The Ontario government said it is launching “catch up payments” which will offer parents $200 or $250 per child to help “offset costs as they support their children as they catch up.”
“This new initiative commits a total of $365 million in direct financial relief for parents,” a news release read.
The government says the payments are for “additional tutoring supports, supplies or equipment that enhance student learning.”
Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce said it “could not be clearer that we must keep students in class without disruption, with a focus on catching up on the fundamentals — reading, writing and math — after two years of pandemic-related learning disruptions.”
“We are expanding tutoring supports, assessing every young child’s ability to read, and hiring more staff to ensure all kids get back on track and ultimately graduate into good-paying jobs,” Lecce said in a statement.
“While we have provided over $600 million in learning recovery investments to publicly funded schools, we are also providing parents of all school-aged children direct financial relief that can be immediately reinvested to support their children.”
Schools in Ontario were closed for a total of 20 weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the government, beginning Thursday, parents with school-aged children up to 18-years-old can apply for $200 payments for each child. Parents with school-aged children with special educations needs, up to 21-years-old can apply for $250 payments.
The government said parents can apply for the payments through a secure website.
“Applications for Catch Up Payments will remain open until March 31, 2023,” the release read.
Asked by reporters on Thursday how the government can ensure families will spend the money on supporting their student’s learning, Lecce said he trusts parents to “make the right decisions for their kids.”
“I know they will do the right thing because we’ve done this multiple times before, and I know that putting those dollars to good use for before and after school programs, for learning, for literacy development, for technology – this all helps,” he said. “I think we should be on the side of working people in this province who want more relief at a time of economic difficulty.”
The provincial government also announced additional steps geared towards supporting students.
It said it will be providing new digital resources to classrooms and will be deploying “math action teams” to underperforming school boards.
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The ministry said it will also be providing “early reading enhancements” which includes spending $25 million on “evidence-based reading intervention programs and professional assessments.”
The government said it will also extend its $175 million tutoring support program, continue to modernize the province’s curriculum and offer attendance supports for struggling students.
“These initiatives are in addition to the Ontario Government’s $26.6 billion in funding for the 2022-23 school year, the highest investment in public education in Ontario’s history, which includes the $600 million Learning Recovery Action Plan,” the release read.
The news comes just a day after news broke that the majority of Grade 6 students in Ontario failed the province’s standardized 2021-2022 math test.
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) data, obtained by Global News showed 59 per cent of Grade 3 students met the provincial mathematics standard. Just 47 per cent of Grade 6 students met the threshold, while 52 per cent of Grade 9 students were at the standard.
Speaking at the press conference on Thursday, Lecce said the low test scores are a “global challenge.”
“To get kids back on track, they must stay in class in front of their educators, getting back to the basics of learning,” he said. “We cannot improve math scores if children face the perennial threat of strikes, withdrawing services where kids don’t get a report card to assess their academic performance.”
The announcement comes just a day after the union representing about 55,000 Ontario education workers said almost no progress was made over three days of contract talks with the Ford government.
The negotiations are set to resume on Nov. 1, just two days before they would be in a legal strike position.
In a statement Thursday, Laura Walton, an educational assistant and president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, said the government’s responsibility is “to the people of Ontario.”
“And that requires investing in the people who make schools work,” Walton said. “Tax cuts disguised as one-time payouts and pandering to their big business buddies gets nothing done.”
Walton said the union has “proposals on the table for student success and good jobs.”
“Stephen Lecce and Doug Ford have the power and resources to accept our reasonable, affordable and absolutely necessary proposals,” she continued. “They should stop the delay and do that today.”
-With a file from Global News’ Isaac Callan and Colin D’Mello.