contributing to whether parents could afford daycare or not. Another finding showed us that the subsidy for low-income families was a contributing factor to whether they could access child care or not. Those findings we took to heart, and we will be addressing both the subsidy and the eligibility level for low-income families because we have made the commitment that this response to the findings will provide daycare opportunities for more low-income families.
MS. ZANN: One of the recommendations was to, "Set standards, guidelines, and curriculum that will focus on best practices and on supporting child development outcomes." Another was to, "Implement strategies to support all child care programs in meeting minimum standards of health and safety and in improving quality in their programs." Does the minister care to talk about that and how she intends to address those two particular issues?
MS. CASEY: Again, the recommendation that I believe the member is referring to was a direct response to the findings. It identified what we plan to do. It identified what we need to do. As a result of that, staff at the department are currently working with other directors of daycares and child care across Canada in particular.
On Sunday, we had a meeting that involved the ministers and directors from the Atlantic provinces. Those conversations about best practices, those conversations around curriculum - all of those kinds of things that we need to learn and share with and among other directors of early childhood education - have been ongoing and will continue to be ongoing. When you listen to what the concerns and the strengths of other daycare sectors are around Atlantic Canada, I think we've recognized that we all have some common concerns, and we all can learn from each other. That sharing of best practices, that looking at curriculum - those kinds of conversations have already begun, and they will continue.
At the end of the day, we want a curriculum that is in the best interest of our children. We want a safe environment for them all day every day. We want to make sure that the standard that is required is the best standard that we can set. There are no standards. We need to set them. That's why we need to work with the sector and why we need to learn from other jurisdictions what they are doing and to respect what's happening there. Learning from others is not a sign of weakness.
MS. ZANN: I would agree that improving educational and professional development standards in child care in the early years is very important. So is creating ". . . opportunities for early childhood educators and directors to communicate and network among themselves and with Department staff." So is improving the ". . . process for recognizing credentials and experience," and so is improving ". . . funding accountability and reporting requirements to ensure grants are being used as intended."
These were all recommendations as well. How does the minister feel about those, and does she have any ideas now about how she's going to implement those kinds of things?
MS. CASEY: When we look at safety, when we look at standards, when we look at curriculum, when we look at quality programming, a lot of those things are not costly. They don't require a lot of dollars and cents to find out. What is a good curriculum? What are the standards that we should be setting? What are the foundations of a curriculum? Those are things that our staff are working on constantly to try to establish so that we do bring a higher standard to the sector, we do bring a standard set of qualifications, we do look at quality, and we do have a common curriculum across the province.
The cost of those is in human time and in sharing with others across the province and across other jurisdictions to find out what best practices are to build on what the research is saying. Those are time-consuming. Those are things that our staff do and continue to do. Those happen as we move forward. We are not stopping one thing and starting another. We are continuing the development of those standards and the development of the curriculum and the improvement of the quality at the same time we are addressing the two priorities that came out in the findings, accessibility and affordability.
MS. ZANN: I would agree that it doesn't necessarily have to cost much, but it's important to actually do it. I was just curious as to how you actually intended to improve the professional development and educational standards. Would it be fair to say that you're working on it? You said that you would have an answer for this by October. Is that the idea?
MS. CASEY: Just let me be clear: the October date was when we would be looking at implementing the wage increases for early childhood educators. This is a phased-in approach. Some of the work is ongoing. Some has begun, and it will be ongoing. I think we need to be clear that it is not going to happen in one year. It's going to take more than one budget, but this is the beginning of something that will bring quality to the daycare sector in this province.
MS. ZANN: Thank you very much for that clarification. I just wanted to say that in the budget fact sheet on investing in youth, education and job training, it does say specifically, a direct quote: "$6.6 million to subsidize childcare spaces, increase wage grants for early childhood educators, and support childcare centres in providing inclusive programming." So this, in fact, does imply that this additional money will be spread over these three areas, not two.
If the specifics are not known, how is the $6.6 million increase determined? What analysis was done to come to this conclusion that the amount was sufficient?
MS. CASEY: I know the member is going back to the whole business of inclusion, something that I support 100 per cent, whether it's in public schools or whether it's in daycares. We have some daycares that are inclusive, and we have some that are not. Our goal is to work with those that are to learn from their practices and to make sure we can model other daycares after that.
We know there are grants available to daycare operators, and when we talk about the standards, you cannot separate the standards from things like inclusion. If that is the standard, and if we expect operators to provide that level of support for families, then we certainly will be working with the operator to see how and when they are able to achieve that.
I would suggest that the $6.6 million in new money will allow us to address the things we've stated in our bulletin and in the statements we've made. That is not at the expense of inclusion.
MS. ZANN: There's $31 million this year that's going into the budget. Where are these additional dollars being directed overall, would you say - the most important areas?
MS. CASEY: There have been a number of items that we have identified in the action plan that we will continue to move forward with.
Just to go over some of the expenses, some of the programs we will be funding out of that budget include the class caps. We had, as you know, Primary to Grade 2 capped at 20 students, Grades 3 and 4 at 25, and our budget this year is adding Grades 5 and 6 with a cap of 25. We are also looking at guidance counsellors, existing funding and what we would be adding to that.
Student support grants are provided to schools to help defray some of the costs parents have incurred through fundraising, to allow special projects or special class trips, to have an author into a school, or to have someone come to the school. Many parents and parent-teacher groups, at home and in schools, have had to do fundraising in order to pay for that. Two years ago, at the direction of the Premier, we implemented student support grants, which are grants to schools to be used solely for those kinds of activities which might otherwise require fundraising by parents.
Our early literacy strategy - again, we are reinstating Reading Recovery. You've heard me speak of that before. We recognize that that was detrimental to many, many Grade 1 children who, unfortunately, will take some time to recover from that. They're struggling now in Grades 3, 4, and 5; teachers of those grades are telling us that. They can see a difference. So we immediately reinstated Reading Recovery because it was an evidence-based, research-based program that had a tangible positive impact on the students here in Grade 1. So in our early literacy strategy, we will be continuing with Reading Recovery.
We are also looking at the math strategy. Within that strategy, we are looking at how we provide support not only to teachers but also to students through the use of math mentors or math specialists, math interventionists. We recognize that many teachers feel that they need supports in teaching math. The math mentor is, again, something that had to be rebuilt after it was cut. Those math mentors are now reaching out beyond support for teachers and providing direct instruction and intervention with children who are struggling. There's a gap there that needs to be closed. Sometimes that direct one-on-one intervention is the best way to close that gap.
