Dear Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce,
As school boards await the release of the Grants for Student Needs in the coming days, I wanted to, once again, take the opportunity to bring your attention to the Toronto District School Board’s significant concerns regarding education funding in Ontario.
We are in unprecedented times as our province manages and deals with this ongoing health crisis. As we look ahead to recovery in the coming weeks and months, and the eventual return to the classroom, it is evident that education funding is more important than ever. It is essential that the students of Ontario return to an education system that is able to fully meet their needs and this can only happen if the funding provided by the government is strong, predictable and equitable.
Earlier this year, I submitted, on behalf of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), a pre-budget consultation document to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. As you know, this document not only outlined the TDSB’s key budgetary pressures, but also offered recommendations and potential changes to government policy so that the TDSB, and other school boards across Ontario, could continue to offer the outstanding programs and services that provide immense benefit our students.
The submission outlined the TDSB’s concerns regarding the funding associated with Special Education, class size requirements, e-Learning, the renewal and maintenance of our schools, Education Development Charges and transportation. You were sent this submission directly in January, but you can also review it once again on our website.
In addition to the concerns outlined in my pre-budget submission, I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the historical funding gaps that the TDSB is required to manage every year.
As you know, before the introduction of the central bargaining process, collective agreements were bargained locally, with decisions about salaries, benefits and other working conditions made through local negotiations. However, when the provincial government replaced this local bargaining process with a central process, it removed the ability for school boards to negotiate salaries and benefits.
This change meant that school boards no longer had the ability to address the gaps between funded and actual salaries and benefits through direct labour negotiations, which has been significant for many school boards, including the TDSB. The province fully funds central collective agreements, but has not addressed the prior funding gaps, and we urge the province to fund them appropriately. For more information on this, and other funding gaps, please see the TDSB’s Financial Facts at a Glance.
I would also like to raise the issue of the Priorities and Partnerships Fund (PPF): Parents Reaching Out Grants (formerly EPO grants). The TDSB is appreciative of the reinstatement of these grants as they are vital to our schools’ ability to engage with parents/guardians, which is a key factor in the enhancement of student achievement and well-being. This year, however, there have been two significant changes to the grants that have had a substantial impact on schools’ ability to connect and engage: a major reduction in funding by more than two-thirds and the change from a grants model to an allocation model.
We ask that for the 2020-21 school year, you consider restoring past funding levels and returning back to the grants-based model. We also request that the Ministry release all the information on PPF funding as early as possible so that boards and schools are able to plan effectively for the coming year, and parents/guardians can engage in effective ways with our schools.
Lastly, I would hope that the Ministry is considering the additional resources that school boards will require to re-open schools and welcome students once it is safe to do so, specifically when it comes to ensuring the mental health and well-being of our students. This will not be an easy transition, but I am confident that given adequate resources, TDSB staff will be able to support the needs of all students as schools re-open and we return to our new normal. As always, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this, and other funding issues, with you in further detail.
In conclusion, I hope that you recognize the monumental importance of education funding during these times. While our commitment to distance education has allowed learning to continue, it cannot and has not replaced the learning that happens in our schools. Now, more than ever, school boards will require strong, predictable and equitable funding to meet the needs of all students and to ensure they have access to the best programs and services to support their achievement and well-being, and help set them up for future success.
Robin Pilkey, CPA, CA, ICD.D
Chair, Toronto District School Boar