Starting this fall, schools in the Northwest Territories will begin offering full-day junior kindergarten to four-year-olds.
“It's play-based, very hands on,” says Rita Mueller, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.
She says new junior kindergarten programming will roll out over the next three years, starting with the territory’s smallest communities, followed by regional centres and finally, Yellowknife.
“The taxpayers have said we need to have more options for parents … for high quality early childhood programs, and we believe this is the responsible financially prudent way to go about that,” Mueller says.
But some school board administrators feel differently.
The government estimates the new programming will cost about $7 million over the next three years, but it isn’t offering any new funding to pay for it.
Instead, the GNWT plans to redistribute money from its existing budget among the territory's 10 school authorities.
Some boards will gain money during the roll-out, and others will lose funding — including the Yk1 School Board, the territory’s largest.
“We’re now in year one with a nearly $600,000 reduction,” says chair John Stephenson. “It will be similar next year. In the third year there will be an increase but we have already suffered the loss, so net, we're behind the ball in year three and being asked to provide for another cohort of students."
'The government is saying do it, but cut other programs to make this happen.'- Simon Taylor, Yellowknife Catholic School Board
The government says the Yk1 school board could dip into its $1.5 million surplus, but Stephenson says that money is already spoken for.
He says it’s needed for expenses such as teacher development and additional support for students with special needs.
The Yellowknife Catholic School Board will also lose funding, just as they’re being asked to increase services.
“They are introducing it at the expense of current programming,” says chair Simon Taylor. “The government is saying do it, but cut other programs to make this happen, and that is fundamentally wrong in my mind.”
The government says boards losing money will only see a 0.1 per cent to 1.2 per cent decrease in their budgets overall.
It's counting on the boards to dip into surpluses to help bridge the funding gap.