While the province has earmarked $43 million in new funding for pandemic-related learning expenses next year, the education minister said he is hopeful the 2021-22 school season will look closer to “normal.”

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While the province has earmarked $43 million in new funding for pandemic-related learning expenses next year, the education minister said he is hopeful the 2021-22 school season will look closer to "normal."

Education Minister Cliff Cullen announced Thursday the province is allocating $58 million, including $15 million in projected leftovers from the current school year’s bank of pandemic funds, to cover COVID-19 costs.

"We’re optimistic September will come and we'll be closer to a normal school year than certainly what we are (experiencing) now, but we do recognize there’s going to be some recovery required and some catch-up required," Cullen said.

The majority of the funding, $40 million, will be distributed to school divisions and independent schools on a per pupil basis to support additional staffing, learning and technology, and health and safety costs.

The remainder has been set aside for potential personal protective equipment costs ($6 million), the province’s remote learning support centre ($5 million), and a contingency fund that will include money for recovery learning ($7 million).

The recovery learning contingency fund is to be used to address gaps in student learning overall. Funding will be split into streams of mental health and wellness, literacy and numeracy, planning and assessment, student engagement, and professional learning, the province said.

Between provincial funding, federal money and school savings accumulated last spring during the first wave closures, Manitoba had $185.4 million for pandemic expenses for the current school year.

Cullen said the province estimates $170 million — 92 per cent of it — will be spent by the end of June.

Data obtained by the Manitoba NDP through a freedom of information request indicates $108.6 million had been distributed to schools as of April 30.

NDP education critic Nello Altomare criticized the province for not spending all of the money it allocated to keep schools safe this year.

"We knew this third wave was coming and we did little to plan for it, and this is what we have now — kids out of school when they need to be in school," said Altomare, a retired principal.

He added the province needs to draw up a pandemic recovery plan for schools to ensure there are adequate resources, including more clinicians, when students return in autumn.

While Cullen did not say Thursday when an announcement will be made about fall classes, he indicated the province foresees ongoing need for full-time remote learning for students who require medical accommodations.

The K-8 remote learning hub, which is operated through both the St. James Assiniboia and Pembina Trails school divisions, will continue to employ teachers, clinical staff and technical support for 1,000 students.

As for a more imminent return for students in Winnipeg, Brandon, Dauphin and both Red River Valley and Garden Valley school divisions, the education minister hinted he would like to see — at the very least — the province’s youngest learners back in class to finish the school year.

"To have some closure for this school year, I think, is very important," he said, adding a decrease in the number of school-related cases in recent weeks is a reassuring sign.

Earlier in the day, the premier announced students in those regions would remain in remote learning for at least another week after May 30, as public health officials continue to assess the situation.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

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.