VAUGHAN, Ont. — The Ontario Liberals would spend $1 billion to cap class sizes at 20 students for every grade across the province and hire 10,000 teachers if elected in June, party leader Steven Del Duca announced Thursday.
Del Duca said the move would ensure every student gets the focus and attention they deserve.
“I want to stress a hard cap of 20, so that students and their teachers can connect with one another, so that students can be taught, but so that the teachers can also reach the students,” he said at a morning campaign event in Vaughan, Ont., not far from where he lives.
To hire 10,000 teachers, the Liberals said they would recruit some from other provinces, help qualified teachers immigrate to Ontario, and work to attract some of the 80,000 Ontario-certified teachers they say are not currently employed by schools back to teaching.
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It would take time to hire that many teachers, he said, but they would focus on schools in the province that have the highest number of students per class as well as neighbourhoods that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
“Ten thousand is a big number, but it is the right number to get us to where we need to be on a hard cap of 20,” he said in a park near a school.
Del Duca said he sought advice of the major teacher unions beforehand.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario applauded the move.
“Smaller class sizes help improve student engagement, achievement, and well-being, and are especially critical as we move to a post-pandemic recovery,” the union said in a statement.
Del Duca said Wednesday he’d use the $10 billion Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford earmarked for Highway 413 north of Toronto on building 200 new schools and repairing 4,500 existing ones.
As well, the Liberals are promising to end a mandatory graduation requirement for two online credits introduced by the Progressive Conservative government.
Del Duca also said if elected, his government would update the province’s standardized testing regime, the Education Quality and Accountability Office assessments of literacy and math.
“I don’t think that it is well-suited to where we find ourselves right now, especially with the learning loss that we’ve had during this pandemic,” he said.
Del Duca said he will be releasing more planks in his education platform, adding that he wants to address pandemic-related learning gaps as well as review and update the standardized testing system.
A fully costed campaign platform will be released “in the coming days,” he said.
The NDP has promised to introduce a cap of 24 students for Grades 4 through 8 and hire 20,000 teachers and education workers if elected in June, as well as scrap the requirement for two online courses.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the previous Liberal government let class sizes balloon and froze teachers’ wages.
“No matter what Steven Del Duca says now, he had 15 years to to make sure we had smaller class sizes, and the Liberals refused to do it,” she said in Toronto.
“They had 15 years to pay attention to our public education system, but instead, they didn’t do that work.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford said the Liberal government actually closed schools.
“So they won’t have to worry about capping anything because they won’t have the schools to put the students in,” he said.
— With files from The Canadian Press’ Allison Jones