TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government is promising to spend more than $300 million over three years to improve supports for children with special needs and hire more teachers, a pledge that comes just months ahead of the spring election.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday that the money will be spent to eliminate the wait list to have children with special needs assessed, and to hire 2,000 new teachers and education workers.
The additional staff will include educational assistants for students with exceptionally high needs and specialists such as social workers and speech pathologists.
“We recognize that there are needs that people are confronting; that teachers are confronting; that parents are confronting; that communities are confronting; that parents of children with mental health needs are confronting, and we are responding to those needs,” Wynne said, defending the new spending.
The announcement comes just days before the Liberals present their final budget ahead of the June election.
Wynne has made several major funding promises over the last week, vowing to expand the government’s free pharmacare program to cover seniors and to spend $2.1 billion over the next four years to rebuild Ontario’s mental health system, which includes funding for 180 mental health workers in schools.
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Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said the province is also promising to spend $140 million over three years to hire guidance counsellors.
“Our investment ensures that every student has the support they need to succeed in the classroom, in their communities and in the world,” she said.
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Progressive Conservative legislator Todd Smith questioned the timing of the announcement, noting that the provincial election is less than three months away.
“Clearly, what they’re trying to do is make up for 15 years that our school system hasn’t been paid proper attention to,” he said. “Clearly, there needs to be a change to the way we fund our schools, particularly rural schools and special education programs.”
Ontario’s spring election will be held on June 7.