Prov­ince boosts ed­u­ca­tion funding

Bud­get for next year up al­most 4% to $24B, with fo­cus on sup­port­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and cut­ting class sizes

Toronto Star - - GTA GREATER TORONTO AREA - AN­DREA GOR­DON ED­U­CA­TION RE­PORTER

On­tario is in­creas­ing ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing by al­most 4 per cent to $23.8 bil­lion in the next school year, with a fo­cus on pro­vid­ing more spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion sup­port and re­duc­ing class sizes, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mitzie Hunter an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

Much of the thrust of the 2017-18 school year funding is a re­sult of deals reached be­tween the prov­ince and ed­u­ca­tion unions ear­lier this year, which ex­tended con­tracts by two years un­til Au­gust 2019, en­sur­ing labour peace through next year’s elec­tion.

The ed­u­ca­tion funding in­cludes money to hire hun­dreds more spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers and sup­port work­ers based on lo­cal need, and cap­ping class sizes in full­day kinder­garten and Grades 4 through 8.

The news was wel­comed as a step in the right di­rec­tion by ad­vo­cates, school boards and unions, who said it was good for stu­dents.

“I think it’s an ex­am­ple of where ne­go­ti­a­tions with teach­ers and sup­port staff have re­sulted in some­thing that’s good for ed­u­ca­tion,” said An­nie Kid­der, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the re­search and ad­vo­cacy group Peo­ple for Ed­u­ca­tion.

The an­nounce­ment of a $219 mil­lion to sup­port “lo­cal pri­or­i­ties” could cover the costs of hir­ing 875 teach­ers and 1,600 to 1,800 ed­u­ca­tion work­ers, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry. It comes at a time when spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices can­not keep up with the de­mand and teach­ers have been clam­our­ing for more re­sources.

A 2015 Peo­ple for Ed­u­ca­tion sur­vey found four out of five boards pay more for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion than they get from the prov­ince, and the strain is some­thing the group hears about reg­u­larly from prin­ci­pals.

“If this means there are more ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tants and more spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers, then that will be a good re­sult,” said Kid­der.

Per-pupil spend­ing for next year will rise by al­most 4 per cent, or $432, to $12,100.

Un­der the plan struck dur­ing talks with el­e­men­tary teach­ers, full-day kinder­garten classes are to be capped at 30 stu­dents next year and 29 the fol­low­ing year — with an av­er­age of no more than 26 chil­dren per class in each board by 2018-19.

Each class is in the care of one teacher and an early child­hood ed­u­ca­tor.

Un­der the plan, school boards will be re­quired to have av­er­age class sizes of 24.5 stu­dents or less in grades 4 through 8.

Grades 1 through 3 are al­ready capped at 20 stu­dents.

The an­nounce­ment Wed­nes­day is “ev­i­dence of the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to the value and im­por­tance of a strong pub­licly funded ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” said a state­ment from the On­tario Pub­lic School Boards’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Laurie French called it “a step in the right di­rec­tion” but noted the group will con­tinue to be in ac­tive dis­cus­sions with the gov­ern­ment over school clo­sures and trans­porta­tion, which are caus­ing dis­rup­tion and dis­tress in many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

The prov­ince “has made good on its com­mit­ment” dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions to in­crease spe­cial ed funding and al­low school boards and unions to work to­gether to al­lo­cate it based on lo­cal needs, Sam Ham­mond, pres­i­dent of the El­e­men­tary Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario, said in a state­ment.

But “there is still much work to be done to pro­vide suf­fi­cient funding and re­sources for chil­dren with spe­cial needs,” added Ham­mond, whose union ear­lier this year raised the is­sue of in­creas­ing school vi­o­lence linked to the short­age of sup­port for chil­dren with be­havioural and men­tal health is­sues.

Krista Wylie of the Fix Our Schools cam­paign wel­comed the fact that the prov­ince is “hold­ing the line” on cap­i­tal spend­ing by pro­vid­ing $1.4 bil­lion next year for badly-needed re­pairs, which she said is the min­i­mum re­quired an­nu­ally to “keep the ship afloat.”

But Wylie noted that there is still a $15-bil­lion back­log for fix­ing fur­naces, roofs, win­dows and other ma­jor prob­lems in school build­ings across the prov­ince, which needs to be ad­dressed out­side the an­nual bud­get.

“This is still a big prob­lem,” she said.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mitzie Hunter an­nounced a funding boost to $23.8 bil­lion for ed­u­ca­tion on Wed­nes­day.

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