With the Ontario government pledging “back to basics” in the province’s classrooms, some worry power will be centralized too much at Queen’s Park. Register file photo

‘Back to basics’ bill draws educators’ concern

  • April 26, 2023

Concerns about excessive centralization in the education system, with Queen’s Park encroaching on school board autonomy, are getting kid-glove treatment from Catholic trustees’ associations while the union representing Catholic teachers is raising red flags.

Bill 98, the Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, was tabled in the provincial legislature April 17. If passed, the law would give the Minister of Education power over how boards of education dispose of real estate, set student achievement priorities for boards, set up an Integrity Commissioner to police trustee behaviour and force trustees and directors of education into provincially mandated training programs.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has branded the reforms “back to basics.”

“We are refocusing education on what matters most: Back to basics,” Lecce told the legislature during question period. “Back to ensuring young people have the fluency in the skills that will help set them up for long-term success.”

“We’re studying very carefully the legislation. We plan to participate in any public consultations to advocate for those priorities of Catholic school boards,” said Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president Pat Daly.

On the degree of centralization in the hands of Ministry of Education officials, Daly said, “I hope that’s not the intent. I’m a strong believer in local autonomy and flexibility.”

“The approach of this government has been to move toward greater centralization,” said Yves Lévesque, executive director of the Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC).

“This situation does create challenges with most organizations, governance and volunteers trying to achieve the objectives the government set forward.”

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association president Barb Dobrowolski was less diplomatic.

“Any ability to make a decision is being taken away from them (local school boards),” Dobrowolski said. “The government is centralizing the decisions around school improvement plans and student priorities.”

Daly trusts the provincial government not to intrude on Catholic priorities.

“The way it (Bill 98) is written, it will require the Ministry of Education to consult with the trustee associations before actions are taken,” Daly said. “We’re pleased to see that as well.”

The French Catholic boards are approaching the reforms with caution.

“We are analyzing the content of the bill,” said Lévesque. “As the saying goes, ‘The devil is in the details’ and such details will come up with the regulations drafted from the bill afterwards. So, lots of work ahead.”

To bolster the reading, writing and arithmetic focus of the new bill, Lecce announced plans to hire 1,000 more teachers — 300 math teachers and 700 who would concentrate on literacy.

OCSTA welcomed a 2.7-per-cent increase in the Grants for Student Needs — the per-student amount that makes up most of the province’s funding to school boards.

Lecce claims the Progressive Conservative government is spending more on education than any government in Ontario’s history.

“We are proud to increase investment for the coming school year by $693 million more for September. That is a 10-per-cent increase in funding for school boards in the last four years,” Lecce told the Legislature. “Whenyou look at the entire Ministry of Education budget, it is up 27 per cent when compared to the peak of spending under Premier Kathleen Wynne.”

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