Nova Scotia

Educators raise concerns over funding for menstrual products

Earlier this month, the Nova Scotia government announced that all schools will begin providing menstrual products for all students grades four and up. Some educators say it was unclear where exactly this money would come from.

No new funding for initiative yet, but province said it will put money in 'if required'

The province says menstrual products are now available to 40,000 students across 367 schools in Nova Scotia. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

As someone who's been teaching for almost 20 years, Melanie Kennedy knows the importance of keeping menstrual products on hand for her students.

"It's just kind of something I've always done. I have Band-Aids too," said Kennedy, who teaches drama at Auburn Drive High School in Cole Harbour, N.S. 

"It's just things kids ask you for in class, and if you can get the student back to their learning in a more expedient fashion, it just makes sense to have those things there."

Kennedy buys the items with her own money and gives them to the school's youth health centre where students can access them.

She said it's "amazing" that schools across Nova Scotia are now offering free tampons to their students — as the Department of Education announced earlier this month — but she said she has questions about the rollout of the initiative.

"My concern comes with the fact that there's no funding attached to it and that schools are expected to take it out of their existing budgets," said Kennedy. 

"And anybody who's ever looked at a school budget knows there's not a lot of extra room."

Kennedy says she's concerned that the province isn't providing addition funding to supply schools with menstrual products. (Submitted by Melanie Kennedy)

She said the money could add up. If a school has 400 students who use menstrual products, and if each box of products costs $6 and each student goes through a box in four months, it could cost the school an extra $600 each month.

Kennedy said she knows there's demand to keep these products on hand. On Tuesday, for example, she said she noticed a basket of supplies on one of the school's bathroom counters.

"So I went back to my classroom and I got the stuff that I had to go and put in the bathroom in that basket," she said. "My school day here starts at 9:25. By 9:45, all of the tampons had been taken from the basket."

Province will provide funding if needed: McNeil

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil reiterated that funding for the menstrual products will come from the schools' existing toiletries budgets — but he said the province can step in if needed.

"If required, we will put new money in," he told reporters. 

"What we've known in many cases, that particular budget, there's lots of room from our regulators that allows us to spend that money that has already been budgeted for to achieve that objective."

When asked by a reporter about whether the money would come from teachers' already-restricted operational budgets, McNeil responded: "This has nothing to do with teachers' classrooms."

"This has to do with a separate budget that deals with the toiletries associated with our physical schools," he said.

McNeil told reporters Tuesday that additional funding will be given for the initiative if necessary. (CBC)

Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said teachers are concerned about the initiative's funding and there needed to be clearer communication from the province about the rollout.

"Teachers are already struggling with very inadequate resources, and there's legitimate concern about what's going to give so that kids can have things that they need," he said.

Wozney said he would have liked to see some provincial startup funding, similar to a new initiative in B.C. announced in the spring. The western province has committed $300,000 to help schools provide free menstrual products.

He said he was glad to hear that Nova Scotia will step in to provide more funding if the schools' existing budgets aren't enough, but he said that fact should have been made clear from the beginning.

"I think what it shows us is that it's good to have conversations with the people on the ground before you make a decision so that everybody can be behind something from the start," said Wozney.

No need for teachers to buy products for students

In his original announcement, Education Minister Zach Churchill said it's up to the different schools to decide how and where these products will be made available, and that the costs of the initiative will be handled by the regional centres of education.

Doug Hadley, spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education, said the Department of Education provides funding for the regional centres for education, and the regional centres, in turn, distribute funds to the individual schools.

Hadley said the HRCE, Nova Scotia's largest school system, has a budget of close to $250,000 to provide toiletries to its schools. He also said many schools already provided menstrual products for their students. 

"In reality, there probably been lots of ways that these products have been funded in the past. And schools have probably been taking some moneys from their school-based funds as well," he said. 

All schools with grades 4 and up have been provided with these posters to tell students where they can find the menstrual products. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

While many schools already provide menstrual products for their students, Hadley said the government announcement means there is now increased awareness for their availability, as well as consistency across the province.

Hadley said he'd like to thank teachers who have spent money out of their own pocket to provide menstrual products to their students, but he said it's no longer necessary.

"The fact is that many, many teachers go above and beyond in a lot of areas, and they make our school system more richer for it," he said. 

"What we want to assure teachers is that they don't have to be doing this. So opportunities to share information, like this interview, are great chances to reinforce that message to teachers."