The Higgs government is loosening its spending restraint as it heads into an election year, committing to build an additional six new schools in the province to accommodate soaring enrolment numbers.
Finance Minister Ernie Steeves made the announcement as he delivered his capital budget for next year in the legislature.
He said enrolment in provincial schools has spiked by 7,200 students in just two years and is forecast to grow by another 6,000 in the next four years.
"This means we must respond to the increased demand for space in our schools and continue to build on the progress we have made in recent years," he said.
Finance Minister Ernie Steeves says enrolment in provincial schools has spiked by 7,200 students in just two years and is forecast to grow by another 6,000 in the next four years. (Radio-Canada)
Steeves said the province will spend $10.2 million to start work on six new schools in Moncton, Fredericton, Dieppe, Salisbury and Tabusintac.
He did not provide details about those schools.
Soaring population growth
The announcement of six new schools compares to three new schools announced last year, in Saint John, Shediac Cape and Campbellton, and two the year before, in Fredericton and Moncton.
But the new projects are still unlikely to be enough to address the soaring population growth in Moncton and Fredericton in particular.
In the Anglophone East school district, based in Moncton, superintendent Randolph MacLean said last month enrolment had increased by 2,541 students since September 2021.
"What are we going to do?" he said. "Build more schools, I hope. That's what we want."
Anglophone East school district superintendent Randolph MacLean said last month enrolment had increased by 2,541 students since September 2021. (Jackson Smith/Submitted by Anglophone East School District)
Anglophone West, in Fredericton, says its unofficial enrolment figures for this fall show an increase of 1,400 students compared to two years ago and almost 1,900 students since September 2020.
And in Francophone South, which includes schools in Moncton, Fredericton, Saint John and Miramichi, enrolment has grown by almost 1,400 students between September 2021 and this year.
The district says it needs five schools to accommodate that growth.
50% education budget increase
The total capital budget for education would be $187.4 million in 2024-25 — a 50 per cent increase over what the government's multi-year plan had laid out for the year.
Of that, $82 million would be to continue construction of eight previously announced schools already underway.
Premier Blaine Higgs government's commitment to build six more schools comes as the province heads into an election year. (Ed Hunter/CBC)
Steeves said $50.3 million would be spent on improvements, land acquisition and site assessments and ventilation upgrades in schools.
The capital budget also includes $33 million for construction next year of public housing projects — part of the $102.2 million announced in October 2022 to build 380 new units and upgrade 110 more.
But no more funds would be added to that total with this year's budget.
Steeves attributed the total increase in the capital budget, $188 million more than what the government originally planned to spend in 2024-25, to inflation and labour shortages, not the looming election scheduled for Oct. 21, 2024.