- by Annie Kidder, Executive Director, People for Education

There are many competing narratives about what’s going on in education in Ontario right now. Is there more money in the system? If so, why? How many teachers will be lost? And is this a conversation about class size or money?

There are two things that are important to remember:

First, there is no evidence anywhere that says cutting money from education is the best route to promote student success. On the contrary, economists agree that investment in education – from early childhood through to post-secondary – pays off at least tenfold. So if we invest $24 billion now, we will eventually reap a $240 billion payoff – in higher taxes paid, in higher employment in the rapidly-evolving knowledge economy (or, as one recent report called it, the Intangibles Economy), in savings to health care, and in lower costs for things like social services and criminal justice.
Second, even those who point to evidence showing that class size is not the most important factor when it comes to student success rarely, if ever, argue that the solution is to cut education funding. They argue instead that governments should invest more heavily in things like targeted programs for students at risk, or in professional development for educators and providing more time for teachers to collaborate, or on providing very small classes for students who need it most.

So what is happening right now?

On April 26th, the province made announcements about funding, but there are no details available. This makes it difficult to know exactly how much money will be available, and for what. For school boards, who must submit final, balanced budgets by the end of June, this makes it very difficult to plan.

Here’s what is known:

There is a $633 million reduction in the Pupil Foundation Grant (funding for classroom teachers, early childhood educators for kindergarten, educational assistants, teacher librarians, guidance counsellors, textbooks, classroom supplies and classroom computers).
Funding for some special purpose grants has been increased, including Special Education (largely because of increased funding for autism programs), funding for school operations and transportation (to recognize increased costs), and funding for things like Languages, Geographic Circumstances, Indigenous Education, and Safe and Accepting Schools. No further details about these grants are available.
There is an overall 0.53% increase in funding for education. However, this increase does not cover the cost of inflation (which currently sits at 1.9%), and is taken up by enrolment increases and increases in costs such as transportation and operations.

What are the changes in per pupil funding and class sizes?

Kindergarten and Primary class size funding and caps are unchanged, but funding for early childhood educators (ECE) in kindergarten is reduced by approximately 7%.
In Grades 4 to 8, funding will now be allocated at a rate of funding for 1 full time teacher per 24.5 students, up from 1 teacher per 23.84 students. (The average class size per board must be no higher than 24.5). This represents a cut in funding and is reflected in the cut in the Pupil Foundation Grant.
In Secondary schools, funding for classroom teachers will now be allocated at a rate of 1 full-time teacher per 28 students, up from 1 teacher per 22 students. This represents a substantial cut in funding. An additional $52 Million that had funded other secondary teachers, will also be cut. As a result, many courses with low enrolment may have to be discontinued. For example, there are boards that have vocational schools with classes staffed at a ratio of 15 students per teacher. In these cases, because of the new class size funding, either the programs will have to be discontinued, or classes in mainstream schools will have to be much larger.
The $235.4 million Local Priorities Fund which funded a range of staff, will expire in August 2019. The province says that whether the fund is extended is “an issue subject to the upcoming central collective bargaining process.”

What happened to funding for other programs?

The province has replaced funding for Education Programs Other (EPO) with a Priorities and Partnerships Fund (PPF).

Last year’s EPO funding totaled $246.9 million. The Ministry has confirmed $185 million for this year. While funding is continuing in areas such as experiential learning, Specialist High Skills Majors and support for mental health and well-being, there are some a number of reductions or categories that are no longer named.

Some of the changes include:

Parent Reaching Out Grants cut by $1.25 million (from $2.5 million to $1.25 million)
Focus on Youth Program cut by $400,000 (from $8 million to $7.6 million)
Community Use of Schools: Outreach Coordinators and Priority Schools – not mentioned

How can all this funding be cut, but no teachers lose their jobs?

Four years from now, there will be thousands fewer teachers in Ontario schools. This cut will be felt most in high schools. The province is providing school boards with an Attrition Protection Allocation to mitigate some of the immediate impact of changes connected to the new class size funding. However that funding is in place for four years only, and will gradually decline each year.

The Attrition Protection Allocation will provide boards with top-up funding in cases where the cut to class size funding isn’t matched by the number of teachers who retire or take voluntary leaves. This funding is intended to prevent involuntary teacher lay offs connected to the change in class size funding.
An additional 5% in attrition protection funding will be provided to support staffing for STEM and specialized programming.
Other funding cuts are not covered by attrition protection. School boards will have to decide how to make up for funding shortfalls, and in some cases that could lead to staff lay offs.

Read the government’s “B” memo outlining the changes


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