Changes coming to provincial education funding
Ontario school boards may be facing significant reductions in their funding for the coming school year.
In an email sent to boards on February 26, 2021, the Deputy Minister warned that funding for the 2021-2022 school year may not include all the “temporary” funding increases that were added by the federal and provincial governments during the pandemic.
Funding came from federal government, province, boards
To support the increased needs caused by the pandemic, boards were provided with approximately $1.6 billion in additional funding from three main sources, which supported them to do things like set up virtual schools, provide extra technology, enhance cleaning protocols, and increase staffing.
Sources of temporary pandemic funding included:
- $763.3 million from the federal government to support the safe reopening of schools (for example, HVAC systems, PPE, cleaning supplies, and staff);
- $309 million from the province for things such as additional custodians, nurses, school bus cleaning, mental health supports, and COVID testing; and
- $496 million (approximately) “freed up” from school boards‘ reserve funds which boards could use on staffing and safety measures.
Letter warns of possible cuts
According to the deputy, the additional funding allowed boards to hire more than 7,000 staff including “principals and vice-principals, teachers, educational assistants, mental health workers, early childhood educators, professional/paraprofessional staff, custodians” and more. The letter advises boards to “take a cautious approach to planning” and says it is “understandable that school boards may issue more than the typical number of redundancy notices to its staff this winter/spring.”
Enrolment declined due to COVID-19
Last fall, several boards reported that there had been a substantial drop in their student numbers. The Ministry of Education estimates that province-wide there were as many as 40,000 students who simply did not come back to school or start kindergarten as expected. Because the majority of boards’ funding is based on enrolment, in a normal year a drop in student numbers would have meant a drop in funding. But, because of the numerous pandemic-related challenges boards were facing, the Ministry chose to fund the boards as if the students had returned as expected.
In her letter, the Deputy Minister warns that this kind of top-up should not be expected in the coming year, and that boards should revise their enrolment projections as they will be funded based on their actual student counts.
Funding for average class sizes
The Deputy’s letter also warns that in cases where boards continue to run fully remote or hybrid classes in the fall, those class sizes will be funded at the same rate as the average class size in regular in-person classes. Average class sizes in Ontario are funded at different rates depending on the grade:
- Secondary school: 23
- Junior and Intermediate elementary: 24.5
- Primary elementary: 20 (capped at 23)
- Kindergarten: 26
Boards and families planning for next year
School boards have begun the process of planning staffing and budgets, and many families are in the process of making plans for the coming school year. In one board, families are being asked to make a choice between online and in-person education as early as March 15.
Many questions remain:
- Experts have raised concerns about learning loss. Will there be additional funding for the coming school year to cover the costs of supports for students who are struggling, including costs for smaller class sizes and staff such as child and youth workers and tutors?
- A number of studies have shown that the pandemic has had a worrying impact on students’ mental health. Will the province continue to provide increased funding for mental health programs in, or connected to, schools?
- The pandemic funding included supports for more than 600 nurses connected to schools. Will these nursing positions be eliminated in the coming school year?
- School boards have already announced they plan to continue some online learning in the fall. Will online class sizes be larger in the 2021-2022 school year?
- A substantial portion of additional funding for education during the 2020-2021 school year, came from the federal government. Does the province intend to request similar funding for the coming school year?