We're also looking at our virtual schools. Again, this is all part of the list of initiatives out of the $34 million. Virtual schools, as you know, provide course opportunities for students who, for whatever reason, may want to access that course over the Internet. They don't have to just be in rural schools. It may be a student who wants to add something to their course load. We are increasing our funding to virtual schools so that more students in more school communities are able to access those courses.
We're also increasing our funding for mental health clinicians. We recognize that mental health is a concern. Children come to school with some anxieties. They need to have some supports, and they need to have someone who has some professional background and training in mental health. We have recognized that. Over the past couple of years, we have added 23 mental health clinicians to our schools, most of them working out of the SchoolsPlus sites. But we recognized in the department early on that educators are not mental health clinicians.
So we've worked with the Department of Health and Wellness, who are the experts in mental health clinicians. We've provided the funding to support those positions. We've increased that number this year to make sure that we have more of those services in more of our schools in more parts of our province. Most of them are directly related to the SchoolsPlus sites.
We have over 200 schools now that are part of a SchoolsPlus network. There is a hub school, and then out of that, there are generally the feeder schools in a family of schools or those close by that have access to the SchoolsPlus resources in that school. Just last week we announced four more hub SchoolsPlus sites, three hub sites and one extension of what we have in our French school board. So now every school in CSAP has access to a SchoolsPlus site. We opened one in Lake Echo, opened one in Yarmouth, and opened one in Milford. That extends those services to over 200 schools. That is an example of some of the ways we are investing that new money into programs for kids.
MS. ZANN: Can you tell me exactly how long I've got?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Five minutes.
MS. ZANN: Did I hear the minister say she has extended the SchoolsPlus program to all the CSAP schools across the province?
MS. CASEY: That's correct.
MS. ZANN: I noticed there was an increase in the budget for the Office of the Associate Deputy Minister on Page 7.4. Can the minister please explain that increase to the budget for the Office of the Associate Deputy Minister?
MS. CASEY: Yes, I can explain that. When we announced our action plan, we recognized that we needed to establish a centre of excellence within the department, the sole focus of which would be the implementation of the action plan. So when we established that, there were some positions that were moved around within the department. What the member is referring to on Page 7.4 is the movement of the REOs, or the Regional Education Officers, into that particular division, under the direction of the associate deputy minister.
MS. ZANN: Could the minister actually explain the reduction in the budget for the Centre for Learning Excellence, which is on Page 7.6? What specific programs or services will be affected by that cut?
MS. CASEY: On Page 8.7 the member is looking at the Centre for Learning Excellence, the change from $280,000 to $209,000, but if you go to the next line, you see an increase in Teacher Education from $94,000 to $351,000. So that is a realignment, a redistribution, changing the area of responsibility and accountability within that particular division.
MS. ZANN: So it doesn't pertain to specific programs or services then?
MS. CASEY: No, there are no programs lost or decreased.
MS. ZANN: Also, perhaps there's some other thing that is similar, but why is there an increase in the budget for Educational Research and Partnerships, on Page 7.6?
MS. CASEY: Again, if we can go back to when the action plan was announced and introduced, it was in January, so some of the changes that were made were for only part of the year. That's why you would see a smaller number in the 2015-16 estimates than you would see in the 2016-17, because the 2015-16 would be part of the year, and the 2016-17 would be for the full year.
MS. ZANN: Thank you very much. I appreciate your responses, and I'll be back later.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has expired for the NDP. We will now rotate to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
MR. DUNN: Perhaps before I continue, I just want to know if the minister would like to have a quick break.
MS. CASEY: Since you asked, I think I would.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will take a five-minute recess.
[7:00 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[7:05 p.m. The committee resumed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. Minister, are you ready? Good.
The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
MR. DUNN: Minister, when I finished off, we were talking about the 52 math mentors, and you gave me the breakdown. That's where we were. I'm going to stay on that just for a couple more minutes, on math mentors. My first question would be, could you comment specifically on what the intervention looks like in math mentoring?
MS. CASEY: I'm not sure if we're being recorded here or not, but thank you for the opportunity to have a break. I appreciate that.
For the intervention, it is the specialist - if we want to call it, a math specialist - who works with a teacher or a number of teachers in a school and who may demonstrate for those teachers how you present a math concept to a child who is struggling. It really achieves two things: the expertise of the interventionist or math specialist is helping that child, and it's also modelling for the classroom teacher some strategies that they may use. In some cases, it's one-on-one, and in some cases it may be a small group.
It's a two-fold benefit, I believe. It's to address the challenge that the child has with grasping a concept. It's also demonstrating to the teacher some new techniques or some new strategies that they may use in the absence of a mentor because eventually we want each teacher to pick up on those new strategies and apply them in the classroom. It is not unlike a resource teacher who may sit down with an individual or a small group of students and work on some literacy skills. It would be the same type of intervention.
MR. DUNN: How is the department measuring success when we look at this math mentoring program?
MS. CASEY: One of the best ways to measure success is to talk to the teachers who are receiving this support. They have continued to tell staff at the department and their own program directors in their own boards about the value of this. Some of the things they've told us are what caused us to make a bit of a change. Initially, math mentors were working just with teachers, but the whole notion of having that specialist work with a child and model for the teachers seemed like something that would be successful, something that would be positive, and something that teachers recognized as valuable. Our best evaluation of that program is the testimonies from the teachers and the ideas from the teachers as to how we might improve that.
MR. DUNN: Is there any work between the department and universities with regard to teachers who will be coming out with their B.Ed. in the future, with regard to handling the math curriculum better than they have in the past?
MS. CASEY: One of the things that you would see in the action plan is involvement with the universities. We've recognized that sometimes there is an inconsistency in what education departments at universities have in their program and the realities of what happens in the classroom. So we have continually worked with the education departments at the universities that do teacher training to try to make them aware of what is in our public school curriculum and how that matches with what they are teaching in their course selection.
I have to tell you that I think we have some way to go there. Universities are quite independent, but that doesn't mean we won't continue to work with them to help them understand that their students are telling us they are better prepared when they know what's actually happening in our public schools. Some universities' B.Ed. programs do that better than others. I think there has to be an acknowledgement that when students go through a two-year B.Ed. program, they should be able to hit the ground running when they come out into a school.
After I retired, I had an opportunity to work with both Acadia and the University of Prince Edward Island to place and supervise their B.Ed. students. It was my first introduction to this gap. They were quite open with me, as their supervisor. They were saying, we've never heard of a PSP. What's a PSP? So it was pretty obvious then - and that was a few years ago - that there wasn't a lot of conversation between the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and the universities that provide B.Ed. programs.
We have a working group that has been working for the last 12 months to bring those people to the table. We've also shared with them what is in the action plan because that could be a good foundation for one of their courses in a program to ensure that their graduates are aware of and understand what is in our public schools so that when they come into the school, it's not foreign to them.
