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Funding cuts could slice BC's literacy goals

Budget demands appear to be trumping the provincial government's election promise to make B.C. the best educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent.

The province's 21 regional literacy coordinators are facing a funding review, which likely means their positions will be axed before a new budget is unveiled in September. The B.C. Government Employees' Union (BCGEU), who represent eight of the coordinators, learned of the looming cuts on July 9 and are calling on the government to immediately reinstate funding for the positions.

“When you take that access away, especially to adults who in order to function in our economy need to be literate, that sort of contradicts the core message of their election campaign,” said spokesperson Chris Bradshaw.

The regional literacy coordinator positions were created last year as a result of a recommendations by B.C.'s Auditor General, John Doyle. They are “a key piece in trying to coordinate the various literacy programs and services that exist,” said Literacy B.C. executive director Judy Cavanagh.

“We're losing that whole coordination role,” she said. “They're the ones trying to ensure the learners get the best possible instruction. That's a gaping hole that we're going to try to find a solution for, to make sure those services continue.”

All regional literacy coordinator positions were covered through about $1.6 million in the Ministry of Advanced Education's budget.

Earlier this month, another core literacy program funded through the ministry also faced a review. The Community Adult Literacy Program (CALP) - the bedrock of adult literacy programs in municipalities across B.C., disbursed through annual grants - now appears to be safe from cuts.

“I've been told that the CALP funding is fine,” said Cavanagh. “But for the regional literacy coordinators, I've been told that money is not available.”

The cuts come after the provincial government slashed teacher-librarian positions in their first term. By 2005, the most-literate-jurisdiction promise appeared in the premier's throne speech. The goal was set for 2010, though that end date has since been removed from the Ministry of Education's website.

Literacy advocates have yet to see what administrative savings the Ministry of Education will try to find in its budget, which also contains significant literacy funding.

Tuition-free adult literacy programs have existed for more than 20 years in B.C., and CALP funding has driven literacy outreach organizations in towns throughout B.C.

Greg Amos is a reporter in Dawson Creek, B.C.

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