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Ford government shouldn't try to modernize education while cutting funding, new report warns

A new report from an education advocacy group warns the Ford government against reducing funding while aiming to modernize the school system. 

People for Education supports push to 'modernize' school system, if resources are in place

A new report from the group People For Education raises concerns that the Ontario government is reducing funding for teaching and support positions in schools while at the same time pushing to 'modernize' the education system. (Markus Schwabe CBC)

A new report from an education advocacy group warns the Ford government against reducing funding while aiming to modernize the school system. 

People For Education will release its annual report Monday, the group's first since Premier Doug Ford took office.

The report takes note of the government's plans for reforming schools, announced in March, including a renewed math strategy and more attention to skills that prepare students for jobs. 

"However, at the same time, the government reduced funding for the teachers and other supports that will play a key role in this modernization," says the report. 

There's clear evidence that policy changes to improve education will only work when schools get the resources necessary to make those changes, the group says. 

Annie Kidder, executive director of People For Education, says modernization of the education system and cutting budgets are 'very hard to do together.' (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

While the Ford government says its budget increases total funding for the education system, the per-student amount actually shrinks in the 2019-20 school year. The government aims to cut nearly 3,500 teaching positions from the secondary system by 2022.  

"Our caution, our warning is, yes, modernize but watch cutting resources at the same time," said People For Education's executive director Annie Kidder. "It makes it very difficult to ensure that students are getting what they need." 

In an interview, Kidder said it is important that public education evolve. "But it's always problematic if you're doing that and cutting resources," she said. "That's very hard to do together."

The report also urges the government to realize that "the basics" of education in the 21st century involve more than just reading, writing and math.

"To thrive in this rapidly changing world, students will need a broad set of adaptable and transferable skills," says the report. That includes creative and critical thinking skills, the ability to learn independently, collaboration skills, and effective communication.

Only half of Grade 6 students are achieving the provincial standard on Ontario's EQAO math tests, so the Ford government is revamping the province's math curriculum. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

To provide those skills, the report argues, schools need people and resources: teachers, psychologists, social workers, technology, libraries and equipment.  

The report argues that funding for special education support has not kept pace with the need.

The proportion of Ontario students requiring special education support has nearly doubled over the past two decades, according to the report. