Is opposition trying to create a crisis in education too?

The recent debate over education spending and staffing raises the question whether the province’s opposition parties are more interested in agitating Nova Scotians than offering solutions.

On May 2, the provincial government announced that students across the province will have access to 173 more inclusive education specialists, teachers and non-teaching staff this September.

Of the 100 additional student and classroom supports, 60 will be education assistants and 40 will be child and youth care practitioners. Of those, 10 will go to the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP). Of the 70 specialist teachers, eight will be allocated to the CSAP. The CSAP will receive one parent navigator, one school psychologist and speech language pathologist, as well as one student health partnership nurse.

The Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE) will receive 13.5 new full-time equivalent positions (both teaching and non-teaching positions), which includes: two teacher assistants; three child and youth care practitioners; one Mi’kmaq student support worker; one pre-Primary inclusion coach; two guidance counsellors; one Autism teacher specialist; one resource teacher; one community outreach worker; one school psychology/speech language pathologist; and part-time student health partnership nurse.

The province said the $15 million in inclusive education funding includes more than $3 million for training and development. Government is also partnering with Autism Nova Scotia on a pilot program to train education assistants on working with students who have autism.

This will be year two of a five-year rollout of changes for inclusive education. In 2018-19, 191 positions were added to schools. The new supports bring the total to 364 new, inclusive education positions added to the education system.

But on May 7, the Progressive Conservative caucus issued a press release on word of cuts to early childhood inclusion, which was followed the day after by “rumoured” reductions to the Options and Opportunities (O2) Program by 70 per cent.

That same day, NDP Education and Early Childhood Development Spokesperson Claudia Chender said she “heard” from a number of people about fewer supports for Early Literacy in the coming school year.

The timing of the releases came as a surprise to education minister Zach Churchill who told The Reporter there has been a net increase of approximately 170 people in the system and a net increase of $44 million.

The minister explained that positions and staffing at schools change from year-to-year because of enrollment changes and other factors, but in looking at the numbers from his department, there are only seven positions province-wide impacted because of enrollment decline.

In the past year, six new school psychology and speech pathologists positions were created in the province and those six individuals were able to reach an additional 700 students. Churchill said the province is “expanding the non-teaching supports in our system.”

A representative with the department also confirmed there are no projected cuts to educational programs and the O2 Program will continue to be available to students. The SRCE also assured parents, students and staff that all schools in the SRCE that offer the O2 program this year will continue to offer it in 2019-20.

On top of the inclusion supports that they’ve hired, Churchill said he is proud of the approximately 1,000 new teachers have been hired into the system, resulting in the highest teacher to student ratio and the smallest class sizes Nova Scotia has ever had.

Acknowledging that the government cannot fix all the challenges overnight, Churchill added his government is “making milestones and consequential advances” in making sure students have the support they need and teachers are able to teach.

While it appears the province has decided to put more money and resources into the education system, there are some reductions coming (in the form of seven positions cut) and the possibility of more changes to the education system.

Underlying this new spending, is that the governing Liberals are trying to save face after disastrous labour negotiations with the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union approximately three years ago which arguable resulted in the loss of cabinet ministers like Michel Samson.

But for the PCs and NDP to declare that the O2 program will be drastically cut, and that there will be reductions to the Early Literacy and Early Childhood Inclusion programs – pointing to rumours as proof – is irresponsible.

As in the health care sector, opposition parties are trying to repeat the word crisis enough that voters will just accept it as fact. This is a tactic that has, unfortunately, proven successful in the United States, and in provinces like Alberta and Ontario, but it’s time voters say enough.

If the PCs and NDP truly want to form the next government they can start by being forthcoming with Nova Scotians and proposing constructive solutions, not engaging in fear-mongering. That is not leadership; it’s pandering that further erodes trust in government by using half truths.

For proof of terrible consequences from this poisonous political discourse, look no further than the jurisdictions in which it was employed successfully. While some parties and candidates win by using it, voters and the democratic system ultimately lose big.

Nova Scotia has to be better than this.