Feds pledge ‘up to’ $2B to provinces for back-to-school safety

PM also promises additional $112M for schools in First Nations communities

The federal government is promising to deliver “up to” $2 billion to provinces and territories to bolster safety plans to bring students back into the classroom.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced the new spending plans Wednesday (Aug. 26) at a school in Toronto, said government is also earmarking a separate $112 million to support schools in First Nations communities.

He said the new Safe Return to Class fund would be flexible, acknowledging education remains the jurisdiction of the provinces.

It will be up to the provinces to determine spending priorities for safety measures, be it hand sanitizer or technology for remote learning.

“What they choose will be up to them,” Trudeau said, adding his government has no plans of interfering with provincial jurisdiction following a recent call — his 17th since the pandemic — with the nation’s premiers.

“This money is there to help keep our kids safe but the provinces will determine the best way to make sure that this money is spent.”

The new fund comes two weeks before B.C.’s K-12 students return to classrooms — a prospect still laden with uncertainty for parents and teachers.

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming is scheduled to offer an update on the province’s own plans for bringing K-12 students back into classrooms amid concerns about everything from physical distancing to access to PPE.

When pressed on why it took so long for the federal government to allocate money for classroom safety amid the pandemic, Trudeau said the decision came after hearing from MPs who have heard concerns from parents.

The funding will be provided to the provinces and territories in two installments.

The first installment is set for fall 2020 followed by additional funding in early 2021.

Funding will be delivered based on the number of children between the ages of four and 18 living in each province.

A base amount of $2 million will be provided to each province and territory.

In B.C., the maximum money allocated comes in at $242.36 million.

Ontario will receive the most: $763.34 million.

Trudeau said the Safe Return to Class fund is meant to support planned safety initiatives for which the provinces have not yet earmarked their own dollars.

Ottawa had previously pledged a separate $19 billion in COVID-19-related support to the provinces.

torton@biv.com

@reporton

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