After more than 20 years teaching adults essential reading and writing skills, the Literacy Terrace Society closed its doors for good March 31.
The society’s executive director Murray George put the blame on the province’s inadequate financial support for literacy programs.
In a letter to volunteer tutors, he explained an increasing number of literacy associations are fighting for smaller and smaller cuts of provincial funding. And this year a 25 per cent reduction in the maximum allowable grant, which for Literacy Terrace meant a drop from $40,000 to $30,000, signalled the end.
“The government’s reasoning was that they have been receiving more requests for funding for literacy programs each year, so rather than provide more funding, they will just reduce the amount each program can receive, apparently to make their ‘pot of money’ go further,” George wrote.
In the past five years, the society received anywhere from $12,000 to $31,000 annually, but never the full $40,000. For 2018-19 they received $28,767 and served 13 learners.
“Recently our board of directors decided that we have been scrambling and beating our heads against the wall long enough. There is no magical light at the end of the tunnel. Literacy seems to be less and less of a priority for government. With the amount of fixed costs needed to run a program, the amount we can reasonably expect to get does not leave enough money to cover wages and other costs. We have run out of options and we will be closing our doors.”
The society once received money from the federal government to run an ESL program, which helped balance the budget, but that funding too was cut a couple of years ago, George says. The ESL program is now administered by the Skeena Diversity Society.
The province’s Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training confirmed there is a growing demand for literacy program grants. In 2018-19 $2.4 million was provided to 75 communities for 101 programs. Coast Mountain College, who disperses the provincial funds in the area, issued payments totaling $299,180 to 11 community-based partners in the Northwest, including Literacy Terrace.
“Unfortunately, the decision by the Literacy Terrace board to dissolve the society on March 31, 2019 will result in a literacy services gap for residents of Terrace,” says a ministry spokesperson. “The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training remains deeply committed to delivering quality services for literacy training that people can count on. The ministry will be working with Coast Mountain College and community partners to find a solution for the people of Terrace.”
But George doubts a solution will be easily found.
“We were the only game in town,” he says.
George had hoped a larger organization, whom he declined to name, would take over the literacy programs but they did not meet the province’s deadline for applications. The next round of funding will not be available for another two years.
“That means there will not be an adult literacy program in Terrace. I’m really disappointed. I had great hopes they would take it on. I don’t know what happened but they did not meet the deadline.”
George will make himself available as a volunteer as time permits, and is also asking other volunteer tutors to continue their work with current learners. Tutors were invited to pick up any teaching supplies they may need before the society closed the doors, while the Terrace Public Library has agreed to keep the most relevant tutor materials available for loan.
“I think for the most part they’ll carry one with the learners they’ve got,” George says. “But there’s nobody to do the coordination of getting new tutors and new learners going.”