The Ontario Ministry of Education will require the province’s school boards to offer virtual classes throughout the 2021/22 school year, while retaining some of the pandemic-related funding to see if the public health situation improves.
And while the progressive conservative government has established its plan for the next school year, it has given no indication as to whether students could return to classrooms this year.
The provincial government has said it will provide $ 1.6 billion in temporary support for COVID-19 over the next school year, which includes more than half a billion dollars that councils can withdraw from their own reserve funds. He said the province would cover costs if any council uses more than two percent of its reserves, up to another two percent.
The councils had requested reimbursement of the reserves that they applied for the current academic year, which totaled about US $ 500 million, which the government had previously accounted for as part of its own financial contribution to the response to the pandemic.
“We are going to plan and ask school councils to plan, for all circumstances, as we did last year,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce, referring to models that restrict students to smaller groups, or cohorts, in a mix of classroom and remote education, a more typical return to schools and an online option.
“We are doing this because it is prudent and necessary to think ahead of time about what circumstances could be launched in Ontario and how to ensure that children continue to learn,” he said, adding more details in the coming months.
The education critic of the NDP Opposition said the move solidified the government’s efforts to promote online learning, a key point of disagreement in tense contract negotiations with education unions just before the pandemic hit a year ago.
“It is extremely clear from today’s update that (Premier) Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce are trying to push the province towards permanent online learning,” said Marit Stiles. “Planning online learning for the entire next school year is not just about COVID-19, but about the government saving money from our children’s backs, and it always has been.”
A department planning document outlined how the ministry intends to support school boards trying to minimize learning loss and other disruptions for students who have spent much of the past year learning at home.
But only $ 144.6 million of these pandemic-related funds are being allocated in full at this time, with councils otherwise advised to budget only for about half of those funds, with the province to confirm in the fall whether the rest will be needed.
“This makes planning very difficult. This makes hiring decisions very difficult if they don’t even know they will have the funding for a year, ”said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).
Pandemic-related funding includes up to $ 450 million for personal protective equipment and other essential supplies, $ 86 million for public health nurses and asymptomatic tests, $ 65.5 million for transportation and $ 59 million for special education , mental health and well-being.
She said she allocated $ 62 million for 2021 summer learning and $ 20 million to involve students again, as well as $ 15 million for technology, such as renewing or replacing devices.
The province’s primary funding mechanism for schools is expected to increase by 2.2 percent, or $ 561 million, to a total of $ 25.6 billion in Student Needs Grants.
That equates to $ 12,686 per student, which Bischof of the OSSTF said was an increase of less than 1.3 percent, while the combination of inflation and enrollment growth alone would require a 2 percent increase.
His colleague from Ontario’s Federation of Elementary Teachers, Sam Hammond, said the plan also appears to halt stabilization funding starting this year, making it a smaller increase than it might seem at first.
“The smoke and mirror approach aims to trick us into believing that they are investing new money. They are not, ”he said.
The Toronto District School Board, which has taken the maximum allowance from its reserve funds to operate in the current school year, said it welcomed the extent of funding for the pandemic, but is also still waiting for a word on what the rest of the year will look like. ongoing.
Lecce avoided questions about whether schools – which have been closed in and around Toronto since early April – can open their doors to students again this school year.
“We are excited to see that the government is continuing with COVID-related funding in September,” said TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird. “While we all expect the school to be as close to normal as possible, the reality is that a remote option will still need to be available to families, given the unpredictability of the pandemic.”