Trustees, teachers seek more special ed funding

By 
  • January 8, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Ontario government needs to invest more in special education to narrow the $68-million funding gap that 29 Catholic school boards across the province face this school year, says the head of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

“The problem with special education funding (in 2009-2010) and that gap is that boards are forced to take money out of other areas to fund the special education needs of our students,” Paula Peroni told The Catholic Register.

Peroni said increased special education funding will be among the top recommendations of the OCSTA when it makes its presentation before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in February. The committee is holding public hearings for provincial pre-budget consultations in Niagara Falls, London, Dryden, North Bay and Kingston this month and sessions in Toronto in February.

On the underfunding of special education, Peroni said boards might be spending less on textbooks and supplies or using financial reserves to balance budgets.

Although there has been an additional $49 million in the education ministry’s grant for special education needs across the province this year — with special education grants totalling $2.25 billion province-wide — the association says that isn’t enough.

“I think it’s time that the (education) minister and ministry try to find some significant solutions for special education,” Peroni said.

In the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the province’s largest Catholic board, special education underfunding is being felt by “the neediest students in the system,” said the head of the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers’ union.

Last year, 67 special education teachers were reassigned in the board, meaning “there are 67 less teachers providing direct special education support,” said union president Anthony Bellissimo.

Bellissimo said without appropriate programming, the support for students with special needs “will fall on the classroom teacher and I think that’s going to put a strain on the system.”

Meanwhile, Peroni said the OCSTA will also present other  pressing issues for Catholic schools, including recommending “adequate and equitable funding” for the province’s full-day kindergarten program. Catholic boards don’t have the available space that public schools do, especially going into the program’s second year, she said.

The association also plans to address concerns about student transportation costs and declining enrolment. The association said it supports a provincial advisory committee made up of local school board representatives, provincial associations and senior education ministry staff to review the funding formula and provide recommendations to the education minister.

For a copy of the OCSTA brief to the education ministry, see www.ocsta.on.ca .

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