The Ford government released details to its 2021-2022 education funding plan that will see around $2 billion spread out to improve multiple resources including COVID-19 assets, staffing, and mental health initiatives.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the government remains committed to protecting its staff and students as we enter the summer months and eventually the new year.
As a result, Lecce says the government will provide for another year of temporary COVID-19 supports totalling more than $1.6 billion in available resources.
Additionally, school boards across Ontario will be asked to offer virtual learning as a mandatory option for students and staff for the full 2021-22 school year.
Lecce said the announcement will help parents and students prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, and give boards time to plan for all contingencies.
“The chief medical officer of health continues to analyze the data and providing advice to [the] government,” he said.
“The premier’s commitment is to not take a risk with your child, is to not compound the problem.”
Some provincial school boards, including the Durham District School Board and the Waterloo Region District School Board, have already revealed plans to offer remote, virtual learning next year.
NEW: Education Minister Stephen Lecce is asked when/if students may return to in class learning – there's no clear answer, he talks about how students can do remote learning only as an option come September. #onpoli
— Cynthia Mulligan (@CityCynthia) May 4, 2021
The province says the option for virtual learning will be on the table as officials will be providing more information to parents in the coming months.
Ontario closed its schools to in-person learning indefinitely in mid-April as COVID-19 cases began to surge amid the third wave of the pandemic. Students are learning online as the province remains under a stay-at-home order.
While the province’s vaccine rollout has begun to ramp up in recent weeks, and case rates appear to be slowly decreasing, the province said the online option will be available for the entire 2021-2022 school year for those who want it.
Lecce acknowledged that some parents may have concerns about sending a child back for in-person class this fall.
“That is a personal choice, and I don’t think government is best positioned to make it for parents,” he said.
“What was important is that we provided that choice for this upcoming school year, and we provided more time to parents to make that choice.”
The government said it will also keep measures, such as cohorting, in place as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
“Our government is investing more in public education than any government in Ontario history,” said Lecce.
“As we continue to work with the Chief Medical Officer of Health to evaluate the safe resumption of in-class learning, our number-one priority remains safety in the classroom. To deliver on that priority, our government is making more than $1.6 billion available to protect school safety while investing in the long-term success of students with more support for reading, math, mental health, and special education needs.”
The new funding includes $29.4 million to support higher operating costs such as those related to ventilation systems, $20 million to support learning recovery and renewal, $383.6 million for staffing, and $40.0 million over two years for remote learning.
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Lecce says one major part of the budget centres on $450 million for personal protective equipment (PPE); an invaluable resource for schools across the province.
Other areas of investment:
- $86 million for public health nurses in public health units and asymptomatic testing.
- $65.5 million for transportation.
- $59 million for special education, mental health and well-being.
- $15 million for technology.
- $20 million to school boards for local actions to support student re-engagement plans, including Black students, Indigenous students, and students from low-income households, who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
The Ford government says it will confirm the use of remaining supplies if needed for the second half of the year, in the fall, dependent on vaccine distribution and public health advice.
“School boards will continue to implement a tiered approach to mental health that supports well-being for all students while offering more targeted evidence-based help for those requiring additional support and working with community partners to provide access to more intensive treatment when this is required,” the government said Tuesday.
The $80 million allocated to these initiatives includes employing more mental health professionals, providing educator professional learning, and collaborating with community mental health providers for students requiring more intensive supports.
“We are grateful to the government and to the Ministry of Education for continuing to provide critical funds to support the mental health of youth in Ontario – this is vitally important to students,” said Katherine Hay, President and CEO of Kids Help Phone.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have had 1.2 million connections with youth in Ontario – more than double the previous year. The government’s funding enables us to provide access to more supports for more young people in their time of need – no issue is too big or too small.”
Lecce says this specific funding is integral to students and their development as during the pandemic, some have increasingly disengaged from learning or school for a variety of reasons.
Grants for Student Needs (GSN):
GSN Funding is projected to be $25.6 billion – an increase of $561 million or 2.2 percent compared to last year.
This year’s fiscal plan from the Ford government has been praised by business and health care groups but received some heavy criticism by unions representing education workers.
Ontario’s $186 billion spending plan, the biggest in the history of the province, contains almost no new education spending.
School board unions have called on Lecce and the Ford government to invest in lower class sizes, enhanced safety measures, mental health supports, and more supports for students with special needs.
The provincial budget is a continuation of the Ford government’s last pandemic plan, with continued money being doled out to parents and small businesses.
It offers a second round of grants to small businesses to help with pandemic expenses, create a new job training tax credit and provide more benefits to families with children.
The government had previously maintained that schools would reopen but unions had called for schools to close in the absence of stronger safety measures.