The students that I was placing and supervising were bright, eager, keen. They wanted to know. They felt - I guess it would be denied. They felt they had been denied an opportunity to be familiar with the public school system. They just were not. We want to try to close that gap. It's absolutely critical that, when they come out into the schools and take their first teaching job, they have a good understanding of what our curriculum looks like and what our action plan is focusing on so that they, as I say, can hit the ground running.
Quite often, they would get a very capable supervising teacher who made sure they were well aware before they left their practicum. That was to help that young student be better prepared. That didn't always happen, so it was being prepared at the university, getting with a co-operating or supervising teacher who would continue on with that. Our role at the department is to make sure that the directors of the B.Ed. programs in our universities understand the importance of sharing with their students what we're doing and providing them with opportunities to learn before they ever get a placement.
MR. DUNN: I'm not sure how many students graduate from our universities that offer the B.Ed. program, and I'm not looking for that number. My question is, do we have too many teachers who are coming out of our B.Ed. programs trying to find a job here in Nova Scotia? It's certainly one of those jobs - when most teachers acquire a job, they usually stay with it, and there's not much turnover. I think of one of my daughters - I think she's probably with her eighth company now, which is so different from that norm.
I'm just wondering - I know some areas in the province are having a lot of difficulty finding subs. But talking to a lot of substitute teachers, after a while they get very tired of trying to secure a job, and they start looking outside the province, or wherever they might be looking to find a permanent job. They just can't pay back their loans and live on sub pay.
MS. CASEY: Supply and demand has always been something you try to balance. I think traditionally, we have had an oversupply of substitutes, but we've had an undersupply of substitutes in the specialty areas where we needed them, in particular math and French. Working with the universities to make them aware of what that demand is in our schools is important.
Again, it goes back to teachers sometimes being afraid of math, for probably no good reason except that they don't feel competent in math. So they avoid it when they go through teacher training programs, or when they do their undergrads.
Through my career - and I'm sure through yours as well - what I tried to do was to help those students understand where the jobs were. I remember coaching students, saying, we don't have enough French teachers in our province, or we don't have enough math teachers in our province. Oftentimes, they would say, oh I'm not very good at math. I don't like math. So they would take English or social studies, do very well, and get a teacher's license. But that would be their specialty area, and we didn't have a lot of jobs for them. Matching their speciality, in particular at junior highs and high schools, to the demand that we have is something we strive to do all the time.
We did some research a number of years ago on teachers who were teaching outside their area of expertise. It was disturbing because we had many teachers - in particular at junior high - who were teaching outside their subject area, outside their area of specialty. That's not to say that they were not good teachers or that they were not doing the best they could, but they may not have had the background - and again I'll use math - to be comfortable to teach the subject that they taught.
We recognize that sometimes that's no fault of the teacher, and it's no fault of the principal. It's no fault of anyone. When you get a small high school - I will use Advocate as an example, a very small school, and you would be familiar with it. The phys. ed teacher who had a background in science through kinetics or whatever course they took to get their degree in physical education, may be the only one in that school who can teach biology or physics or chemistry or math. So they get courses added to their workload that would not be their first choice, but they do the best they can.
Making sure that we match that supply and demand I think is absolutely critical. We have to be careful. We cannot dictate to any student what courses they take, but I think we have a responsibility to let them know what jobs we have available, then they can make their decision. Without that, they can't make an informed decision. So working with universities and working with our guidance counsellors in our schools is critical because sometimes students do rely a lot on the career guidance part of a guidance counsellor's job description, and they wonder what they should take. Guidance counsellors, I think, need to be equipped.
For example, in the teaching profession, what is the picture here in Nova Scotia? What are the job opportunities? What is the likelihood that they can get a job? I really feel so badly for young people who have given six years to education to get their undergrad and their B.Ed. in a specialty area where they would be an excellent teacher, but there's no job for them because there's no demand for that specialty area. We have work to do. We have work to do to give the guidance that those young students in Grades 11 and 12 need. We have work to do with universities. We also have to try to ensure that teachers are placed where they are most comfortable and most qualified. Those two things don't always match up.
MR. DUNN: I'll throw this question out. If you were able to look at that entire six-year program, I'm sure you would probably make some significant changes in it. For example, is it too long? I'm sure there are ways to better prepare teachers prior to going into the schools than what they're doing right now. Do you think it's too long? Do you think some significant changes could be made to make the system better, make the teachers better prepared as they enter our P-12 system?
MS. CASEY: I think it's important to ensure that students who are coming out to work in our schools have a balanced degree program, that they have a mixture of theory and practice, that they have the strength in academics, and also that they have the practical application that they need to be successful in the classroom.
One of the things that we're trying to do with universities is around our standards of teaching. The action plan talks about establishing teaching standards for the profession within our province. We have standards for other professions. We have teachers who have set a very high standard for themselves.
In order to set that standard, we have started working with teachers to do that because they need to be part of that. We are also reaching out to our universities because if we're setting a standard that we want our teachers to meet, the universities need to make sure that the training program they have for those teachers is in place for that graduation out into our public school system.
I think that there are changes that could probably strengthen the B.Ed. programs in our universities. I think the close connection with the public school system and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is a step that has not been taken and needs to be. We cannot operate in isolation because they are preparing young people to come in and work with our students. If we can help guide that preparation, I believe we'll have a higher success rate of teachers who feel that they are ready to take on the task, which is huge, of teaching our kids. Bringing the two together and working towards a common goal of having the best-qualified teacher come out of the university and come into our classrooms is our goal. We have to do that together.
MR. DUNN: The following questions - for the next, I don't know, maybe four days or so, or Saturday maybe, I'm not sure - are basically from a lot of conversations I had with teachers, guidance counsellors, and administrators over the past three months and some in the early Fall.
What I'm going to talk about for a few seconds is something that you talked about earlier, coding. There's no doubt that coding will be tremendously beneficial to students. It's well-suited for the 21st Century. Some teachers I've talked to do have some issues with this, basically with access and delivering coding instruction. What some of them have been saying to me is that they believe in it. They know it's excellent instruction to be passing on, especially in the century that we are in.
The problem they're having in some schools is that the equipment is just not up to scratch. In some schools, it's hit or miss. Sometimes, it takes them eight to 10 minutes to boot up the machines, especially when they don't have someone to do it prior to them, coming to a computer room or whatever. Sometimes, computers crash when they get them going. In some cases, some teachers are saying it hasn't been a rewarding experience for them. It's been a frustrating experience. I know we're looking at a lot of dollars to solve that problem - school boards. It's probably not feasible.
