Cuts to Education – Matt Richter

Matt Richter

Twenty months into the pandemic, just as we are all trying to get back to normal, Premier Ford decides this is the time to make cuts to education. What a guy.

In the Fall Economic update, Premier Ford made the foolish decision to cut $500 million from the education funds that he had promised earlier in the year. 

That hurts. And it hurts at a time when parents, teachers, students, and support staff have already sacrificed so much to pull together so that our schools can function and our kids can still learn.

Instead of passing budgets that make life worse, we need a government that makes life better.

I’m a teacher too. I started in 1998 at Muskoka Falls Public School, and over the years I’ve seen first-hand the impacts these cuts can and do have on student learning and health. Rather than making cuts to education, we need to make investments in education to reduce class sizes, to ensure students with special needs receive the support they deserve, to fully support all areas of the curriculum outside of language and math, and to ease the burden on custodial staff and secretaries.

I am committed to championing an Ontario education system where we aspire to have the best schools in the world, schools where programs are plentiful and after-school activities accessible to all; where students are able to flourish in classrooms with ample support from teachers. In my day, schools were central to the fabric of the communities they serve.  The government in power needs to share that ethic.

Not anymore. While many of us go about our lives relatively back to normal, teachers, students and parents remain on the frontline of this pandemic. Now we squeeze every last dollar out of our schools and wonder why our students struggle. It is irresponsible, and frankly a slap in the face to students, staff, and parents alike to slash education at a time when our school system has gone out of its way to keep student learning.

We often hear of cuts to education as big numbers. $500 million here. Another billion there. But how do cuts actually impact our students?

Cuts also force schools to make tough decisions about funding. A 2017 audit of the school systems showed that 80% of schools had to re-allocate funds from other programs to special education programs because they did not receive adequate funding for the current programs. Re-prioritizing funding is the job of school boards, but it puts them in an impossible position. 

Cuts to education also force school boards to find other sources of revenue to keep as much support as possible. That includes price increases on facility rentals and other programs. Those price hikes get passed onto parents. In some instances, fee increases have been so significant that community groups are no longer able to use these facilities or need to increase fees for youth sports and other programs.

Students are still struggling with the effects of the pandemic. Even before COVID-19, Children’s Mental Health Ontario found that 1 in 5 children will experience some sort of mental illness and 5 of 6 of those children will not receive the treatment they need.  The waitlists are far too long. We need more psychologists and social workers in our schools to support student mental health.

People for Education, an Ontario-based advocacy group, has found that schools still go without staff needed to provide students with adequate mental and physical health support. These supports are inadequate in urban and suburban schools and almost non-existent in rural schools.

  • 61% of urban/suburban elementary schools have a health and physical education teacher, compared to 30% of small-town/rural schools.
  • 62% of urban/suburban elementary schools report regularly scheduled social workers, compared to 30% of small-town/rural schools.
  • 46% of urban/suburban elementary schools have a regularly scheduled psychologist, compared to 15% of small-town/rural schools.

A full review of the funding formula is required before the government slashes $500 million The current policies project an estimated $12.3 billion cut from Ontario schools over the next decade. The Ontario Education funding formula hasn’t been updated since 1997. A 2002 government-appointed commission, the Education Equality Taskforce, recommended that the funding formula be reviewed every 5 years (pg. 59). In the nearly 20 years since that recommendation, not a single review has taken place.

It’s time to take a serious look at how we fund our schools and what we are really hoping to achieve through our education system. Our children are our future. They deserve a world-class education system. We know how to give it to them. I hope Premier Ford can do the same. 

Matt Richter is the local Green Party of Ontario candidate in the upcoming provincial election for Parry Sound – Muskoka. He is also a local elementary teacher.