Teachers still concerned about future after funding announcement
Published Friday, April 26, 2019 8:00PM EDT
Teachers and their unions are not convinced jobs will be protected with the latest education funding announcement from the Ontario government.
The Progressive Conservatives announced 2019-20 school board funding Friday.
Overall funding to school boards will be $24.66 billion, up slightly from $24.53 billion this year. But boards will get an average of $12,246 per pupil, versus the $12,300 they got in this school year, due to higher enrolment.
While the amounts of some specific grants and funds will increase, others are being cut or eliminated entirely. A grant given to boards with higher numbers of at-risk students is being cut by $230 million, to $514 million.
The pupil foundation grant -- which is the largest single component of the school board funding and is used for salaries of teachers, early childhood educators, and other education workers -- is $633 million lower than last year.
For the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, Director of Education Terry Lyons says that works out to $53 less per student.
"Balancing the budget is always challenging, when you have to do less with more,” admits Lyons. “You want to make sure kids have the best learning experiences in the best environment.”
Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced last month that high school class sizes will increase from an average of 22 to 28 over four years, and average class sizes for Grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student per classroom.
School boards have said that will mean thousands of teaching jobs will be lost, but the government has insisted that can be done through attrition.
To that end, the government has established a four-year, $1.6 billion fund to top up boards who don't get enough teachers retiring or otherwise voluntarily leaving to cover the difference in staff needed due to larger classes.
"With this support in place, it is expected that school boards will not lay off teachers associated with the proposed changes to class sizes and e-learning," the ministry said in a memo to boards Friday.
That guarantee doesn't sit well with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation.
"It's very frustrating. Our members are very anxious,” admits Erin Roy, the President of OSSTF District 9.
Along with larger class sizes, Thompson also announced last month that students will need to complete four e-learning courses. Some boards have expressed concerns that online courses might not be right for all students, and that in rural areas students may not have reliable internet.
Lyons tells CTV Windsor it’s a move that will mean fewer subjects for students to choose from.
“Say you have 30 teachers through attrition, those 30 teachers won't be replaced. If each one of those teachers teaches six classes a day, that's 180 courses you won't be able to offer as a system that you used to be able to offer,” says Lyons. “When you spread that among our eight schools, there will be an impact."
But Lyons says they will make the system work with the resources they have.
The Greater Essex County District School Board says it is waiting for more information.
Director of Education Erin Kelly says it’s difficult to project the local impact of the funding changes without exactly seeing how much money they will receive.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the latest funding amounts to a cut because it fails to keep pace with inflation and lowers the per-student funding.
"These cuts will hurt students, education workers and families," she said in a statement. "Classrooms will be overcrowded, programs will be cut and students will have even fewer opportunities and resources."
Several funds that the former Liberal government negotiated as part of education contract extensions -- to the tune of $281 million -- are being eliminated as contracts expire on Aug. 31.
The local priorities fund put money toward educational assistants to support children in need, at-risk students and adult education.
The amounts for adult day school teachers will be funded elsewhere, but whether that funding as a whole continues depends on the upcoming contract negotiations, which could start as early as Monday, the government said.
Laura Walton with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 55,000 education workers, said that money funded 2,500 educational assistants, custodians and clerical staff.
"We know that will be an absolute attack on education workers throughout the province," she said.
Walton said CUPE will fight for the continuation of that funding, but she is not optimistic, given that the government is currently consulting with the public sector on how to constrain compensation costs.
The government is working to eliminate a $11.7 billion deficit.