OPSBA advocates for students: class size and e-learning concerns remain

0

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) is reviewing the 2019-2020 Grants for Student Needs (GSN) for impacts on school boards across Ontario but continues to have strong concerns regarding the impact of proposed increases in secondary class sizes and the implementation of mandatory e-learning.

Today’s announcement includes a year-over-year increase of approximately $130 million from $24.53 billion to $24.66 billion and a decrease in per-pupil funding of $54 from $12,300 to $12,246.

“We are recommending that the government take a second look at proposed secondary class size and e-learning changes through the ongoing consultation process,” said OPSBA President Cathy Abraham. “While we note that the new Attrition Protection Allocation will help ensure no front-line educators lose their jobs as a result of the proposed changes, significantly increasing class size averages from 22 to 28 and requiring secondary students to take four courses online will have a dramatic effect on both students and staff in secondary schools across Ontario.”

Decreasing the number of caring adults in a school will lead to loss of programming, said President Abraham. “This will hit our secondary schools hard. For example, students won’t have the range of course choices that they currently do and which help to keep them in school and to attain their future goals. Specifically, elective courses including those in the trades, technology and the Arts, are likely to be reduced if not eliminated as choices for our students.”

Every school year, OPSBA submits a brief during the GSN process to the Ministry of Education and the pre-budget consultations outlining funding pressures facing school boards and provided a number of recommendations, some of which were addressed in the 2019-20 GSN. In the Ministry’s March 15 B8 memo, changes were already announced to several GSN funding lines. These included:

Local Priorities Fund

This fund, established in 2017-18 during the last round of collective bargaining, expires on August 31, 2019. Whether the funding for staffing is extended is an issue for the upcoming central collective bargaining process.

School Operations Allocation
School boards will be provided with a 2% increase to assist boards in managing commodity prices.

Student Transportation Grant
Student transportation, and its many challenges, is a complex part of education that does not appear to have a quick fix. The Student Transportation Grant will be increased by 4%. This is a welcome increase and OPSBA is also pleased to see that school boards that incurred costs exceeding student transportation funding allocations for 2018-19 will now receive stabilization funding for 2019-20. OPSBA hopes this stabilization funding will support those boards with unanticipated costs due to arbitration decisions. The Ministry will be undertaking a review of the student transportation funding formula and OPSBA looks forward to participating.

Additional funding items of note arising in the GSN for OPSBA and its member boards include:

Special Education
School boards continue to request more supports and resources in this area given the complexities of student needs. In addition, most boards are enrolling newcomer and refugee students with very high needs that require additional resources outside of a board’s original budget. The GSN includes a Behaviour Expertise Amount investment of $15.2 million to allow school boards to hire more professional staff who have Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) expertise and to increase the training opportunities to build school board capacity in ABA.

Within the 2019-20 Priorities and Partnerships Fund, a further $17.14 million is being allocated to improve support for families of children and youth with special education needs.

Capital Funding

OPSBA is aware of member boards who are still waiting for the release of funds for their approved projects. While the $1.4 billion currently earmarked for facility repair and renewal in 2019-20 is a start, it will not cover the serious and urgent capital needs of many school boards. OPSBA looks forward to the details suggested around capital priorities funding/construction programs. The creation of a working group to review the Education Development Charge regulation was welcome news in the fall. However, many school boards continue to deal with very unique circumstances and as a result are being challenged with capital and renewal costs for their aging schools.

Mental Health
Expanding resources for student mental health is crucial to ensuring that students get the support they need for better health and academic outcomes. Within the 2019-20 Priorities and Partnerships Fund, $34.54 million has been allocated to mental health and well-being.

Indigenous Education

OPSBA applauds the investment of $3.73 million in Priorities and Partnership Fund programs to improve student success and well-being and close the achievement gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

OPSBA will continue to review and analyze the details of today’s GSN announcement, including the Priorities and Partnerships Fund (formerly known as Education Program – Other), the B-Memos and the overall progress of the implementation of today’s funding announcements. OPSBA’s Board of Directors will be meeting next week to discuss the implications of this announcement provincially and at the local board level.

OPSBA is also actively participating in the next phase of consultations regarding Hiring Practices and Class Size, with a feedback deadline of May 31, 2019. Feedback from school board Human Resources leads and our Labour Relations Steering Committee will be incorporated in our submission.

OPSBA will continue to strongly advocate for stable public education funding that supports continuous achievement and well-being for all students.