On April 6, 2019 (Saturday), thousands of teachers, parents, students, and Union Representatives gathered at Queen's park to protest Ontario's planned cuts to education to be detailed in the provincial budget on April 11, 2019.
Ontario plans to increase class sizes in Grades 4 to 8 and in high school and reduce the number of teachers across the province by more than 3,000 to save almost $1 billion before the next election. The reduction of teachers will be done through the reduction of the number of teaching positions by not replacing those that quit or retire.
For the Union Representatives, this means a challenge to their unimpeded self determined directions over the latest three decades. Previous provincial governments under three different political parties could not rein in the Teachers Unions and control the educational expenditures.
The Unions' immediate response is to “spin” the subject and portrait it as “firing of teachers”, “increase in class sizes”, and “elimination of programs”. They further infer that all of these are detrimental to students and their educational development. The leader of the opposition party (Andrea Horwath) did not miss this chance to support the unions and showed up to echo their rhetoric. She is counting on their votes in the next election as she did in the last one.
To the government supporters, Premier Ford is only trying to fix problems former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne and her government failed to address. In 2017, the Fraser Institute debunked the Teachers Unions' claim that education in Ontario has been grossly underfunded over the years. The Fraser Institute's report showed that after accounting for inflation, spending rose by 23.4% from $10,762 to $13,276 per student in constant dollars, while enrolment dropped by 110,000 students, or by 5.2%. Despite that, the number of teachers in the system increased by 14,000, to 126,000.
The truth is that the Ford government intends to reduce the total number of teaching positions in Ontario schools by 3,475 or 2.7% of the current teaching population over four years through attrition, not layoffs, saving taxpayers $851 million. Statistics also showed that on an annual basis, the school system loses about 3% of its teachers for one reason or another, or about 3,700 teachers a year. That means losses over four years would be lower than the total number of teachers lost on an annual basis.
It also means fewer teachers will have to work harder to improve dismal academic results in critical subjects like math, with the caveat they will need proper academic training to do so, which has been lacking for years.
The projected figures of so-called “deep cuts” amount to less than one teacher per school. There is an increase in average class size for high school students from 22 to 28 and from 23.5 to 24.5 students per class in Grades 4 through 8. These are numbers far from those claimed by union supporters of 45 students or more in the classrooms. No teachers will face “involuntary layoffs” due to the push for high school students to eventually take one online course per year in order to graduate.
In 2012, the Liberal premier Wynne commissioned the Drummond Report that recommended increase in class sizes. It was nevertheless ignored as Wynne wanted to appease the Teachers Unions and get their voting support.
There are currently 125,979 teachers in the Ontario system, up from 112,000 in 2004 when the Liberals took power. This despite enrolment falling by 109,000 during that same time period. When teachers, their unions or their supporters claim that the education system is facing deep cuts or being gutted, they are only engaging in fear mongering.
The facts are clear - costs in the education sector have been rising while enrolment and academic quality have been falling, with more than half of Grade 6 students, for example, failing to meet the provincial standard in math. The “Return on investment” is poor when it comes to Ontario's educational funding. When it comes to this area of concern, the unions are silent.
The unions are concerned that their revenue is threatened and they would have fewer dues-paying members. Union leaders refuse “changes” not dictated by themselves. Their complaints are about money and power, not about the sanctity of the education system.
The Ford government tries to fix an educational system that costs too much and wasn’t delivering. Their intentions are stated within their 2018 election platform and they were given a majority mandate by the Ontario voters. Let them get on with their tasks!
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