Voters didn’t give the Ford government a mandate to cut education funding

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Jan. 28, 2019.   By

There’s no magic number that creates the perfect class size.

Fewer students is generally considered better, especially in the early years, though some research shows the academic gains are small. And a great deal depends on teachers, their training and skill set, as well as the students and how many have special needs that are not properly supported.

So under normal circumstances a government paper calling for consultations to examine “whether changes to class size would allow school boards to deliver better value” might have some takers.

But Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s move down this road last week was met with fear and loathing and vows to fight any changes to the bitter end.

That’s because everyone knows Thompson isn’t interested in saving money by raising class sizes in order to reinvest those dollars into something else that will have a greater impact on students.

If every student with a learning or behavioural challenge, for example, had the supports they needed to succeed and not disrupt the overall learning environment, then adding another couple students to a classroom might not matter at all. Indeed, it might even be a good trade-off.

But that’s not the offer here. The Ford government is just looking for ways to cut the education budget to reduce the provincial deficit. As the document itself states: “The province’s current fiscal circumstances require…”

That makes these upcoming consultations beyond pointless. The line of people waiting to say that cramming more kids into classrooms, in the absence of other beneficial changes, will improve education will be very short indeed.

But there’s an even bigger problem with this plan: this government doesn’t have a mandate to make cuts to education. Indeed, it has no real mandate to make substantial cuts to any government service or program because that is expressly what Premier Doug Ford promised he would not do.

He vowed to end “waste” in government. He said jobs and services would not be slashed. He said $6 billion in easy “efficiencies” could be found.

“When I tell people, ‘My friends, we will find four cents on every dollar of efficiencies,’ they break out laughing. ‘That’s all you can find, is four cents in efficiencies?’” Ford said during last year’s campaign.

Well, “four cents on every dollar” adds up to about $1 billion in Ontario’s education budget — and parents sure aren’t laughing now.

If Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives wanted to cut education funding they should have stated that upfront in the 2018 election. If they believe the province simply can’t afford current levels of education funding, and therefore class sizes must increase, that’s a debate we should have.

But they didn’t raise it during the election when voters could have made an informed choice. So they know Ontarians didn’t elect them to make cuts to education or any other vital government service. That’s why they’re working so hard to spin a web of deception around the deficit.

The PCs like to pretend they landed in power after last June’s election and — surprise — discovered the provincial books were in far worse shape than they realized. That’s the rationale they offer for why they have to make a whole bunch of cuts to education and social services (they haven’t got to health care yet) that they never mentioned.

But it’s simply not true. There was no “crippling hidden deficit.”

The last Liberal government publicly forecast a $6.7-billion deficit and Ford’s government has deliberately ballooned that figure to what they now claim is $14.5 billion. They did it moving money borrowed to reduce electricity bills onto the government’s books; adopting a questionable accounting of pension assets; and lowering the estimate for tax revenues.

And when ministers announce spending reductions they point to the deficit as justification. As Thompson says, the government must “respect” taxpayers.

But how can a government respect taxpayers if doesn’t first respect voters?

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2019/01/28/voters-didnt-give-the-ford-government-a-mandate-to-cut-education-funding.html

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