Anyway, that's some of the frustrations that they're having - even in their classrooms where you know most classrooms have four computers. One teacher said, I think my computers came over on the Ship Hector. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the equipment is just in some cases - I know it's just the opposite in other cases. But I just wanted for you to maybe comment on that.
Basically, I guess the question would be, how is the department going to answer some of those deficiencies in some of the schools?
MS. CASEY: The concern that you've raised is one I've heard, and I've heard it for a long time. The whole business of refresh in our schools is something that has perhaps not kept pace. There may well be classrooms with pieces of hardware that have not been refreshed, have not been upgraded, and in some cases are perhaps outdated. Technology has moved faster than most of us would have anticipated. As it moves quickly, so does the need to refresh and enhance the technology.
I want to go back and speak about coding for a minute, but if I can just continue on this theme for a bit, some schools have opted for BYOD - bring your own device. Many, many classrooms have kids who do bring their own device. Most kids have access to technology in their own home, and they take it wherever they go. We cannot rely on or expect parents to provide that technology, but I think we can look at the cost to provide the technology for those who can't bring it to school; I think there's a combination there. Every child should have access to the same technology in the class whether they brought it from home or they didn't. But many of the schools that do use bring your own device have been able to do very creative things because the kids have that technology with them. They have their handheld with them.
The refresh and the cost of that, of course, is the responsibility of the school boards. Some boards have done a better job and have made it a priority to make sure they've kept pace with the technology; others have gotten behind. It's no different than when I was talking about deferred maintenance. Once you start letting that get ahead of you, it costs a lot more to bring it up to the current level. What school boards are finding is if they are getting behind in that, they can never get caught up because, as they get caught up, something new comes out, so they're always playing catch-up.
I think it's important that boards recognize the importance of having a refresh program, having technology that's current, and not expect teachers to use something that's outdated and redundant. On bringing your own device, when some of the kids come in and see some of the antiquated technology there, they've never seen it before and they don't know what it is because they have come in at an age when that was not the preferred piece of hardware.
I think there are two things we can look at: what do we do, and how do we encourage boards to identify that as a priority? Do we target money for that? Sometimes, we take money out of the global budget for school boards, and we target it so they have to spend it on that particular program or initiative. We have not done that with technology. I'm not saying we will, but it's certainly something that I think deserves a second look.
Also, there are some businesses that recognize the importance of technology. They buy a class set of iPads, or they buy a class set for their local school, so that every child can have access to some piece of technology that's workable.
To go back to the coding part of it, we have recognized that coding is a language that students learn, that they will need to know as they move out into the work world and even as they move up through the years and into work terms or summer employment. There's a language out there. It foster creativity. It fosters problem-solving. It fosters creative thinking. We recognize that's an important skill for kids to have to solve any problems.
They will not all become programmers. We don't want them all to become programmers. But I think it's important that they understand how to program, that they understand why technology does what it does. Those skills that are developed - and they don't even know it has anything to do with technology - are skills they can apply through any problem solving they may encounter.
We have had great support from some of our businesses, through Brilliant Labs, through the makers spaces, and through going out into our schools or bringing students in to help them work in a risk-free environment. When you go to some of the demonstrations and competitions, I can't speak for everybody in the room, but these kids are leaps and bounds ahead of most of us with their understanding and their creativity. They are challenged, and they love the challenge.
So by partnering with business, we are able to provide more of those opportunities. To go back to the earlier question about the technology and the refresh and the cost, it's huge, so we need to reply on our partners to help us create those environments.
I had an opportunity to watch some little kids coding earlier on when I was in London. You just stand there and watch them. These were kids who were four and five years old. They were programming these little bugs on a mat. There would be some obstacles on the mat, and they would have to program this device to go around those obstacles. So it would be, well I need to do three steps forward, I need to do one to the right, I need to step back one, I need to go over four - whatever - to get around these obstacles. They were programming and didn't even know it. They would punch this into this little device they had, and then they would set this little bug down and watch it go. Did it bump into that? If it did bump into the obstacle, they knew they had to go back and reprogram it.
They were completely absorbed in that activity. They didn't know they were sequencing. They didn't know they were problem-solving. They were just having fun, but they were learning how to code. We've been able to get some resources here to try to provide that opportunity for children in our schools.
We've looked at coding from Primary to Grade 12, and not unlike other comments I've made here, you don't do it overnight. We're looking at the lower elementary, Primary to Grade 3. Our teachers need to understand it and not be afraid of it, the same as with math. We need to know that teachers are not afraid. We also need to know that children are learning how to use technology safely and that they are doing it in a creative environment and in a fun environment.
It's in the P-3 curriculum now. We will continue to work with teachers to make sure they understand some of the outcomes, some of the strategies they use, and some of the materials they will need. That's why we're trying to build up a bank of resources that can go out into schools for teachers to use.
Eventually, those kids will be moving on into junior high and senior high. We need to have programs ready and teachers who are trained and comfortable with that focus in their curriculum to receive those kids where they are and to move them on. It will not happen overnight, it should not happen overnight, and anybody who suggests that it should really doesn't understand it.
MR. DUNN: As far as the coding part of it, in my very limited experience, they learn very quickly. It's amazing, just totally amazing.
A question I did have was dealing with targeting, and you already talked about that - targeting dollars in particular for technology as perhaps one avenue to compliment partnerships with business and so on. It probably would be worthwhile at least to investigate and pick out a few sample schools to see how things are going with regard to coding and so on.
You mentioned the coding instructions occurring in P-3. Is it this Fall that it's going to be in Grades 4, 5 and 6?
MS. CASEY: When we look at coding, I don't want the students in Grade 11 to miss out because they didn't happen to be in Primary, Grades 1, 2 or 3 when we introduced it. So we are incorporating it into some of our math classes at the high school level. We also have a focus in our action plan on more hands-on technology-related activities in Grades 7, 8, and 9. Whether we call it coding or whether we call it hands-on technology-related experiences, we are making sure that we give our students a taste of this as they move forward.
We participated in the Hour of Code, which is one hour of one day across the world, I believe. It is catching on because teachers are working together with their students. They're coming together for that Hour of Code. Last year, we had 60,000 students out of our 116,000 who participated. We upped the challenge last year to 100,000 students. That was quite a goal to set. But the point is, we want more kids to participate because just participating and finding out what the Hour of Code is all about sparks their interest.
What has happened is that we have schools that have formed coding clubs. These, obviously, are driven by the interest of the students but also the desire of a teacher to take the lead on that - or a parent in the community or a business leader - to bring these students together. They are after-school clubs. Again, it gives those students who have that interest an opportunity to explore and to be creative.
The Hour of Code, the coding clubs, the introduction of Brilliant Labs, the maker spaces, putting it in the curriculum in P to 3, adding it to the math curriculum in high school, and having more hands-on in junior high are all geared towards increased use of and better understanding of what technology can do.
