Publicly funded education in Ontario consists of
- early childhood education (birth to age 6)
- elementary (JK to Grade 8)
- Secondary (Grades 9 to 12)
Ontario has 72 school boards broken down as
- English Public (31)
- English Catholic (29)
- French Public (4)
- French Catholic (8)
The Ontario government provides funding to school boards based on student enrolment, number of schools, and unique needs such as geography, language and special education enrolment.
School boards set budgets, oversee hiring and ensure implementation of the Education Act. For further breakdown of who does what in Ontario Education, see the People for Education website.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Ford government
- Increased class sizes in elementary and secondary schools
- Cut programming for special education
- Cancelled Indigenous curriculum projects and anti-discrimination initiatives
- Implemented 4 mandatory online credits for high school
- Cut more than $1 billion from the education budget
For a complete list of cuts Ford has made to education see Fordwatch – Education
The following infographic from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation summarizes some of their concerns, most of which are shared by many education advocates.
Addressing Systemic Inequities
OSSTF/FEESO promotes the need for permanent systemic changes. Funding must be sustained and specific to addressing systemic inequalities.
OSSTF/FEESO believes in centering families, communities, and students at the heart of public education and in the need for students to see themselves within the system.
Details on how to address systemic inequities can be found on their website at Addressing Systemic Inequities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified social, technological and racial inequalities in students across Ontario and widened the academic gap between lower- and high- income families. Over the coming months and years, addressing systemic inequities with urgency will be necessary in to maintain and enhance the social and economic fabric of a diverse, dynamic and prosperous province.
Focus On First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Communities
- Infrastructure supports for education, including access to full school programming, technology, Wi-Fi, and sustainable, safe buildings.
- Recentring the curriculum with a lens on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit ways of knowing and learning.
Addressing and Confronting Anti-Black Racism and Other Forms of Racism and Oppression
- Decentring whiteness (e.g. Western colonial traditions) in education.
- Dismantling white supremacy and colonial legacy practices in education.
- Advocating for increased permanent funding for de-streaming.
- Smaller class sizes, dedicated education workers in classes, and additional training is required for the successful implementation of de-streaming.
Hiring and Retention Practices
- Advocating for greater access to professional training and retention programs/policies for members of Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities.
- Advocating for greater diversity, transparency and accountability in hiring practices in publicly-funded education.
How lowering class sizes boosts learning
- Students have more focused, individual attention from teachers
- Teachers can fine tune instruction for special needs or vulnerable students
- Opportunity for students to participate and engage increases
- Smaller community increases peer connections, fosters relationships and improves behaviour
The covid pandemic brought the additional challenge of maintaining social distancing. Despite medical experts at the Hospital for Sick Children saying reduced class sizes should be a “priority strategy” to ensure safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Ford government refused to reduce class sizes in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.
The Ford government has been pushing for e-learning in order to reduce education funding. A confidential government document revealed a plan calling for $34.8 million less funding in 2020, $55.8 million less in 2021, $56.7 million less in 2022 and $57.4 million less in 2023-2024.
The document suggests that the government intended to move towards operating education like a business, to create a “global development strategy to market Ontario online courses… [to] generate revenue.”
Online learning is inherently inequitable to multiple demographics including rural students, families without adequate technology, special needs students, families with privacy concerns and more.
Hybrid learning began as an emergency response to the pandemic. School boards that were not adequately funded to create online schools instead implemented a fractured model where the teachers needed to instruct both online and in-person students simultaneously. It was dubbed the worst of both worlds, detrimental to both groups of students, yet it was the only option in the absence of adequate funding for socially distanced classes, properly ventilated classrooms or online-only schools.
Catholic teachers call on the government to invest in mental health in schools, including funding mental health-related professional development for educators, and hiring additional social workers, psychologists, guidance teachers, child and youth workers, and school mental health workers.
The mental health of educators and staff also needs to be considered. Many of their concerns are outlined in the document Grants For Student Needs 2022-23 addressed to the current Ministry of Education.
Repairs to Schools
Fix Our Schools is a group of Ontarians who believe that “every publicly funded school in Ontario ought to be a safe, healthy, well-maintained building that provides an environment conducive to learning and working. We believe schools must be funded as a key component of our society’s infrastructure.”
Ontario schools are dealing with $16.8 billion of disrepair. Details and photos have been shared at the following website: https://fixourschools.ca/15-billion-repair-backlog/
Since Ford was elected the repair backlog increased by $1 billion.
The federal government announced plans to help fund $10-a-day child care for all provinces in April 2021. The Ford government stalled on signing, claiming to be negotiating for a better deal, and finally committed just in time to look good for the upcoming election.
What are the parties saying about education?
The Ford government and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce have consistently disrespected Ontario students, families, and educators by ignoring their input on issues facing schools, recommendations for overall student success and school safety during the pandemic.
