Literacy outreach co-ordinators in Greater Victoria are asking the provincial government to restore full funding for their work.
“You need literacy skills in order to be sustainable as a family, to get a job you feel proud of, to teach your children,” said Shantael Sleight, one of four part-time outreach workers in the capital region.
“More than anything, it’s discouraging because in my mind, [literacy outreach] is a core service.”
The four will stop delivering services when their funding runs out in September, said Kate Nonesuch, who manages local co-ordinators as volunteer chairwoman of the Victoria Literacy Task Group.
Provincial funding for the positions, delivered through an agency called Decoda Literacy Solutions, has been reduced to $9,000 from $17,500 in both Sooke and the West Shore, and to $13,000 from $30,000 in Victoria and Saanich, co-ordinators said.
Organizations such as the Greater Victoria Public Library, Literacy Victoria and the READ Society deliver programming. The literacy outreach co-ordinators primarily work to connect people and communities in need with those programs.
As an example, outreach co-ordinator Jan Dupuis trained the staff at Together Against Poverty Society on how to identify clients who may have literacy issues, and provided information about the programs available.
“People think that happens naturally, but when you’re working in your own program, you don’t necessarily know what’s going on at other organizations,” said Kelly Newhook, TAPS executive director. “Without that input from the outreach co-ordinator, I don’t think [literacy] would be top of mind for our advocates because they’re working on something else.”
Literacy is a vital skill for people because it allows them to fill out job application forms and other documents, she said.
Decoda has depended on an annual grant of $2.5 million to fund 102 positions across the province. CEO Brenda Le Clair said that amount has been reduced to $1 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender reported different figures, saying Decoda received $1.5 million for the year, not $1 million. In addition, Decoda received about $60,000 from the Ministry of Advanced Education and $665,000 from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, he said.
“We’ve been very supportive of them. They are a great organization, this is not a reflection of any lack of confidence,” Fassbender said.
The reduction from $2.5 million to $1.5 million is part of the government’s attempt to balance the budget, he said.
“Our main priority in government is to ensure we balance our budget,” Fassbender said. “That has been a priority for every ministry.”
NDP education critic Rob Fleming said the cut was disappointing, especially following a unanimous recommendation from the bipartisan legislative select standing committee on finance and government services to restore funding to $2.5 million.
“This is not a lot of money involved here, but it’s the money that is necessary to support an efficient service provided across British Columbia,” Fleming said.