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Chilliwack literacy program receives 11th hour funding reprieve

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness says literacy funding has been restored, but agencies such as the Chilliwack Learning Community Society needs to regularly demonstrate value to taxpayers. - Submitted
Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness says literacy funding has been restored, but agencies such as the Chilliwack Learning Community Society needs to regularly demonstrate value to taxpayers.
— image credit: Submitted

The Chilliwack Learning Community Society (CLCS) is breathing a sigh of relief after an 11th-hour restoration of literacy funding by the B.C. Ministry of Education last week.

But after two consecutive years of such last-minute reversals, CLCS’s provincial umbrella organization, Decoda would like to see an end to its yearly funding uncertainty.

“What we’re hoping to gain from the B.C. government is sustainable funding year after year,” Decoda communications director Michael Leland told the Times, “so we can continue to do this important work instead of lobbying for the funding year after year.”

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness, however, told the Times it might be in the public’s best interest for groups like Decoda and CLCS to regularly demonstrate value to maintain funding since they don’t perform a core function for government the way schools and universities do.

“I would say that most British Columbians have to demonstrate value in their jobs, not only on an annual basis, but on a monthly basis,” he said. “So, if you don’t perform at work for a short period of time, your job is in trouble. And I don’t think it’s wrong to ask private groups like Decoda that receive government funding to demonstrate value year over year.”

Asked how a group like CLCS would demonstrate value, Throness said, “You deliver a product that is beneficial to the people you’re trying to help.”

CLCS got news last month that its 2013-14 funding from Decoda—a provincial non-profit that supports community literacy groups around the province—had been cut from $30,000 to $13,000.

They were told Decoda’s community literacy co-ordination funding was being cut in half, from $2 million in 2012-13 to $1 million in 2013-14, despite a recommendation from the Legislative Select Standing Committee on Finance that it be maintained as is.

That $1 million was quietly restored last week after public outcry from local literacy groups, but there is as yet no indication of any literacy co-ordination funding in the 2014-15 budget.

“It’s our hope that there will be something in the budget. Right now we’re in a wait-and-see pattern,” Leland said.

While $30,000 in local funding may not seem like much, CLCS literacy outreach co-ordinator Debbie Denault said her organization annually leverages that money into thousands of volunteer hours and more than $155,000 in grants and in-kind contribution for local literacy projects.

Throness, however, said all “stakeholder groups” across the province are under financial pressure and will continue to be in the future because of ballooning health-care costs.

He said he didn’t feel qualified to comment on whether Decoda or CLCS demonstrated value but did note Decoda’s administration or “office functions” costs outlined in its latest annual report were “very high” at 15 per cent or $800,000 last year.

He also said Decoda needs to ask itself why the education ministry has advised politicians to cut its funding.

“The ministry has tried to reduce their funding on several occasions, and it’s the politicians that have restored it under pressure,” Throness said. “I was heavily lobbied by Decoda, and I know other MLAs were as well.”

Asked whether he thought politicians should be following the ministry’s lead or the another way around, Throness said, “I would take the ministry’s advice on this, and I’ll take the minister’s decision and support his decision in the future.”

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