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Investing in Education

Mr. Speaker, no investments are more important to the success and sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador than those we make in our education system. We have a moral obligation to provide a solid educational foundation to those whose future is in our hands. To deny our young people a sound education would be to deny Newfoundland and Labrador a sustainable future, and that would run contrary to everything we are working to achieve.

So this year, despite the fact the current teacher allocation formula calls for the removal of 151 teaching units from our K-to-12 school system, we are investing $5.2 million, which means $9.1 million for a full year, to ensure that not a single one of those teaching units will be cut from our school system this year. We will reinvest those teaching units in strategic areas to address specific concerns: to enhance career counseling, to deliver futures in skilled trades and technology programming and to extend our commitment to cap class sizes to include Grade 2. We will also review the teacher allocation model to determine the best way to address declining enrolments and demographic shifts without compromising the education our children receive.

We cannot overstate the importance of the work our province�s teachers do in preparing our young people to seize the opportunities before them. Inclusion strategies, such as the Individual Support Services Plan, impose significant red tape and documentation requirements on teachers. This year, we will conduct an independent review of this program to identify ways to make it easier for teachers to deliver inclusive education to children with complex and divergent needs.

We also appreciate the importance of ensuring our students have access to the curriculum they need to succeed. This year, we will allocate $2 million for course development and the purchase and upgrading of equipment for schools. This will be paired with a recent $4 million investment for machinery, tools and technology equipment. We will invest another $2.2 million to provide laboratory safety equipment and lab training for teachers in Grades 7 through 12. We are also moving ahead to develop new curriculum that will enable senior high students to focus on Newfoundland and Labrador�s unique history. This will complement the Cultural Connections strategy we commenced last year.

Physical education is beneficial, not only for educational purposes, but also for fitness and personal enrichment. We will invest $1 million this year to extend the purchase of physical education equipment to intermediate grades, consistent with our government�s wellness agenda. This initiative will reinforce the work of the provincial wellness plan, Go Healthy, by increasing fitness opportunities. We are also continuing to work this year with the Government of Canada to develop a new provincial sports policy, and we are allocating an additional $100,000 to enable our athletes to compete in Whitehorse in the 2007 Canada Games.

In keeping with our commitment to ensure safe environments for our children, we are investing $5.3 million to reduce the age of school buses, to purchase 67 new buses and to offset maintenance and the increased cost of fuel.

School board consolidation has, admittedly, made it more difficult for school councils to have direct contact with board personnel. So we are providing funding to hire a liaison within the Department of Education to ensure the voices of parents and communities are heard.

Public libraries have always played an important role in extending education from the classroom into the community. We will provide $250,000 a year in order to lengthen the hours at forty-two public libraries where local demand exceeds existing hours of operation.

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