By: Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ontario will require its school boards to keep an online learning option for the upcoming 2022-23 academic year and any student who needs tutoring help will receive it, the provincial government said as it laid out its school spending plan ahead of a summer election.
Students will also get back to taking a standardized test in grades 3 and 9 that was halted for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept Ontario students out of classrooms for longer than in any other province, the Progressive Conservatives said.
The plan “focused on academic achievement and the mental well-being of our province’s next generation,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Thursday at an appearance in his Vaughan riding.
The roughly $600 million in a targeted recovery plan includes $175 million to expand access to tutoring, which Lecce said “will allow children in all publicly funded schools to have access to small groups, an average of five students, available after school, sometimes during school, during spares for example, and on weekends.”
He said such support could be offered by teachers, educational assistants, post-secondary students or in partnership with community groups and would be available from April through December this year.
But there “is less to this than meets the eye,” said Randy Robinson, the Ontario director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think tank that earlier this month called for almost $2 billion in new funding for extra teachers, mental health teams, higher pay for early childhood educators, and a boost to a grant specifically for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
He said sticking to an allocation of $1.4 billion for school maintenance and repairs means the $16.8-billion backlog in the work expands further, and it was not clear in the public documents where the funds were coming from or if they were reallocated from existing budgets.
Education could prove a testy topic for the government on the campaign trail, but the anti-Ford vote currently appears split, with roughly a quarter of respondents to an Abacus Data poll last month preferring the Liberals and NDP respectively, with the PCs leading with the support of about a third.
Overall, the government said it expects to provide $26.1 billion in Grants for Student Needs (GSN) funding in 2022-23, up 2.7 per cent over the prior year, or $13,059 per student. It will also invest $500 million in a secondary funding mechanism for priorities and partnerships.
Robinson said that a November economic update had since reduced base funding, “so some of the money involved may be being restored after being cut.”
The province said the funding allocations included $304 million in temporary staffing supports to address learning recovery, implement de-streaming, deliver remote learning, support special education, and maintain enhanced cleaning standards if required.
It will boost funding for students’ resilience and mental well-being promotion by $10 million to $90 million, including mandatory professional development on the topic for educators. It is planning to consult further with other ministries, community groups and other associations.
The Ford government also highlighted supports that included $15 million for summer support programs, $11 million to support the de-streaming of Grade 9 math and $25 million for reading intervention.
An additional $1.4 million will be allocated to expand year-round support for two online tutoring platforms.