The P.E.I. government says a $5.4 million increase to the education budget will help enhance well-being supports for students, and address what the finance minister called "service gaps" at rural schools.
"This is a pretty significant investment in respect to the needs of students," said Doug Currie, P.E.I.'s education minister.
Finance officials confirmed the bulk of the increase will cover negotiated salary hikes for teachers and support staff already in the system, but Currie said about a million dollars will go to new staff, including a mental health therapist, a counseling consultant, two occupational therapists — one each for eastern and western P.E.I., plus additional youth workers and educational assistants.
"The school supports were a pretty strong theme coming out from the voice of students particularly … in the school review" said Currie.
Department focused on helping rural schools
In Friday's budget address, Finance Minister Allen Roach said some of those new support staff will ensure "programs are more equitably provided" and address "service gaps in rural communities."
PC education critic Steven Myers said if that's the goal, the planned spending will hardly be enough.
"We have music once a week in some of the [rural] schools," said Myers. "A guidance counsellor shows up once a week in some of those schools, where in Charlottetown they're there every day," said Myers. "We have major gaps in service delivery."
Currie said a lot of those gaps will be addressed, not through spending, but through the zoning changes approved following the school review process.
He said those changes will distribute students more evenly.
"So there we're seeing the creation of more optimal schools, better use of resources," the minister said.
P.E.I.'s Teachers Federation said this week that if government wants to create a more equitable education system, it needs to hire more teachers.
Currie confirmed Friday P.E.I's teacher staffing numbers will be the same in September as they are now.
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