MR. DUNN: How many schools is coding currently taking place in? I don't need an exact number. I just need an approximation.
MS. CASEY: The teachers of all P-3 classes in the province have had some professional development and are working in the curriculum areas in P to 3. The Grade 11 math teachers - however many Grade 11 classes we have in the province would be how many schools we have. We have over 100 coding clubs, but they're driven by an individual, whether it's, as I say, the teacher or whoever. I don't have the list of where those clubs are, but we can get that information if that's of interest to the member. In answer to your question, every Primary, 1, 2, and 3 classroom, every Grade 11 math class - extended math, I guess it is - and all of our junior highs would have some exposure to the new technology.
MR. DUNN: I'm going to leave coding for a while. I don't know if I'll be back to it or not.
Another question that I wanted to ask is dealing with security - in fact, I was going to ask it in Question Period here last week, but time ran out on me. What do the department and school boards do for assessing the security of school buildings and school grounds themselves? Are these assessments conducted? There's a lot of offices, and there's a lot of schools. I guess what I'm thinking of is, we've had some lockdowns, and life around the schools certainly has changed even over the past even five years let alone 10 or 15.
MS. CASEY: I think we all shudder when we hear of a lockdown in one of our schools because the safety of our students and our staff is of utmost importance. When you hear "lockdown," quite often we don't know the details when we first hear it. So unfortunately, we think about other situations in other parts of the country that have ended in tragedy.
We cannot prevent them 100 per cent, but we can be as prepared for them as possible. One of the things we have done is hire Constable Mark Young, who has been working with the department for a number of years, to go out into the schools and help them prepare a safety plan for what the schools would do in case of an emergency or in case of a threat.
Over the years, he has worked with each school on a plan for their particular school. We then require that the principal of the school do a practice, not unlike a fire drill, to make sure students and staff are aware of what the plan is and what to do because you don't have time to figure that out if you are in a tragic or potentially tragic situation. We know that schools have those plans. We know that they have been asked to practise those plans. We ask that that happen in the first week of school, not unlike fire drills, so that students who are new to a school become familiar with that right away.
Mark Young is now working with staff at Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal on the design of new schools. What we have found, and what Constable Young found when he was out looking at a safety plan for a particular school, is that it was very difficult in some of our schools to have secure places or to control entrance to a building or to have sight lines where the principal or somebody in administration can come out into the hall, and they can see what's going on through the building. He is now helping bring those concerns and those ideas to the attention of the architects when they are designing new schools.
What he also did when he was out in schools is something we have seen in some of our older schools that were not designed for safety because they were designed before we were living under the fear of a threat. He would suggest to the school board or to the operations division within a school board what kinds of renovations might be done in order to make a school safer. In many of those older schools, it was just a matter of putting up a partition, controlling access to the schools so that anybody who came in the school had to be buzzed in and had to report to the principal's office - those kinds of steps.
Sometimes the general public and parents initially found that was making the school less friendly and less accessible. I think they've grown to understand that the reason those steps were put in place and the reason those actions were taken was all in the interest of safety. Mark Young has been most valuable in bringing this to the attention of our teachers, our principals, and now to the architects who are designing new schools.
We know that the training, whether it's a lockdown or it's a secure and hold - people sometimes confuse the two, but they are two different responses to a threat. The students are well aware of what to do if the call is a secure and hold, and what to do if it's a lockdown. It's important that the parents understand that, too.
What's equally important and perhaps even more so is that when the media reports something, they report it accurately because there's a difference. If there's a secure and hold, that means that students stay in the class, the doors are locked, they don't go out into the halls, and teaching continues. But if it's a lockdown, teaching doesn't continue. They move away from the doors and the windows. They get out of the lines of sight if possible.
When you're at home, and you hear that there's a lockdown in your school, you expect that that's what's happening, and in some cases, it's not. I think it's important that parents understand the difference. I know principals do, teachers do, and students do. But the parents at home need to understand the difference, and the media needs to report, and maybe they need to understand the difference. Everybody goes to "there's a lockdown at," and in many cases, when we follow up, it's not a true lockdown.
Preparation for that all in the best interest of safety is something that we take very seriously. We continue to work with Mark Young to make sure that, if there are new ideas, or if there are things that he's suggesting that could contribute to a safe environment, we know what they are.
MR. DUNN: I'm pleased to hear that's going on with Mark Young and so on. That's very positive. I'm thinking of some of our older buildings that would not be too conducive to creating a good lockdown and so on in such a scenario.
I have a question dealing with student assessment results, a very general question. I think you may have mentioned in your initial comments or somewhere answering questions that, over the last several years, we have seen different examples of poor assessment results across the province. I think you mentioned math and literacy. One notable part of this is that at times there seems to be considerable variation across our school boards in the province. I guess the question would be, could you comment on why this seems to be the case? Are there any particular factors contributing to this variation in these assessment results?
MS. CASEY: Assessment, in my professional opinion, is only valuable if it's used to make a difference. For years, we have had a lot of data from assessments that may not have been used to change what we deliver or how we deliver it. I think what we've come to realize is, those results are telling us something, and we need to analyze them to determine what it is that those results are telling us.
As I've said earlier, it's not because the students in Nova Scotia are not as bright as they are in any other province. It's not that the teachers aren't doing as well as or better than teachers in other provinces. But for some reason, the students are not able to transfer the learning into an assessment situation and give us the results that we want.
We have gone to school boards, and we have looked at discrepancies. It's very dangerous to do that. There was a time when results would be printed in the Chronicle Herald, and schools would be ranked. As a teacher, you were looking down that thinking, where's my school? It's good to know where you are in comparison to other schools, other provinces, and other countries. That's valuable information, but I was so relieved when they stopped printing that because it sent a message to the teachers and the students and the parents in some schools that they were at the bottom of the list, and that's no place anybody wants to be. There may have been good reasons why they were there at the bottom of the list.
What we do with those scores, to me it's more meaningful to use them to change the program we deliver and how we deliver it than to compare them in the media and get all kinds of people excited about that. I was really pleased that that practice has been discontinued.
The results really need to drive change. What changes in a classroom in Bridgewater should be directly related to the results of the kids in Bridgewater. What changes in a school in Sydney has to be directly related to what is going on in that classroom in Sydney. So there have to be some individualized and school-specific initiatives to address the problem.
We go back to the use of math mentors, and we've had some lengthy discussion about that here. If the math scores in a particular school are on a downward trend, then one of the resources we have made available is for teachers who are math mentors to go in and help understand why the scores are where they are and what needs to be done differently. If you continue to do the same thing, you get the same results, so we have to do things differently.
