Like a lot of children, 10-year-old Lilli Carpenter-Gleim isn't looking forward to going back to school next week.
After receiving disappointing news about her daughter's educational assistant — or EA — earlier this week, her mom, Jenn Carpenter-Gleim, said she's "terrified, while trying not to show that" to her daughter.
"But how can it be successful? You know, how can the year go well for anybody at the school, let alone the kids with special needs?"
By the time Lilli was diagnosed last year with autism and ADHD, she was already well behind her classmates. Carpenter-Gleim said her daughter is now two or three grade levels behind.
Last year, Lilli shared an EA with one other student in the same class at the Lincoln Elementary Community School. Carpenter-Gleim called the classroom help "the best of a worst-case scenario."
"The EA is wonderful. She's fantastic. But she is only one person, right?"
Ten-year-old Lilli Carpenter-Gleim enjoys a pretzel at the Area 506 container village in Saint John on Friday afternoon. (Submitted by Jenn Carpenter-Gleim)
Her hope had always been for Lilli to get her own EA. At an open house at the school this week, however, she learned that Lilli would be sharing an EA with several other students — some in other classrooms.
Carpenter-Gleim said her daughter's school had seven EAs last year and had requested 11. She said they have been approved for six.
After hearing all of the government announcements about more money being put into education — including $30.8 million the government said was earmarked to improve school inclusion — and consecutive provincial budget surpluses in recent years, Carpenter-Gleim said she's shocked that her daughter is getting less support than before.
"It makes me angry and really sad," she said.
"Our provincial government is bragging that they have this big surplus. Well, hello, you should be spending it in — and I mean, the medical system is terrible too, we know that, but … there's no excuse for us to have a surplus when the education system is in such horrible disarray.
"If it wasn't for the devotion of the teachers, it would have imploded by now I'm sure."
Carpenter-Gleim is worried about Lilli and all children with "special needs. They're going to get left further behind."
"And the teachers and the EAs are going to burn out even more than they already are. You know, they're already giving 150 per cent and this year they're going to be required to give more," she said.
"It's just mind-blowing to me. It's surprising to me that we have any education staff left in this province."
More education money promised
Although the release of the provincial budget in March included additional funding for the education system, it did not specifically mention funding for EAs, although it did contain more money for inclusion.
The Department of Education was asked on Friday morning to provide the number of EAs in the system last year and the anticipated number for the coming year, but figures were not provided by publication time.
The president of the union representing EAs and other school support workers said she was not aware of large-scale cuts to EAs in the province.
Theresa McAllister said districts usually budget for EAs based on the previous year's needs and then readjust for the current year by the end of September or early October.
Theresa McAllister is president of CUPE Local 2745 that represents educational support workers, including EAs. McAllister says there are never enough EAs. (Rachel Cave/CBC )
"So a lot of times they will hire more support staff [at that time], but then again, not all districts do it the same way," she explained.
The last school year saw enrolment increase by more than 4,200 and McAllister said there were more than 3,000 EAs in the province. Another 2,200 students are expected to begin school next week, according to estimates released by the government in budget documents.
McAllister said there are never enough EAs.
"I think there could be an EA in every classroom," she said.
With children with varying needs and abilities, it's difficult for one teacher to meet all those needs.
With more students and budget surpluses, Carpenter-Gleim said "there's no excuse" not to spend more money on EAs.
"It's time for some money to be spent. You know the schools all need several more EAs, not less," she said.