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Backgrounder: OPSBA Submission to the 2021-22 Grants for Student Needs Consultation

1/21/2021

Education is the second-largest funding line in the Ontario budget. The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association believes that strong, predictable, and equitable education funding is the foundational factor in setting the conditions that promote and sustain improved student achievement and well-being.

School boards’ identified funding priorities include investments in the following areas:

COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Funding Pressures
Although there have been funding announcements throughout the year, many school boards have (as directed by the Ministry of Education) used their reserve funds for pandemic-related expenses. These boards are seeking full reimbursement of any reserve funds used, as these were earmarked for specific future projects.

Additional pandemic costs incurred by boards include hiring of additional staff, digital devices for students and staff, HVAC equipment, increased energy cost, PPE and other teacher learning supports, cleaning supplies, student transportation, and support for online learning. For details, please read the full submission.

Anti-Racism Initiatives
Given long-standing systemic racism and bias that exists in society, the time for collective and coordinated strategic action is overdue. Our members want there to be a focus that specifically addresses racism towards Black and Indigenous Ontarians.

OPSBA recommends:

  • Funding for research and the collection of identity-based data on educational outcomes, as well as effective practices, strategies, and approaches.
  • Providing ongoing professional development opportunities along with job-embedded approaches, to support these initiatives.
  • Support for OPSBA’s efforts to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) running for Trustee or OPSBA positions.
  • The Ministry of Education establish a working group/committee dedicated to this work.

Special Education
Special Education continues to be an area that is underfunded given the prevalence and complexity of student needs. This is even more significant where community services and supports are not readily available or easily accessible and the concern has been exacerbated during COVID-19. School boards need predictable and responsive funding that reflects the ongoing specialized needs of students who require special education supports and/or services.  OPSBA is calling for an ongoing review of the special education grant components to ensure they are reflective of current school board realities. 

Children and Youth Mental Health
With data indicating that approximately one in five children and youth in Ontario have a mental health challenge, we believe early investments in school-based mental health and addictions services will yield long-term benefits for the health care system and the wellness of students and future generations. Currently, due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the prevalence of mental health issues among students has risen exponentially. There must be a continued focus on maintaining and expanding the resources and supports to children and youth and their families, especially during and post-pandemic.

Indigenous Education
Supporting and strengthening Indigenous education continues to be a priority for First Nations and OPSBA, and it must continue to be for governments across the country. Advancing reconciliation in support of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a major focus of OPSBA’s Indigenous Trustees’ Council and is one of OPSBA’s main priorities. Key items include improved funding for dedicated Indigenous language instruction, secondary course program enhancements, and supporting the promotion and development of First Nation teachers into leadership positions.

Capital and Facilities
Schools must be built and maintained to accommodate future population and program growth to support student achievement and well-being. In many areas, schools remain community hubs and need to be supported for their community use. Some boards continue to struggle with renewal costs for their aging schools and are unable to enhance their facilities to meet the needs of students as they learn and grow. OPSBA recommends continuing to provide funding for capital maintenance for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as structural, mechanical and electrical repairs. The Education Development Charge (EDC) regulation should also be amended to allow for flexibility for non-eligible boards to collect EDCs, and for EDC rates to accurately match actual land purchase costs. OPSBA also requests that the moratorium on school closures be lifted, along with a release of the revised Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines.

Technology and Broadband Access
This school year has been incredibly disruptive and OPSBA believes the Ministry of Education should strongly consider delaying the implementation of the requirement for students to take two online credits in order to graduate. If some aspect of e-Learning/virtual school is to continue as an option for students and their families, there must be funding to support it. School boards cannot financially sustain two parallel modes of learning.

Many boards have been using other funding to supply students and families with IT supports and devices, but since this will become a mandated requirement, funds should be designated to ensure full participation. Upgrades and access to broadband internet is also needed beyond the school setting, which is currently lacking in many rural, remote, northern and Indigenous communities. The work of the Broadband Modernization Program should be continued.

Northern and Rural Challenges
Our northern and rural members continue to identify the unique needs and challenges their communities face which include declining student enrolment, loss of community employers, difficulty attracting and retaining employees and overall geography. OPSBA is requesting that the Ministry of Education act on the list of identified needs and short and long term strategies and recommendations outlined in a November 26, 2019, letter to Minister Lecce.

Student Transportation
OPSBA is currently a member of the Ministry of Education’s Student Transportation Advisory Group. School boards continue to note the top transportation issues continue to be ride times, driver retention, funding, and school bus safety. Many boards regularly overspend their transportation budgets to meet their own unique needs.

French as a Second Language
OPSBA has recently completed a three-year Ontario Labour Market Partnership initiative with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development entitled Meeting Labour Market Needs for French as a Second Language Instruction in Ontario. This initiative was in response to concerns raised by OPSBA member boards about the growing gap between the number of students enrolling in French language programs and the recruitment and retention of sufficient numbers of FSL teachers and support staff. OPSBA recommends undertaking a provincial review of FSL program opportunities with a focus on teacher supply and demand issues.

For more information, please contact:

Shane Gonsalves 
sgonsalves@opsba.org
Managing Director, Government Relations and Public Affairs

T.J. Goertz
tgoertz@opsba.org
Senior Communications and Policy Officer

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