On March 15, 2019, the Minister of Education announced devastating changes to Ontario’s public education system. The Ministry has not yet provided clear details or any formulas that apply to these changes, which means we are unable to project the total impact. We are able, however to provide estimates of the impact of these cuts.
Prominent among the changes is an increase in average class size ratios from 22:1 to 28:1 in Ontario public high schools. Students will also be required to attain four credits through mandatory e-learning programs, at a student-teacher ratio of 35:1.
This will result in the removal, over four years, of more than 5,700 OSSTF/FEESO secondary school teachers from the system. The removal of those teachers will, in turn, result in the elimination of over 34,000 classes. In other words, there will be approximately 25 per cent fewer teachers in Ontario’s high schools, and one in every four classes will be eliminated.
The impact on student learning, and student choice, will be dramatic. We know, because the class size numbers represent an average, that many classes will balloon to 40 or even 45 students as school boards struggle to maintain programs that require smaller classes. Many such programs, such as those leading to careers in the trades, as well as certain arts and science programs and specialty programs such International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement will all be at risk of disappearing altogether.
As if class sizes of up to 40 or 45 students were not bad enough, the government’s insistence that students be forced to take a minimum of four credits via e-learning courses further reduces the time those students will have for critical face-to-face engagement with, and guidance from, teachers and other education workers.
Another casualty of the Ford government’s cuts is the Secondary Programming Grant. This is a grant for staffing that was originally negotiated to provide extra supports for students through the hiring of additional staff, such as student success teachers. These teachers have been working with our most vulnerable students on a day-to-day basis, and are partly responsible for Ontario’s high graduation rate. Those positions and the supports they provided are being eliminated.
Similarly, the termination of the Local Priorities Fund in August will result in the elimination of more than 219 teaching positions and at least 300 support staff positions. Most of these positions are engaged exclusively in special education.
A number of additional cuts were announced on March 15, the exact impact of which we have not yet been able to calculate owing to a lack of clear information from the government. Of greatest concern are the removal of $36.1 million from the Cost Adjustment Allocation and an adjustment to the School Facility Operations and Renewal Grant. It is entirely likely that school boards will be forced to make even deeper cuts to support staff positions.