The education minister says an extra $100 million in the provincial budget will speed up the process of getting 20 new schools built in Manitoba.
Education Minister Cliff Cullen said Thursday that the increase in education capital funding could see the last of the 20 new schools completed by the fall or winter of 2025.
"This is up to five years ahead of schedule," he told a news conference.
So far, six of the 20 schools the province had guaranteed by 2030 are now open and in use, two are going to tender this spring and four will be designed this year.
In total, the provincial budget includes more than $260 million for kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school capital investments.
The 20 new schools will provide approximately 10,900 new classroom spaces along with 1,450 child-care spaces, at a total estimated cost of more than $500 million, a press release about the capital funding said.
The additional capital will also be put toward increasing replacements and upgrades to ventilation and electrical systems and updates to libraries, outdoor spaces, spaces for arts programming, athletic programming, vocational programming, life skills and community resources.
"We will support our students, teachers and staff with the resources they need," Cullen said.
What schools need now is personal protective equipment and vaccines, said NDP education critic Nello Altomare.
"The minister is making empty promises for the future but this year he's underfunding education, cutting millions from the budget and ignoring educators who are asking for better (personal protective equipment). The Seven Oaks School Division has secured its own N95 medical grade masks to protect front-line school staff from the rise of the third wave and COVID-19 variants hitting younger adults hard."
Cullen said his department is following expert advice when it comes to N95 masks.
"Public-health officials have told us that type of PPE is not required in schools at this time," the MLA for Spruce Woods said.
That doesn't satisfy the NDP education critic, a retired school principal.
"Educators and school staff don't feel safe in the classroom during a third wave, but the Minister refuses to give them N95s or prioritize them for vaccines," said Altomare.
Cullen said he shares concerns about COVID-19.
"We're working closely will health officials making that assessment," he said of the priority list for Manitobans to be vaccinated.
"So many organizations are coming to us and Manitoba Health, asking to get on that list, as well."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.