Officials worried budget cuts could impact regional literacy efforts

Literacy Alberni is worried it will face closure if provincial funds for literacy continue to be cut, according to Charmead Schella.

Schella, the executive director of Literacy Alberni, said literacy programs across the province are facing huge budgetary issues as the Ministry of Education as indicated it will strip $1.5 million in funding to those organizations.

Literacy Alberni provides services to the Alberni Valley, Tofino, Ucluelet and Bamfield. According to SD70 figures, Port Alberni has an illiteracy rate of about 40%, which means 40% of adults can’t read past a Grade 5 level.

The education ministry last year provided $2.5 million to Decoda Literacy Solutions, a non-profit organization based out of Vancouver that disperses ministry funds to literacy programs across the province.

According to local MLA Scott Fraser, there has official announcement that the funding is cut. It is however, expected because the government attempted to do the same in 2013, Fraser said.

A year ago, many literacy societies were facing closure, however Literacy Alberni was still funded by Decoda because of the backing it received with the Raise-a-Reader campaign which, in conjunction with the Alberni Valley Times, raised more than $48,000 last tear.

“The fear is, rightly so, that since the government has got through the election and now that there’s not another one imminent, they may try to do this again,” Fraser said. “Especially with the core review that has been mandated by the Premier, that’s looking to cut anything and everything they possibly can in an attempt to balance the budget.”

After the province found money elsewhere to continue funding those programs, it has indicated to Decoda, Schella said, that $1 million worth of funding will not be there for literacy organizations across the province this year.

“I don’t think there’s been an official announcement they’re going to cut the funds,” Fraser said, “but it’s one of the things that’s expected because they tried to do it before.”

Schella also expects the funding to be cut.

“[Premier] Christy Clark has made her own mandates fairly clear,” Schella said. “I’m not sure literacy is one of her priorities.”

And because of Raise-A-Reader’s backing, Literacy Alberni will more than likely stay funded. But that does not mean it won’t be affected by funding cuts.

“We would definitely feel it,” she said. “It wouldn’t mean our closure, which is great today but who knows in two years in time if that money is continually being withheld or completely cut, it could definitely mean really negative things for us in the future.”

Fraser expects an official announcement to come down at the next session of the legislature, which begins Feb. 11 and goes into budget talks Feb. 18.

“If the government tires to pull the funding from Literacy Alberni programs, I’ll be fighting that, tooth and nail,” Fraser said.

“They did cut these funds before the election, and we raised bloody murder in the legislature and they reinstated those as we came into an election. We raised all the right issues.”