If anyone needed to be convinced that there’s going to be a provincial election in Nova Scotia this year, the province’s announcement Thursday to increase the amount of money it gives to school boards should drive that home.
After two years of reducing its funding commitment to public schools, Education Minister Ramona Jennex made a quick reversal when she said the budget for school boards will increase to just over $1 billion even though the number of students attending publicly-funded schools in Nova Scotia continues to decline.
That increased funding means no permanent teacher will lose their jobs and about 170 new teachers will be hired. It also means the province’s cap on class sizes in Grades Primary to 3 will remain and boards can hire 25 new support staff, psychologists and speech language pathologists and maintain their existing complement. The funding allocation for teacher assistants is also going to increase.
The minister said the funding is part of the Kids and Learning First education plan that was announced last year. Among other things, that plan aims to make sure our youngest students get early literacy and math help.
As much as boards, such as the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, are being cautious, you couldn’t blame them if they felt like children at Christmas. Just when they figured they were in for another fight to stop the erosion of public education funding, the province has given them an unexpected gift. Question is, would the minister be bearing such gifts if an election weren’t in the offing? And, will that good will continue post-election?.
The last thing the provincial government wants is a repeat of the uproar from the last two springs when the CCRSB and other boards rallied parents against continued cuts to education. That confrontation reached a peak last year when the province told the local board not to pass its budget and sent in an advisor to recommend how cuts could be made.
Cuts to education are never easy and anytime children are involved it’s bound to become an emotional issue – even if reducing administrative waste and closing almost empty schools makes sense from an educational and financial point of view. Reductions lead to noisy protests and high emotions – something this government wants to avoid.
Could this be the first of several ‘good news’ announcements around the province as the premier attempts to favourably position his government in front of the electorate just in time to drop the writ and seek a second mandate? If so, let the political gamesmanship begin.