Province boosts education funding to $24B for next school year
TheStar.com – Your Toronto/Schools – New money aimed at supporting special education, cutting class sizes.
April 13, 2017. By
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 full-day kindergarten as well as 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 she noted 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.