An additional $50 million in provincial funding is being earmarked for K-12 school capital projects, ranging from roof replacements to ventilation system upgrades, Manitoba’s education minister announced Thursday.
Combined with a prior 2020 budget commitment of $160 million, the sum will both help facilities get much-needed upgrades and bring the province closer to its goal of opening 20 new schools in 10 years, Education Minister Cliff Cullen told reporters.
"We must continue Manitoba’s ongoing investment in school infrastructure for the longevity of our schools and to improve accessibility for all students," he said during a news conference.
Cullen said investments will be made into multi-year projects already underway, purchasing future school sites, upgrading mechanical systems in schools, structural projects, and building new portable classrooms across Manitoba.
Of the $210 million in total funding for infrastructure projects, $76 million has been allocated for existing projects and $61 million for new schools.
Six new schools have opened, two are going to tender in the spring, and design will start on four projects during the 2021-22 school year, Cullen said.
New schools are expected to be built in the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine and the Brandon, Louis Riel, River East Transcona, Seven Oaks, and Pembina Trails school divisions in the coming years.
The province plans to spend $64 million on 84 renewal projects.
That sum is broken down into: $10 million for access projects, such as elevator and wheelchair lift installations; $21 million for mechanical system upgrades for infrastructure, such as boilers and ventilation systems; $16 million for roof replacements; and $16 million to fix structural problems with aging foundations, walls and historic entrance stonework.
The remaining $8 million is for building portable classrooms that can be moved wherever needed.
Following the announcement, NDP education critic Nello Altomare called on the province to make "a real" investment in schools.
"Now more than ever, kids deserve a quality education system that helps them succeed despite the pandemic. The Pallister government can continue to make promises, but the reality is they would rather underspend than help kids," Altomare, MLA for Transcona, said in a statement.
Last year, for the third year in a row, public schools received a $6.6-million boost in funding, totalling $1.33 billion — an approximately 0.5 per cent increase.
Critics voiced concerns about the operating funding allocations — which are typically announced in late January — not keeping up with inflation and the province hamstringing divisions by capping education property tax increases to a maximum of two per cent.
Also on the education file, Manitoba Education confirmed Thursday it is calling off spring senior provincial exams for the second year in a row.
The province previously cancelled Grade 12 winter exams, citing learning disruptions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We’re still expecting that teachers will be evaluating Grade 12 students, whether that be some form of exam or testing," Cullen said, adding the decision was made to ease the burden on students and teachers this year.
The minister added Manitobans can expect an announcement on the teacher COVID-19 rapid-testing pilot in the coming days. Sixty rapid tests had been completed, as of Thursday afternoon.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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