$600 million pledged for Ontario schools

By 
  • April 6, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - It’s a $50-million cut for computers and textbooks, but $600 million more for Ontario’s publicly funded school boards next year.

 Although declining enrolment and the economic downturn are leading to cuts in computer and textbook funding, Catholic education groups say students will benefit from the Ontario government’s commitment, announced in the March 26 budget, to more funding for public schools.

“These are difficult economic times for all sectors and I appreciate the steps the government has taken to maintain its support for effective initiatives around numeracy, literacy and secondary student success,” said Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president Paula Peroni.
But Peroni also cited concerns about fewer government funds for information technology and textbooks.

Dave MacLachlan, a Catholic ratepayer and member of Mississauga’s Blessed Trinity Elementary School parent group, said he doesn’t agree with these cuts.

“For kids to have a chance, kids need to start using computers early,” he said, adding that sharing textbooks can also have a negative impact on student learning.

But education ministry spokesperson Patricia MacNeil said the ministry is working with the school boards to encourage “pooled purchasing” to  drive costs down. Less money for textbooks or computers doesn’t necessarily mean there will be fewer of them, she said.

According to MacNeil, there would be a “modest impact” on students as a result of the cuts, with the government already spending $550 million each year for textbooks.

Brian Evoy, president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education, said reduced funding for textbooks and computers isn’t necessarily a concern because the government already provided a large amount of funding for textbooks last year. He said hiring more teachers and pledging $3.1 million to support parental involvement in schools are positive signs that the government is committed to public education.

The Ontario government has also pledged $57.6 million to hire elementary specialist teachers and Grade 4 to 8 teachers. It has, however, postponed funding for full-day Kindergarten programs.

Meanwhile, Elaine MacNeil, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said she did not want to single out the textbook cuts because there are other aspects of the budget which will help students over the long term.

Targeting poverty will help students and their families, she said. Expanding family literacy centres and community hubs in lower-income neighbourhoods will benefit the education system as a whole, she said.

“The fact that you have to make a choice between paying rent or the quality of food you put on the table has a huge impact on schools,” she said.

Next year, the government says it will spend close to $20 billion for public education across the province.

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