Nunavut education department seeks $18M boost

New money will pay for more teachers, bigger income support checks

By JANE GEORGE

the Nunavut legislature’s committee of the whole looked at the budget request of the department of education March 3 and March 5. Here, Kathy Okpik, deputy minister of education, Hunter Tootoo, education minister, and David Pealow, controller of school operations, address the committee on March 4. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)


the Nunavut legislature’s committee of the whole looked at the budget request of the department of education March 3 and March 5. Here, Kathy Okpik, deputy minister of education, Hunter Tootoo, education minister, and David Pealow, controller of school operations, address the committee on March 4. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

(updated March 8, 9:00 a.m.)

Nunavut’s education department wants “very substantial expansions” to its budget this year, pushing its spending up to $225 million, education minister Hunter Tootoo told MLAs sitting in committee of the whole March 3.

The GN will use most of the $18 million to hire more than 60 new school staff, he said.

The department, which is also responsible for handing out social insurance checks to Nunavummiut living in poverty, wants to increase the amounts of money that social assistance recipients receive for food and clothing.

This will add $3.8 million to the $28.3 million that Nunavut spent this past year on income support.

“It is crucial we offer Nunavummiut the tools they need to become capable, and engaged in the opportunities and future prospects of our territory,” Tootoo said.

The increase means social assistance recipients will see their monthly food allowance rise by 15 per cent and their regular and seasonal clothing allowances up by 35 per cent and rolled into a single benefit of $50 per person a month, up from $36.66 a month.

“It has been over five years since the last increases to the food allowances and more than 10 years since the increases to clothing allowances,” Tootoo said. “These necessary allowances will help improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable individuals and families in Nunavut.”

Currently 90 per cent of social assistance benefits go towards buying food, Tootoo said.

“While the social assistance program is intended as a program of last resort, demands in this area continue to be very high,” noted Moses Aupalukuq, MLA for Baker Lake, who is also the chair of the standing committee on social wellness.

Aupaluktuq also said in some communities the benefits are “not used in a manner for which they were intended.”

Speaking in the committee of the whole March 8, Tootoo said how the numbers of Nunavummiut on income support have dropped,

In 2008, there were 15,523 people on income support— or “roughly 50 per cent of the population” of Nunavut, he said. But in 2010 there were 13,716 people, about 41 per cent of the population, on income support.

The increases to education department budget include:

• $8.4 million more for school operations, of which $7.4 million is slated for more school staff to lower the student-educator ratio;

• $570,000 to support inclusive education so all “students will receive educational opportunities focused on their individual strengths and needs;”

• $417,000 to develop an early childhood curriculum and resources;

• $3.8 million more for school staff substitute wages, with $1 million going to district education authorities for substitute teachers; and

• $2.5 million more for the financial aid for Nunavut students program, FANS, which now assists 263 students at Nunavut Arctic College and 165 at post-secondary institutions in southern Canada.

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