One of the things I would say about assessment is that we are getting better, I believe, at doing meaningful assessment. We're also getting better at early intervention so that we identify the problem early on and are able to try to resolve it. We do that. We start that in Primary because that gives us a picture. Our early development instrument, EDI, gives us a picture of the vulnerabilities of children when they come to school. That's why early years and early years centres and daycares and all those preschool kinds of programs are important.
I think it's about 25 per cent or 26 per cent of the children who come to Primary come with some vulnerability. That's not inconsistent with across Canada, but it does again tell us that something needs to happen before kids come to Primary, to try to address some of those vulnerabilities. We're taking the data that we have and not just filing it, storing it, or disbelieving it. We're going out into the early years centres and making sure they are aware of, so their programming can address some of those vulnerabilities.
We do assessments in Grade 3 and Grade 8. We also do our Nova Scotia examinations at Grade 10 in math and English. One of the things that was discontinued - again because if you're going to do it, what are you going to do with the data - was testing kids, provincial examinations in Grade 12. Well they write the exam in Grade 12, they graduate, and away they go. The results of that can't change the instruction for those kids. We moved those to Grade 10 so that if there's something that is showing up in the assessments in Grade 10 that would suggest we need to do something differently, then you have a chance for the last two years, when the students are in Grades 11 and 12, to change either what you do or how you do it, to address those results that you got in Grade 10.
I guess the rationale for doing assessments is really what you plan to do with the data. I believe we've paid very close attention to the data and tried to respond with interventions that help.
MR. DUNN: Just one question on inclusive education. It seems every time I talk with classroom teachers in particular, this surfaces. In theory, inclusive education should have many benefits for all students. However, if sufficient resources are not available in the classroom, all students suffer regardless of ability level. Of course, it also makes it very difficult for a teacher without sufficient support and resources available. I guess the question would be, what is being done to ensure that inclusive education is working the way that it is supposed to? A follow-up question to that is, how is this being evaluated?
MS. CASEY: I appreciate the question. It's something that all educators want to respect, and that is the model of inclusion and what inclusion means. Inclusion, as we know, respects the rights of children to be in an inclusive environment in public schools. We strive for that. What we recognize and what teachers recognize is that the complexities and the challenges that some children bring - out of no fault of their own - to the classroom are exceptional, and they require special supports and special attention.
We have done a number of things that we believe help support the teachers who are experiencing that every day. As the member said, it would be difficult to find a classroom teacher in the province who cannot share with you a situation where the complexities in the classroom have interfered with the ability of the teacher to teach to the best of their ability and for all students to learn. However, having said that, we do have a belief that inclusion is a right, and we respect that.
One of the things that we've done to try to acknowledge the complexities is what we call a Special Needs Support Grant, which is money that's made available to schools, in particular to classrooms and to teachers, to provide supports for that classroom based on the complexities that are there. It is available - I shouldn't say based on application. When a board identifies a concern, we look at what it would require out of that Special Needs Support Grant to help address the problem.
We also recognize that many students with complexities and many students who have just some delays in learning can have access to an IPP, an Individual Program Plan. We've had IPPs in our schools for a long time; they are programs developed specifically for individual students. That program is developed with the support and involvement of the parent, the teacher, and perhaps some other professionals who may have had some involvement with the child. They get an individualized program which focuses on their particular strengths and also the areas where they need some additional support.
We looked at the numbers of students in the province who were on IPPs last year. We were seeing an alarming increase in the number of students on IPPs, yet we were seeing a decline in population. The two just didn't match up. What we attempted to do was ask ourselves some questions about the whole IPP process, what criteria is used for students to be on an IPP, how we go about transitioning students on to and off of an IPP, and what steps have been taken before the student was placed on an IPP. What we found was that we needed to put in some stricter guidelines and criteria to make sure that, in the language that I use, an IPP does not become a life sentence.
Students who were placed on an IPP in Grade 2, for example, should have - and in most cases will have - an opportunity to transition off that, but only if there's an ongoing annual assessment of that individual student's needs and that individual plan that they are on. If the plan is directly related to the need, it's quite likely that that need will be met and there may not be the requirement for that IPP to continue on. If the gap has been closed, the student may be able to function without an IPP.
We put in some pretty strict guidelines. Again, teachers, administrators, resource teachers, and specialists in our schools were very much part of ensuring that the number of students who were carrying an IPP was given a thorough review, that how they transitioned off was considered, and that every possible step was taken before they were put on an IPP.
We believe that contributes to responding to the complexities that are in a classroom and not having children who are struggling to achieve some outcome that they are not able to achieve. The program they have is based on their ability. I think we would all agree, if we are asked to do something that we can't do, we may find other things to do and they may not be constructive. We need to make sure that the program students are following in the school is one they are able to do, and then they can progress through that.
One of the things teachers talked to us about, not only identifying and recognizing the complexities, was the number of kids in the class. Again, I go back to the first meeting I had with the Teachers Union in 2013. One of the things they said loud and clear that they felt needed to be addressed was the size of the classes. That is compounded by the complexities that are there now in the classrooms.
When we looked at capping the class sizes, we knew that was going to provide the teacher with a much more manageable group of children. That would allow them to give more attention to those who have complex needs. It would also allow them to give more attention to every student in the class because that's what every teacher wants to do, and they don't want to feel torn among the children, as far as who gets their attention.
Having fewer kids in the class is something the teachers have asked for and that we have done. Our initiative to cap class sizes from Primary up to the end of Grade 6 is in direct response to concerns that teachers raised with us. We know that with the passage of this budget, the classes in Grades 5 and 6 will be capped. We will continue to look at class sizes as we move on through the older grades.
It's important to know that when we are funding school boards, we have a ratio that we use for the funding at different grade levels. One of the concerns that I'm sure the member has heard is not necessarily from teachers in the elementary grades but maybe teachers in high schools. From the member's experience, I know he's quite familiar with high schools. We fund school boards on a ratio of 1 to 24, which is a very manageable class size.
I've asked for some data on class sizes across the province, and it's quite revealing that, in some cases, the class size is 35 - looking at high schools - and in some cases, it's eight or 10. Those are decisions that are made at the school board and the particular school about courses they're going to offer and staff that they have to deliver the courses. It's quite unfair, in my opinion, to have a course that is an essential graduation requirement packed with 35 kids who have to take the course and who may need some individual attention.
The board is staffed on a ratio of 1 to 24. There's been a decision made at the board level to pack 35 kids in that class, and right next door, there's a class with eight students. Quite often, those classes are highly motivated high-achieving students who require less individual attention from the teacher. I've got these numbers in front of me, and I'm disturbed by them, knowing that they're funded on a 1-24-ratio. How do we address that? Getting the information was, as I said, the first thing that we have to do. We have that information. How do you respond to that?
