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ETFO report says education system underfunded for two decades

Special education, ESL, maintenance funds especially lacking
Certain aspects of the education system have been underfunded for two decades, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) released a report earlier this week. (Supplied)

Certain aspects of the education system have been underfunded for two decades, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said in a report released earlier this week.

The report includes seven recommendations to fix Ontario’s education funding formula.

The recommendations arise from “Shortchanging Ontario’s Students: An Overview and Assessment of Education Funding in Ontario” prepared by ETFO and economist Hugh Mackenzie & Associates.

“ETFO’s assessment of the education funding formula explains why teachers, education professionals and school boards face continual challenges,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond, in a press release.

“This is a funding formula that since 1997 has shortchanged elementary students and schools in a profound way.”

ETFO’s report indicates that special education funding, programs to support English language learners and students at risk, and funding for school operations and maintenance have all been underfunded for two decades. 

Elementary students get significantly less support for specialist teachers, library services, guidance, classroom supplies and computers, and grades 4-8 classes are the largest in the K-12 system for no pedagogical reason, said the press release.

“By 1999, the Progressive Conservative government had cut $1.5 billion from education,” Hammond said.

“In today’s dollars that is $2.2 billion. While the Liberal government has increased education funding largely for important new programs, there has effectively been no progress in addressing the funding issues built into the original base formula.”

Along with increasing special education funding in 2017-2018, ETFO is calling for: an independent, external review of the government’s statistical model used for funding special education; and amendments to the funding formula to provide more front-line children’s services and ensure average class size in grades 4 to 8 does not exceed 22 students, the current average class size for secondary students.

ETFO is also recommending that the government address the $612 per pupil differential in funding for elementary and secondary students and establish, through legislation, a review of the education funding formula every five years. This would bring accountability on the part of the government for the role its funding plays in the education system’s performance.
In a written statement, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said "the funding formula has undergone significant transformation" since 2003. 

Hunter adds that this year the government is providing an additional $219 million for special education and students. Earlier this year Hunter, announced support to reduce class sizes in Grades 4-8 to 24.5 or fewer students.

"After inheriting an education system in disrepair ... new reforms have been introduced that better support student achievement and well-being," Hunter wrote.

NDP education critic Peggy Sattler also issued a statement about ETFO's report following its publication.

“Today's report by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario highlights what too many students and parents already know: years of successive Conservative and Liberal governments have created an education system that is failing our children,” she said.

The report shows just how out of touch Kathleen Wynne is. She just doesn’t get it. Minor tweaks to an education system designed by Conservatives will continue to fail students, and leave families scrambling to fill the gaps.

“Special education funding is completely disconnected from students' needs, leaving many kids without even the basic services they need to thrive. Grants that were intended to give at-risk youth and students from low income backgrounds a leg up fall short of what’s needed and are often diverted for other uses. Rural and Northern schools continue to be shut down by Wynne, forcing students to be bused further away from home, and stripping towns of vital community spaces.

“A New Democratic government will ground special education funding in the needs of students and ensure every child starts with their best foot forward. And we will ensure there's a full review of education funding to create a system that works for students, families and educators. Until then, Andrea Horwath and Ontario’s New Democrats will continue calling on Wynne to freeze school closures, and fund classrooms and kids properly.”