Literacy funding reinstated after northern outcry

Adult literacy programs in Hazelton were in jeopardy recently, but thanks to a province-wide petition slated funding cuts were reversed.

Adult literacy programs in Hazelton were in jeopardy recently, but thanks to a province-wide petition, which included local voices, slated funding cuts were reversed.

Decoda Literacy Solutions, a combination of the former Literacy B.C. and literacy department of 2010 Legacy Fund, opened its doors on 2011.

Decoda now delivers government dollars to more than 400 communities in B.C., but was close to shutting down more than half its operation when $1.5 million was cut from its operating budget.

Hazelton was one of  the communities targeted for cuts and that didn’t sit well with several Hazeltonians.

Lynne Newberry, Coast Mountains School District trustee, couldn’t believe funding would continue in urban centres and not in the Hazlton area.

“There are so many more opportunities for people in the lower mainland and for funding to continue to be given to them over us was a real slap in the mouth,” Newberry said.

“It was devastating to hear the north was going to be cut off from literacy funding.”

Mid-February was when Decoda announced the funding shortfall and organizations like the Learning Shop and the Upper Skeena Early Childhood Development offices went to work.

Sarah Panofsky, literacy outreach co-ordinator, was close to losing a portion of what she provides the community, but more importantly would’ve been unable to help families in the Hazelton area.

“Decoda is one piece of a much bigger puzzle,” Panofsky said.

“But it would’ve hampered programs around here for sure.”

The B.C. government actually cut the funding two years ago, but Decoda subsidized the shortfall last year.

“Decoda made the decision this year of who to fund or not,” Panofsky said.

“Their rationale was to continue funding communities who had leverage funds with industry.”

Panofsky and company were distressed by, what appeared to be, a flippant choice.

“They made it clear we were considered a community that can do more with less,” she said.

“How can a community like West Vancouver get more money for literacy than Hazelton.

“It just didn’t make sense.”

In Hazelton Learner’s Opportunity Group Society, the library and other organizations helped to send a clear message to counter what Panofsky sees as a definite political agenda.

“There seems to be a move away from community literacy programming in the past few years,” she said.

“The only literacy programs that get guaranteed funding from the government have to do with job skills and work-related  entities.”

Tara Williston, Upper Skeena early childhood development network co-ordinator, is new to her job, but knows the importance of reading for families.

“If a parent doesn’t have a firm grasp on reading comprehension it will make it much more difficult for their children,” Williston said.

“The potential for literacy problems increases when parents are relatively young.

“My goal with this funding is to assist young families reach their potential through literacy.”

Williston helped the petition by drafting a letter to send to businesses and political organizations.

“I sent letters to local government, non-profit organizations and the MLA,” Williston said.

“I asked that they sign, as is or add anything they wished and then send it to Education critic, Robin Austin.”

Whatever the motivation, the B.C. government decided to reinstate the $1.5 million to Decoda.

“I don’t know if it was all the letters from everywhere in B.C. that did it or all the negative

publicity,” Williston said.

“We still don’t know if this is a permanent reinstatement.

“Who knows, this could all happen again next year.”

“Miraculously the government found some money and we can now provide all that we planned and hopefully more,” Panofsky said.

“We are very happy the funding is available again.”