When you're talking to teachers, and they're suggesting to you that 35 in a class is far too many, I think we can agree. But I think it's important to let them know that the board is funded on a ratio of 1 to 24. If we had boards that were able to use that as a guideline - and it may not always be possible, but if they could - I think some of those concerns might be addressed.
Class size, complexities in the classroom, supports for the individuals, and IPPs that respond to the individual's needs and provide a program for which they have the ability and are able to be successful with are some of the things that we've done to try to make the teaching and learning environment better for both teachers and kids.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has elapsed. We will now rotate to the NDP.
The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River.
MS. LENORE ZANN: Is the minister still okay to go ahead? Does she want another break? (Interruption) Okay.
Data from 2009 shows that Canada was spending only 0.2 per cent of the GDP on early childhood education. Since the 1990s, the figure of at least 1 per cent of GDP for children zero to five has been used as the international standard for public spending on child care and kindergarten together.
I'm just wondering, what percentage of the federal social transfer is now allocated to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development?
MS. CASEY: I can get that information. I don't have that with me. You want to know the percentage of the federal social transfer.
MS. ZANN: Yes, I would like to know how much of it is allocated to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
MS. CASEY: Okay.
MS. ZANN: My next question is about wages. Earlier, I asked some questions about wages. I found out in the interim that in Nova Scotia, the average hourly wage for an entry-level early childhood educator without formal training was $12.47 in 2013 and $15.72 for those with early childhood certification. As the minister had noted, these are the lowest wages for early childhood educators in Canada.
Child care advocates have long argued for a publicly-funded non-profit system of early learning and child care like the public education system. In Nova Scotia right now, about 55 per cent of centre-based child care spaces are in for-profit centres, so 55 per cent in for-profit centres and 45 per cent operated by non-profit organizations. Based on the finding in the review that the current model of funding child care is not effective or sustainable, could the minister maybe just explain to me why the decision was made to direct this new investment into existing mechanisms, subsidies and wage grants?
MS. CASEY: As I said in the earlier questions, when we did our review, we certainly respected the opinions of the folks in the sector and we listened to what they had to say. We recognized that with our focus, which was on accessibility, affordability, quality, support for the workforce, and governance - those were the areas of focus - the priority for those who participated and with whom we consulted was to look at the wages and the subsidies.
One of the things that came loud and clear was how early childhood educators felt about being the lowest paid in Canada. They didn't feel very good about themselves. They didn't feel that previous governments had respected them, or they would have done something about it. They didn't feel that the qualifications that they had spent a lot of money on - to get their university degree or to get their certification - were appreciated. When you look at the quality of care that they give, the investment that they made in their education, and where they are on the national scene, we had to agree.
We recognized that we needed to do a couple of things. We needed to address the low wage. We also needed to send a message not only to the early childhood educators but also to other people in the province that these are professional people. They have certifications and degrees and diplomas. They are well-trained, and we entrust them with our little children. We need to make sure that we acknowledge that with compensation that is consistent with the national average.
So it was very clear that that was a priority, and it's very clear that our government has set that as a priority. As I've said earlier, we will address all of the findings, address all of those five focus areas. But we are certainly quite proud of the fact that we are investing in a sector that has been ignored, undervalued, and underfunded for a long time.
MS. ZANN: I would agree with the minister on that, that they have definitely been underfunded and unappreciated for, really, too many years. As I said, when my dad was teaching this early childhood development program at the teachers college, they felt that way then, and that was 40 years ago. In that time, it seems like society is finally realizing that the early years are extremely important.
As I've come to learn from my dad and from going to various workshops on this issue, the parental influence makes a big difference for children even from zero to two. Some children will learn 10,000 words in a short period of time. They will hear all these different words. Some kids will only hear a few like shut up, sit down, go away, eat your supper, or whatever. Other parents will take a lot of time to teach their kids. It's really uneven.
Giving kids a fair playing field so that they can come into school with some already-learnt skills - even knowing their colours and their numbers, I think - is partly why early childhood development and education is so very important. We have a very good institution in Truro where they train the teachers to do just that when they get out into the workforce, to look after these kids. Again, the amount of money that they would be paid is a pittance, really, for what they do.
The other thing is, as I've heard over and over again, that it's the system itself that needs to be changed and that grants don't exactly do it. They will help, but they don't solve the actual problem that the system itself needs to be overhauled.
Demand for child care, too, is difficult to measure given that wait times are managed by child care centres. Families may be on wait-lists for more than one centre, and families for whom child care is not affordable would not actually be on any wait-list.
If early childhood education is viewed as a public good, like public health care or public education, then it's not really an issue of demand but actually an issue of need. For instance, how many children in the province are of the age to require early childhood education? I think that it will be very important to find that out and get all children the opportunities and to give those parents and those mothers the opportunities to get their kids to affordable daycare and then hopefully get back into the workforce themselves at a more reasonable time. I know that in Sweden and in the Scandinavian countries, they have a very good program. It would be nice to follow in their footsteps and develop something that is closer to our public education system.
Has the minister thought of that? Has she got any ideas about perhaps moving in that direction?
MS. CASEY: When we began to look at child care, we were looking at the structure as it currently exists. We recognized that there were ways for that structure to be improved. The findings that we received from the sector certainly made it clear that there were ways for it to improve. What the structure will look like and what the governance will look like at the end of this phased-in program will depend very much on what we hear from the sector itself.
We have for-profits, and we have not-for-profits. Both provide quality care, and it's important that we don't dismiss the fact that you can have, and we do have, quality care in both for-profit and not-for-profit. We are not looking at comparing one to the other as far as quality. We look at quality across the board, and we would compare quality between two not-for-profits the same as we would between a for-profit and a not-for-profit. The structure that we currently have, which is funded to the operators - whether it is for-profit or not-for-profit - is the model that we are currently looking to improve upon.
MS. ZANN: Given that grants for early childhood educator wages have existed in Nova Scotia for at least 10 years now, how did the department decide to continue investing in those grants to address the overall issue of wages?
MS. CASEY: I would have to ask the member to perhaps explain the question.
MS. ZANN: Well, there are grants that have existed for a long time now, for over 10 years. We're saying that there's a problem with the amount of money that people are being paid. But why are we putting it into grants instead of addressing the overall system and perhaps coming up with a better way to pay these educators which is more sustainable long-term?
MS. CASEY: The funding that we provide to operators for them to use - that they hire their early childhood educators out of - is the model that has been used. We have recognized that there is a need to ensure that the wages that are paid to our early childhood educators are consistent with the national average wage. So the process that we will use will be working with the operators and working with the sector to ensure that we achieve that goal of the national average.
