In the aftermath of Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy’s budget last month, parents and education workers are calling for additional investments in the province’s education system.
Although the Province of Ontario has hailed the new budget as a record-setting amount, many are calling foul play as it appears to them that education has been underfunded.
Scarborough Southwest MPP, Doly Begum—who has been a strong advocate for more education funding over the years—told Beach Metro Community News that the budget doesn’t do enough to address the growing demands of Ontario schools.
“Bottom line is that ensuring safe, functioning, and well-resourced classrooms for students has to be a top priority for the government – students should be disappointed not to be learning in buildings that are falling apart, and it is to see the lack of investment from this government,” said Begum, who is also the Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP, the province’s Official Opposition.
She said that the government’s lack of focus on ensuring classrooms are well-equipped—not only with facilities but also teachers and education workers—is deeply concerning.
“The latest budget fails to allocate funding for the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) repair backlog, which has ballooned over the year,” said Begum.
The Ontario government of Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford has allocated $15 billion in capital grants over 10 years to expand and renew schools and child care spaces. Of this, $2.8 billion will be used in the next fiscal year.
However, there is currently a $17 billion repair backlog for elementary and secondary schools in the province, said Begum.
“Schools in our community are falling apart, if you look at the data on the TDSB website, which was last updated in 2021, a lot of Scarborough Southwest schools have urgent facility needs. Students deserve to learn in well-equipped and well-maintained classrooms,” she said.
The 2023 budget displays signs of progress as it stated Ontario was set to increase education funding from $2.3 billion. However, many have described this as an underhanded form of a budget cut. According to the latest Financial Accountability Office (FAO) report, this funding has previously been designated for the joint federal-provincial child care program and will not be used to fund primary and secondary schools. The FAO reported that the Ministry of Education plans to spend $1.5 billion in 2022-23 and $2.3 billion in 2023-24 under the federal-provincial child care program.
“This includes $1.1 billion in 2022-23 and $1.6 billion in 2023-24 to reduce child care fees,” stated FAO’s report. “The remaining planned spending in 2022-23 and 2023-24 of $353 million and $694 million, respectively, is for wage enhancements, professional development, growth in spaces, start-up grants and administrative costs.”
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by community members. East End Parents 4 Public Education (EEP4PE), a group of parents and community members advocating for better public education and adequate funding, has organized a rally against these cuts. The rally will take place on Saturday, April 15, at 11 am at the Coxwell Avenue Parkette on the southwest corner of Coxwell and Danforth avenues.
The rally aims to convince Queen’s Park that the TDSB needs more help to ensure students get the proper education they need. The call by East End Parents 4 Public Education comes as the TDSB is expected to lose out on an additional $31 million as the Ministry of Education has opted not to renew the COVID-19 funding once it expires in August. This, TDSB warns, will lead to additional cuts.
According to Beaches-East York Trustee TDSB Michelle Aarts, the Ministry of Education required school boards to use their reserves to cover operating costs. This means that although schools will have base level staffing, they still expect to lose almost 500 staff members in Toronto alone, most of which are from the human resources sector of the education system.
Although the pandemic is now being considered a thing of the past by the government, Kate Dupuis, parent of two east Toronto public school students and Chair of EEP4PE (who also ran as the NDP candidate in Beaches-East York in the June 2022 provincial election ) believes that Ontario’s budget is neglecting the after effects of the past two years and the importance of human resources in a post-pandemic system.
“The truth of the matter is that the system is really stressed and so many kids, we’re seeing, are in need of more support since the pandemic,” said Dupuis. “So, its really concerning to hear about cuts as a parent because people are already doing the most they can with not a lot of resources.”
Dupuis also highlighted the projected budget surplus in the coming fiscal year.
“So, it’s not like we don’t have the money in our province,” she said. “but the government is choosing not to invest in the children, who are the future of our province, and that honestly doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.”
This Saturday, Dupuis, along with other concerned members of the community, will try to raise awareness and “push back against the government” about the upcoming cuts to the school system. Residents will have a chance to hear from Toronto-Danforth NDP MPP Peter Tabuns at the rally, as well as a number of TDSB trustees, explaining exactly how these cuts will affect students.
“We’re a part of TDSB but this is happening across the province,” said Dupuis. “It’s not specific to East-York or Toronto, it’s across Ontario that kids are at risk of making cuts to their education budget and it’s not right.”
For more information on this morning’s rally and about East End Parents 4 Public Education, please visit the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/322010878513304/
Amarachi Amadike, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Beach Metro Community News