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Greater Victoria literacy organizations see bleak future

Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, left, discusses $1.5 million in provincial budget cuts to literacy programs in front of the Greater Victoria Public Library on March 20. Fleming was joined by Victoria Literary Task Force chair Kate Nonesuch, centre with glasses, and Jan Dupois, Greater Victoria literacy outreach co-ordinator. - Daniel Palmer/News staff
Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, left, discusses $1.5 million in provincial budget cuts to literacy programs in front of the Greater Victoria Public Library on March 20. Fleming was joined by Victoria Literary Task Force chair Kate Nonesuch, centre with glasses, and Jan Dupois, Greater Victoria literacy outreach co-ordinator.
— image credit: Daniel Palmer/News staff

Funding for literacy outreach programs across B.C. is being slashed as the province struggles to balance its books, and Greater Victoria co-ordinators say the move will force them to shut down operations.

Kate Nonesuch, chair of Literacy Victoria Task Force, said a funding decrease from $30,000 in 2013 to $13,000 this year means outreach work will soon grind to a halt. A similar Westshore program will receive just $9,000 in funding.

"We cannot possibly just dribble away our work on $13,000 across the board," Nonesuch said. "As of Sept. 1, our work will have to finish."

The B.C. Ministry of Education funds literacy outreach across B.C. by allocating grants to Decoda Literacy Solutions, a non-profit organization. Decoda then distributes those grants to 102 community organizations who use the cash to hire a part-time literacy outreach co-ordinator.

Funding for outreach programs was cut from $2 million to $1 million in 2013, but former education minister Don McRae later reinstated that funding. In a March 2013 interview, McRae said Decoda did "outstanding work in communities large and small across the province."

But this year, current Education Minister Peter Fassbender isn't bending to pressure from literacy advocates.

Victoria co-ordinator Jan Dupuis said she often works with poor and immigrant populations through workshops at Our Place, the Inter-Cultural Association and elsewhere who need access to literacy training to land a job.

"There was no consultation from the ministry on this, and we understood it had support across the board," Dupois said.

"It means you lose the momentum of those people and the community around literacy that isn't just covered through the school system," added Shantael Sleight, Westshore co-ordinator.

B.C. Ministry of Education spokesperson Ben Green said the partnership with Decoda has helped develop a community-based literacy model and has improved literacy awareness, coordination and outreach across B.C.

He said while the government recognizes the significance of that partnership, it remains committed to maintaining a balanced budget.

"The (Education) Ministry provided more than $27 million to literacy programs across B.C. last year, including StrongStart centres, the Ready, Set, Learn program, the Changing Results for Young Readers program as well as funding for public libraries," Green said. The Raise a Reader program also receives $500,000 annually from the province, he said.

Opposition education critic and Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming called literacy outreach program cuts an "economically stupid decision," as Decoda leverages funding with donations and relies on volunteer task force committees.

"In the fall of last year, the importance of literacy programs was expressed by all sides of the house at the bi-partisan finance committee," Fleming said. "This is about supporting people who want to improve themselves, and live a dignified, better life and get into paid employment … This is not a lot of money, but it's money necessary to support an efficient service that's provided right across British Columbia."

Fleming said he'll urge Fassbender and Premier Christy Clark to reinstate the $1 million grant in the coming weeks.

 

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