MS. ZANN: So the department is saying that they want to bring their wages up to the national average. I apologize for going back to this again, but I'm really still not clear. How did the department determine an additional investment of $6.6 million was required to address their priority goals for this year, given that there's no information available about how the money is going to be spent, how much money is actually needed, or where it will be spent? How do you know that it's going to be enough to pay them the same as national wages?
MS. CASEY: As I said earlier, when the budget is passed, we'll be working with the sector to know exactly how much money we have. But we certainly have done some preliminary to look at our average provincial wage, the average national wage, and how we can move toward that. We've done that preliminary work. As I said earlier, the details of how that unfolds certainly will very much depend on the classifications, the wages that are currently being paid because some may be closer to the national average than others. All of that detail will be something that we finalize with the sector after the budget is approved.
MS. ZANN: I just have to make a note that $6.6 million seems to be an arbitrary amount then because we really don't know how this number was reached. We don't have any figures for any of the things that I've been asking about specifically. So how did that number of $6.6 million actually come to be?
MS. CASEY: I think it's unfair to suggest that there are no figures. What is fair to suggest is that the details of how the funding will be applied will be determined, as I've said, after the budget is approved and in consultation with the sector itself. But we certainly knew where we wanted to be. We used the number of educators that we had. We knew where we wanted to get, and we did make a very conscious decision to determine what we believed the cost would be to get there.
MS. ZANN: Recommendation No. 5 from the review says it's necessary to "Improve support for low and middle income families to make it easier for them to access child care." How does the department define low income?
MS. CASEY: One of the messages that we heard loud and clear from the sector was that low-income families were not able to pay the difference between the subsidy that was provided and the fee that the operator was charging. Therefore, in many cases, they were not able to enroll their children in daycare. We believe we need to address that.
When we're looking at how we address it, we know that we have to look at the threshold, the income, and we also know that we have to look at the subsidy. All of those components come together to determine what the threshold will be, what the subsidy will be, and how many more families will be able to access daycare because of those decisions. As I've said many times here today, those details will be worked out with the sector and made public once the budget is approved.
MS. ZANN: How does the department define middle income? It says, "Improve support for low and middle income families to make it easier for them to access child care." I'm just wondering how the department defines middle income.
MS. CASEY: One of the things that we have to look at - I'm not saying that we have a definition of middle income. We will have an income that we believe is appropriate for families so that if they make less than that, they will have the subsidy. If they make more than that, they will have a partial subsidy. That amount has not yet been articulated to the sector and will not be until we meet with the sector.
MS. ZANN: It seems the maximum subsidies right now are below what's currently being charged to parents. If you access a full subsidy, you might have to pay up to $14 or more per day for infants, $12 for toddlers, $12 for pre-schoolers, and $9 for a school-aged child. Qualifying for a subsidy is also not a guarantee of space. And there is a cap, as we know, right now on the amount of subsidies each year. Parents oftentimes pay between $10,000 and $12,000 per year per child, and the provincial government currently contributes about $3,000 per licensed space. Can you foresee how much more is going to be going towards those subsidies?
MS. CASEY: There are a number of factors that would play into a family's ability to pay. Income is one of those. We need to look at all of those factors to make sure that those parents who need assistance in their subsidy do get the increase in that subsidy.
MS. ZANN: My next question is actually going back to the budget here, Page 7.7. Could you explain the decrease in the budget for Education Innovation Programs and Services?
MS. CASEY: Just so I'm clear, you're looking at $18,177,000 to $14,843,000, the two estimates compared?
MS. ZANN: It's the decrease in that Education Innovation Programs and Services. I'm just wondering what specific programs and services might be affected by that cut.
MS. CASEY: I think it's important to recognize that no programs will be negatively impacted by that. The difference there is the transfer of dollars from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's budget out into school boards as far as their grant to boards. There's no loss of money, and there's no loss of program. It's just the transfer out to the schools. The important part about that is that it's closer to the need, it's closer to the student, and it's closer to the board, so no loss of program.
MS. ZANN: Could you explain what the Education Innovation Programs and Services actually are?
MS. CASEY: I'm not sure if the member has it in front of her or not, but there are a number of services that are identified at the top - correspondence studies, virtual school - those kinds of services that are provided either directly or indirectly to students across the province. It would be a combination of those programs. As I said, none of those have been eliminated or decreased. They simply have had the funds for the career exploration in particular transferred out to the boards.
MS. ZANN: I've got it here somewhere, but I can't find it in my pile of papers.
My other question was, I couldn't seem to find a line item for the Artists in Schools program. Traditionally, we've had an Artists in Schools program for schools to bring in various arts groups to perform for the schools. I'm just wondering where that line item is, what it's included in, and how much it is.
MS. CASEY: We can get that information, but we continue to have our artists in schools. We continue to support the art program. But the particular information that the member is looking for, we'll have to provide that.
MS. ZANN: I'm just wondering, which part of the budget would it be included in?
MS. CASEY: It's my understanding that those programs are cost-shared. Some of that is out of Education and Early Childhood Development, and some of it is out of Communities, Culture and Heritage. I'm not able to respond to that amount, but our contribution to the Artists in Schools program is $155,000. I don't know what CCH's would be.
MS. ZANN: I appreciate the staff person bringing that over to us. Is that an increase from last year? Is it a decrease? Or is it the same?
MS. CASEY: It's my understanding that that would be the same.
MS. ZANN: One of the things I would also like to ask the minister about is the fact that when school boards feel that they have not been receiving enough funds, it seems to be their first line of cuts is to the arts. I know this happened in Truro while we were in government. They reversed their decision very quickly after I basically said over my dead body as the MLA. We created a ruckus and got the school board to turn their decision around. But I also heard about the music program, the band program, that was cut recently in Kentville. Can the minister comment about why they felt they needed to cut the music program from Kentville?
MS. CASEY: I certainly would not want to have anybody believe that our funding to boards has decreased. In fact, our funding to school boards has increased. The boards make their decisions based on what programs they can offer with the funds that they currently have. There has been no reduction in funding. In fact, there has been an increase in funding to boards. The per pupil funding has increased, and the overall education budget has been increased.
Unlike what the member might have been used to when she was in government, we did not decrease the amount of money that went to school boards. We have increased it, and we will continue to support the programs for our kids.
MS. ZANN: I would like to know why they cut the band program, then, in Kentville.
MS. CASEY: That would be a decision of the board. That's not a decision of the minister. That decision is made by the board. They look at their priorities, they look at their funding, and they make their decisions.
MS. ZANN: How much longer do we have?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Five seconds.
MS. ZANN: And then what happens?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. The time allotted for consideration of Subsupply today has elapsed. We will now adjourn.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 8:45 p.m.]