Most school boards across Nova Scotia will have to make do with less money next year but the province will cushion the blow, according to the most recent education budget released on Thursday.
The province has increased the overall funding for education for 2013/2014 by about $3.27 million — a one per cent bump — over the 2012/2013 year, despite continuing declines in enrollment.
Even with the increase, five out of eight school boards will see cuts in funding for the 2013/2014 school year.
School boards in Cape Breton-Victoria, Chignecto, South Shore, the Strait Regional and Tri-County will all see funding decreases over the 2012/2013 fiscal year.
However, the Annapolis, Conseil and Halifax school boards will see a funding increase.
Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil said the timing of the funding increase is no coincidence.
"There's no question that the turn-about today is government acknowledging the fact that the direction they've been going for the last three years has been the wrong direction," he said.
"And now as we head into what could potentially be an election year, they're attempting to win favour."
In the news release, the province said it expects overall enrollment to decrease by 2,316 students across Nova Scotia.
Boards hit especially hard by decreasing enrollment such as Cape Breton-Victoria and Strait Regional school boards will be protected and have their funding subsidized, the province said. Their funding decrease has been capped at 1.5 per cent.
In the past, school boards have been responsible for rising costs in utilities, maintenance costs and salaries.
However, Education Minister Ramona Jennex said this year the province will absorb any cost increases associated with faculty salaries, in addition to the budget allocation for each board.
"We have heard very clearly from people in Nova Scotia that education is a priority and it's an essential service that government provides so therefore we are making sure that the funding is there for our students to be successful," she said.
The province said in the release that the funding bump means no permanent teachers will lose their jobs in any board across the province. A total of 170 new teachers will be hired.
Class sizes will be capped to 25 students for Primary to Grade 3. The province also said 25 new support staff, psychologists and speech pathologists and 17 teacher assistants will be added across Nova Scotia.
The following is a table of budget adjustments for the 2013/2014 fiscal year, according to the Nova Scotia Department of Education:
Funding Change (%)
The Halifax Regional School Board will receive an additional $5 million next year, the biggest increase across all boards.
"We as school boards, Halifax specifically, we've given feedback to the government that with the budget envelop, with the enrollment decline, I think the government is listening now [and has had a] change of heart," said Gin Yee, chair of the HRSB.
"I'm glad to see the government has had a change of heart."
Yee said board officials will now meet with the education department to determine if the $5 million increase will be enough to fulfill all the province has promised in the way of increased services, including maintaining class sizes.