Literacy group faces cuts again

Helping readers: Cali Wright gets help with reading from  Heidi Dyball, a volunteer with LASS, the Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap. Literacy programs may be reduced if provincial funding is not maintained. - Photo contributed
Helping readers: Cali Wright gets help with reading from Heidi Dyball, a volunteer with LASS, the Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap. Literacy programs may be reduced if provincial funding is not maintained.
— image credit: Photo contributed

It’s not looking good.

After a two-month, hard-fought battle to restore funding for co-ordinators last year, the award-winning Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap and other literacy groups across the province are once again pleading for funds.

But a statement from Education Minister Peter Fassbender’s office does little to offer hope for the coming.

This despite the fact the Legislative Select Standing Committee on Finance recommended the funding dispensed through Decoda Literacy Solutions remain at $2.5 million level annually.

On March 5, Decoda staff and board members met with Fassbender, to discuss funding for community literacy co-ordination work.

“Unfortunately, the funding for this important work was reduced from $2.5 million to $1 million in the 2013/14 budget,” says LASS co-ordinator Jen Findlay. “In addition, from the discussion with the minister, Decoda is under the impression that there is currently absolutely no funding for community literacy co-ordination in the 2014/15 budget.”

In their statement Monday, Decoda was lauded as a valued partner in literacy work.

“While the ministry appreciates the significance of literacy programs and services, it is also committed to maintaining a balanced budget,” says the ministry, noting a core review of all ministries to determine priorities and budgets is currently under way. “The ministry wants to make sure it is best meeting the needs of British Columbians in the most fiscally responsible  manner.”

And the ministry has a different take on its contribution to literacy programs.

“For the 2013/14 fiscal year, Decoda is receiving $1.5 million from the ministry – including $500,000 for Raise-A-Reader,” reads the March 17 statement. “In addition, in 2013/14, the Ministry of Advanced Education provided Decoda $62,000 and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training provided approximately $665,000.

Findlay says provincial dollars are critical to Lass’ ability to leverage other funding, whereby grants and additional funding sources can amount to an operating budget of up to $120,000.

In addition, the value of in-kind donations to LASS – hours contributed by more than 200 community volunteers, meeting and event space, material donations, etc. – exceeds $75,000 in value each year.

“This is an excellent return on the government’s money,” says a frustrated Findlay, noting LASS organizers believe they, too, have a responsibility to raise funds to continue providing services to support children, families and seniors.

“We’ve been doing this for four years and have 13 part-time employees,” she says, noting that while the loss of provincial funding won’t force LASS to close, it will cut the level of service provided across the North Okanagan-Shuswap. “We’re taking a relatively small budget and doing amazing things. This is making the continuation of proven, cost-effective community-based literacy programs for the most vulnerable people very difficult.”

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo agrees.

“I definitely support the work they have been doing; it’s extremely important,” he said Monday. “I’d go so far as to say I am disappointed with the reduction in funding and I will be making further inquiries with the minister of education to see what can be done to get us back to previous funding levels.”


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