Investing in Families and Youth
This year’s budget announcements have been good news for families and youth in Moose Jaw. The investments announced show Saskatchewan’s commitment to supporting families and children, those who will determine the future of our province.
The Government of Saskatchewan is continuing to support Saskatchewan students by increasing funding for classrooms and for new schools. This budget includes $1.9 billion in K-12 operating funding for Saskatchewan school divisions – a $26.2 million increase over last year. Education capital funding is also up by $20 million this year – to $95.6 million – while the Education Property Tax Rate remains unchanged.
The announcement of a new school for Moose Jaw is very welcome and exciting. It is apparent that there is a need to replace aging Public and Catholic Elementary schools on the south side of our city. Funding in this year’s budget will start the design process for a consolidated Public and Catholic joint-use school that will replace Empire, Westmount, St. Mary and Sacred Heart Schools. The collaboration of Public and Catholic School Boards, school administration and government has set out the path to enhancing learning opportunities for students.
There has been other good news for Moose Jaw families in the past month. Moose Jaw is one of seven Saskatchewan communities to open a new Family Resource Centre. Early Years Family Resource Centres provide a place where families with young children can access reliable information, services and supports to help them raise healthy children. There could also be interactive activities for babies and toddlers, and support groups where young parents can share their experiences with others and seek advice. The centre will provide families in our community with a welcoming environment where they can play and learn. These new Centres are expected to open as early as this fall.
The province’s Early Learning Intensive Support (ELIS) pilot program will be expanding from the two original locations of Regina and Saskatoon to five additional communities; Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Prince Albert, Swift Current and Yorkton. It will allow school divisions to provide additional supports for children with intensive needs attending Prekindergarten programs. This includes hiring additional educational assistants and bringing in specialized resources. Once this expansion is completed, it will bring the number of available spots for preschoolers with intensive needs from 109 to 170.
Nearly 130 more licensed child care centre spaces have been allocated across the province as of March 7th. Twenty-three of those spaces will be at Northwest Child Development Centre Inc. in Moose Jaw. With the addition of these spaces, the government will have allocated funding for 7,116 new spaces since 2007 – a 76 per cent increase in the number of spaces in that time.
Funding for the Early Years Family Resource Centres, the Early Learning Intensive Support Program, and the new child care spaces is part of the Canada-Saskatchewan Early Learning and Child Care Agreement.
It is Social Work Week in Saskatchewan as I prepare this column. Social workers are on the front line in providing supports to children and families. They fill a vital role in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our province. Social workers can be found in public and private practice; in health, education, justice and child welfare, and community-based organizations; working in policy, planning and administration. Thank you to those dedicated individuals who provide these very important services in our community.