MPP Hogarth on Continued Strike ActionPublished on March 10, 2020
Thank you to all of you for taking the time to share your concerns with me on Ontario’s education system, and the ongoing negotiations with the four teachers’ unions.
As with any contract negotiation, there are always differing view-points, and when those negotiations involve the spending of tax dollars, there is often misinformation. I want to take a moment to clearly state, in my own words, the government’s position:
1) There will be no changes to full-day kindergarten
2) There will be no changes to average class size from JK to grade 8
3) 1% wage increase offered to all public sector workers, including teachers, who earn the second-highest teaching salary in Canada. The teachers’ unions have asked for a 2% per year increase and benefit increases of 6 to 7%.
4) Ontario is investing $1 billion for 30,000 childcare spaces in our schools.
5) Ontario is investing $1.4 billion to build and renew schools this year across the province to address the school repair back-log that tripled to over $15.9 billion under the last government.
6) Ontario has more than doubled mental health supports for our students.
7) Moving towards merit-based hiring so that principals can hire the best teacher for the job. Unfortunately, Regulation 274, agreed to by the previous government, requires principals to hire teachers based on union seniority not qualifications.
Last week, the Ministry of Education put forward a plan to keep students in class and end ongoing labour disruptions. The government has further committed to:
1) Freezing the average class size at 23 students for grades 9-12 through 2023. This is consistent with the current average class size of 22.9 this school year. From the very beginning, the government has negotiated in good faith on class sizes; negotiating down from 28 to 25 now to 23. It’s important to note the Canadian average for grades 9-12 was 26.4, which is slightly higher than the OECD average of 26.1.
2) Making online learning optional by giving parents and students the choice of opting-out.
- The government has continued to negotiate in good faith on e-learning. In April 2019, the Ministry of Education proposed 4 mandatory online courses, we negotiated that down to 2, and now we’ve given students the ability to opt-out. It’s important to note that students with special needs or Individual Education Plans have always had the ability to opt-out of online e-learning.
- Ontario has offered online e-learning for high school students since 2004, and since 2011, we have seen a 17 per cent increase in use year over year. Working together with school boards, the Ministry of Education will continue to expand and modernize Ontario’s e-learning programs to give students greater flexibility and more choice in course offerings.
3) Invest in special education, “at-risk” students, and STEM education with a new student-focused ‘Support for Students Fund’ to allow school boards more flexibility to address students’ unique learning needs.
- In February 2017, as part of bargaining with teachers’ unions, the previous government created the ‘Local Priorities Fund’ and gave unions control over how these tax dollars were spent. In many cases union locals have not disclosed, even to their members, how the money is being spent. In fact, the Auditor General’s 2017 report found that in many boards, only half the money was used for what it was intended. The rest went to teacher salaries -- but not for special education teachers or even those helping at-risk students.
For decades, Ontario’s Ministry of Finance and successive Auditor Generals have reported an ever-increasing education budget. Between 2004 and 2018 education funding doubled despite their being 109,000 fewer students in our public schools.
According to Ministry of Finance Public Accounts, (Ministry Expenditures) education spending was:
- $7.56B in 2000-01
- $9.92B in 2003-04
- $22.38B in 2010-11
- $29B in 2017-18 (the last school year under the Wynne Liberal government)
- $30.43B in 2018-19
- $31.6B in 2019-20 (according to the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario)
It’s also important to note decisions made by today’s opposition party’s when they were in government:
- The first/last NDP government ripped up collective agreements, implemented a wage freeze, cut 6,000 teachers over 3 years, and forced public servants, (including teachers) to take 12 unpaid days off every year for 3 years.
- The previous Liberal government cut education spending in 2012-13 by $950 million as a result of a legislated 0 percent wage freeze. They also closed 724 schools, the most school closures in Ontario’s history.
As reported last week in the National Post, “the government has stepped back on both class sizes and e-learning, the remaining sticking points are salary and seniority in hiring – two issues that have absolutely nothing to do with students.”
I’ve heard from parents, students and teachers that it’s time to reach a deal that puts students first. In order to do this, we need the union leaders to cancel future strikes and return to the bargaining table with the mediator. I will continue to encourage both sides to reach a negotiated settlement.
I want to thank you for sharing your views with me. I appreciate your time and consideration of my response.