TORONTO – The Ontario government is slashing millions of dollars in funding for programs that are aimed at providing students with extra skills and support, leaving school boards to figure out how students will be affected.
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson said $25 million was slashed from the budget after the government reviewed the “Education Programs – Other” fund.
“Despite only accounting for less than one per cent of school board funding, this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments,” Kayla Iafelice said in an emailed statement.
The fund, which will now total $400 million for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, gives schools money for things like tutors and leadership programming.
The cuts will affect each of the province’s 72 school boards differently, as the boards don’t all provide the same programs under the fund, Iafelice said.
An email sent to school boards on Friday contains a list of programs that will see their funding reduced or cancelled.
The cancellations include programs that provide tutors in classrooms, and extra services for Indigenous and otherwise racialized students.
Maria Rizzo, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said she was “blindsided” by the funding cuts and worries how special needs students in her board will be affected.
“The government gives us money so we can use it for the kids for programs to help them,” Rizzo said. “Anything they take away, they take away from those kids.”
Rizzo and Robin Pilkey, chair of the Toronto District School Board, said they were surprised that school boards were notified about the cuts on Friday evening, when most administrators had left work for the weekend.
They said they are not aware of other funding options and they said the weekend was spent analysing how the cuts would affect their school boards.
“This also comes a week before Christmas – which is a little Scrooge-y if you ask me,” Rizzo said.
The Progressive Conservative government has made significant changes to the province’s education system since taking power, such as promising to develop a new sex-ed curriculum and requiring new teachers to pass a math proficiency test on the subject before entering the classroom.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said in a statement that the cuts are “going to be deeply felt by students,” adding that the announcement came a day before the government’s public consultation on the province’s education system ended.
Diane Dewing, president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, said she is “disturbed” by the cuts because she said they funded programs offer support for students who need it the most.
Dewing said the cancellation of programs geared towards Indigenous content goes against recommendations laid out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that more Indigenous perspectives be taught in schools.
“If we don’t invest in an education that is meaningful for Ontario’s diverse population now, we will pay the price in the future,” she said. “The students in our classroom today are our future.”