Premier Ford and his government have used major cuts, hasty reforms, and frequent mistruths to consistently undermine Ontario’s publicly funded education system. It’s time to Know More about the facts.
The Ford government claims they are making “historic” and “extraordinary” investments in publicly funded education, but their record shows that their real focus is making cuts.
The 2019-20 education budget cut almost $900 million in core per-pupil funding and programs for vulnerable students. The government also tried to impose mandatory e-learning and significant increases to class sizes.
After a year-long fight by teachers, education workers, parents, and other Ontarians, this funding was partially restored. Still, when inflation is factored in, core per-pupil funding for 2020-21 is effectively below what was provided in 2018-19.
A comprehensive plan for reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic would have included significant investments in smaller class sizes, school repairs and upgrades, safety equipment, and supports for students. The government claims to have “spared no expense,” but this is simply not the case.
It’s estimated that the investments needed would have totalled about $3 billion. The total funding allocated is about a third of this.
Almost $500 million of this funding comes from school board reserves. Rather than taking responsibility for funding a safe reopening, the government is forcing school boards to shift funding from other priorities.
Another $380 million was provided at the last minute by the federal government, after it was clear the Ford government wasn’t intending to step up. Despite repeated calls from medical experts to reduce class sizes, the Ford government allocated only $30 million of provincial funding for this purpose – enough for one extra teacher for every 700 students.
Budget documents show that the Ford government’s long-term plan is to freeze education funding. Accounting for inflation and enrolment growth, this would result in a $1.1 billion shortfall by 2021-22.
The Ford government claims to consult with Ontarians and collaborate with stakeholders. In reality, their failure to do so in any meaningful way has resulted in poor policies that cause unnecessary chaos and confusion.
The government has told teachers’ unions to “stop complaining” and “work with them,” but Catholic teachers have been trying for months to engage the government in discussions on reopening schools, and have put forward constructive ideas about what needs to be done, only to be told “no” by the Ford government.
In some cases, meetings have been scheduled on very short notice, with little opportunity for serious conversation.
At times, the government has made a disingenuous show of soliciting input, only calling in teachers’ unions when decisions had already been made.
Catholic teachers warned the government that rushing the release of a new math curriculum while Ontarians are still dealing with a public health crisis was counterproductive.
The government did not take the advice of educators and other experts, and introduced the new curriculum without the time or supports necessary for proper implementation.
The government boasted about its “unprecedented” 2018 education consultation, saying the findings would be used to form education policy moving forward.
The exercise was largely a sham that involved biased and leading questions on a small set of topics, with questionable methodology. Then, for almost a year, they refused to release any of the data, despite frequently referring to the results to justify their controversial decisions.
It was only after OECTA filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board that the consultation results were finally made available to the public. The results confirmed what many suspected: there was “virtually no support” for any of the government’s actions.
After repealing the 2015 health and physical education (HPE) curriculum, the Ford government’s decision to revert to the 1998 version of curriculum was widely condemned by education stakeholders, health experts, and the general public.
Over the following year, the government faced public protests, a Charter challenge, and complaints before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
In late August 2019, the government finally rolled out its revised HPE curriculum. People were quick to note that the curriculum was almost identical to the 2015 version.
Ontarians were shocked when, immediately upon taking office, the Ford government cancelled planned writing sessions for a new Indigenous education curriculum.
A new curriculum was introduced in 2019, but Indigenous communities pointed to a lack of meaningful consultation, and expressed disappointment that the courses would not be mandatory, as had been proposed by the previous government.
Premier Ford talks about his “love” and respect for Ontario educators, but his government’s rhetoric, and the changes they have introduced, are often a direct attack on the professionalism of teachers.
As Ontarians have raised legitimate concerns about the government’s unsafe school reopening plan, Premier Ford has claimed, “Almost every single teacher comes up to me… the first comments out of their mouth: ‘I apologize for the way the union is acting.’”
At other times, the Premier has attempted to stoke division between teachers and the public by suggesting that teachers would not “step up” during school reopening.
These statements are inflammatory and false, and a clear attempt to create division between teachers, their unions, and the general public.
After repealing the 2015 version of the health and physical education curriculum, the government launched a dedicated platform that encouraged parents to report complaints about their child’s teacher to the Ontario College of Teachers.
This “snitch line,” as it came to be known, was widely considered an attack on teacher professionalism and an attempt by the government to drive a wedge between teachers and parents.
The Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) was built on self-regulation as a founding principle. This has ensured that teachers’ specialized knowledge has guided the College’s regulatory functions.
In April 2019, the government gave themselves the power to alter the composition of the OCT Governing Council and committees, eliminating the principle of self-regulation.
The government also gave itself the ability to stack the College with government-appointed members, who have no background or understanding of education.
This is seen by many as an attack on the professionalism of teachers, who can no longer regulate their own profession.
Members of the Ford government have said Ontario’s publicly funded education system is broken and failing. They’ve used these criticisms to justify their reckless education reforms.
The latest results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Ontario’s 15-year-old students performed sixth in reading, thirteenth in math, and tenth in science among all jurisdictions around the world.
The five-year graduation rate among Ontario students has grown almost 20 percentage points since 2004, and is now at 87.1%.
Certainly, there will always be areas for improvement, but rather than tearing our publicly funded education system down, the government should be working to build on this success.
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