Students in an ESL class at St. Andrew's Catholic Elementary School in Toronto. Register file photo/Michael Swan

Special education, mental health funding given helpful boost in Ontario public schools

  • April 3, 2018
A pre-election $625 million injection of cash into Ontario’s education system has put a smile on the faces of Catholic school trustees as they anticipate more help dealing with mental health issues in the student body and the spiralling costs of educating special needs students.

Twenty-eight of the 29 Catholic boards are currently running deficits in their special needs budgets, Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association president Pat Daly told The Catholic Register.

“This additional funding will help that a lot,” he said. “It’s not obviously an overall solution, but it will go a long way to improve the situation.”

The funding includes $300 million over three years for special education, $140 million over three years for guidance teachers and other supports to help Grade 7 and 8 students make the leap into high school, $35 million for buses, $10 million extra to help immigrant kids learn English.

The province anticipates $300 million for special ed will result in about 2,000 more teachers and support staff system-wide, including about 400 new mental health workers to be hired over the next two years. The Ministry of Education wants every high school student to have access to mental health supports at school.

The costs associated with identifying, counselling and referring students facing various mental health crises has ballooned in recent years, Daly said.

“It has increased dramatically and I know it’s a priority for every single Catholic board,” he said. “We speak of well being as cognitive, social, physical and spiritual. For a child to succeed and do well each of those has to be supported. Mental health is a real priority for us.”

Providing classroom funding for physically and intellectually disabled students has been increasingly difficult over the last decade as the Ministry of Education has clamped down on boards moving money intended for other purposes into their special-ed budgets. Before the Ministry of Education tightened budgeting rules, Catholic boards in Ontario were the most likely to skew their budgets in favour of special ed.

“Clearly the special needs programs and service to all students in our schools is the pride of all Catholic boards and schools,” Daly said. 

While the extra money is nice, Catholic boards will continue to lobby for more freedom in budgeting, he said.

“There needs to be a balance between those priorities of the provincial government and then local decision-making,” he said. “Obviously, trustees and staff at the board level and at our schools know best what’s needed in our local communities.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne stressed that properly funded special education improves the learning environment for all students by allowing teachers to give equal attention to everybody in the classroom. Getting kids assessed and fitted with individualized education plans should make that possible.

“We know that there are gaps — gaps that are widening,” said Wynne in a press release. “Parents are telling us how frustrating it is to wait to have their child’s special education needs assessed.”

Daly said Catholic boards can’t worry about whether the new funding will disappear after the election in June.

“As in the past, our association will work with whichever party is in power,” he said.

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