In 2018 Ontario spent almost $1 million asking over 72,000 Ontarians to weigh in on matters of education, hid the results, and proceeded to make cuts and changes to education. In February 2020, the leaked results showed the government was hiding the fact that over 70% of parents were opposed to increasing class sizes.
The province repeatedly failed to provide adequate measures to stop the spread of covid, including loosening symptom screening guidelines, restricting access to covid testing, and watering down or abandoning its own proposed covid strategies.
Throughout the pandemic, health care workers, parents, students, school boards, education advocacy groups and unions, have petitioned the government to take more precautionary measures. Ford made little or no effort to enact these recommendations.
Ontarians weren’t fooled when the government began uncharacteristically plugging mental health – because it was no more than a convenient excuse to hastily send kids back to school without investing in expensive safety measures.
The Conservative strategy so far has been to slowly give back a portion of what they have taken away over the past four years. Too little too late.
With a focus on full vaccination by the end of the summer, in-person learning will be prioritized.
Propose $100 million to increase subsidies for at least 100,000 low-income families and children with special needs to access summer camps and programming (on top of $62 million in federal pandemic funding)
Calling for class size caps of 20 across the board
- $700 million to reduce class sizes to 20 in Grades 4-8 (6,700 additional teachers)
- $400 million to reverse cuts and further reduce class sizes to 20 in Grades 9-12 (3,800 additional teachers)
School boards should have the necessary resources to temporarily offer dedicated virtual classrooms until the COVID-19 pandemic ends, with virtual class sizes also capped at 20.
- Get rid of hybrid learning
- End the mandatory online credits
- Hire more mental health and special education professionals
- Support free tutoring, before/after-school programs to help students in reading, writing and math
- Cancel Highway 413 and reinvest the savings in building and repairing schools, including urgent upgrades to ventilation and filtration systems, air conditioning and window upgrades.
In response to Ford’s delay in signing the federal childcare deal, Steven Del Duca stated parents will receive a rebate averaging $2,750 per child, as compensation for child-care costs, should his party form government.
The NDP commit to capping class sizes at 24, reversing Ford’s cuts to education and hiring 20,000 teachers and education workers. They will also increase funding for special education.
They commit to clearing the repair backlog within 10 years and hiring more maintenance staff.
They will amend the Education Act to address racism and discrimination, increase Holocaust education and ensure Indigneous curriculum is approved by Indigenous leaders and educators.
They will also end EQAO student testing.
The NDP would get rid of mandatory online credits, revise the role of trustees and give students a stronger voice.
The NDP have promised to implement a minimum wage of $25 an hour for registered early childhood educators if the party forms government.
Full additional commitments and policy details read Chapter 5 of the NDP platform.
When we first posted our policy analysis, the NDP platform was still in the works. As a result, we summarized a February interview with Marit Stiles, the opposition Education critic: Regarding the $16.8 billion repair backlog, she would increase annual spending and create a plan for measuring progress – such as reporting on the state of repair of schools like leaking roofs, ancient boilers etc. Marit would also address the need for expansion of schools. Stiles says schools are “one of the biggest sources of public infrastructure” and the party will promote a plan to make them greener.
WIth regard to covid safety in schools, the Green Party of Ontario supports smaller class sizes, vaccination mandates and vaccine status transparency for education workers, investing in testing, tracing, PPE and ventilation.
Mike Schreiner’s position on childcare: “To make this deal work, Ontario must also ensure that childcare workers are paid a fair wage so we have the staff needed to open more affordable spaces for families.”
In their platform, they commit to increasing funding for special education, cap class sizes at 22 for grades 4 through 8, eliminate EQAO testing. They will also integrate the public and separate school boards and work to reduce school closures. They will require school boards to collect race-based data to improve equity and provide additional equity training.
They also make a number of policy proposals for improving student safety and mental health.
As in other policy areas, the difference between the Conservatives, with their emphasis on saving money, and the other parties, is greater than the differences in policy between the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals. Furthermore, because the most likely outcomes of this election are a Conservative majority or a coalition of the other parties, you should vote for the party most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding.
The Ontario NDP have Marit Stiles on their team, who has become familiar with Ontarians’ concerns in her role as the Education Critic. If you are encouraged by the way she has challenged Stephen Lecce since he was appointed, you should vote NDP.
The Ontario Liberals have a plan outlining plans and spending that go beyond short term Covid Recovery and proposes some long term supports that students will need for success. If classroom caps and support equity are important to you, the Liberals would be a good choice.
The Greens, NDP, and Liberals have similar priorities in education and have expressed that they are more connected to students’ needs than the Conservatives. If you want to see education treated as more than just a babysitting service, you should vote for whichever party is most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding. Projections based on ridings are available here: https://338canada.com/ontario/districts.htm. Click through to your riding to help inform your decision.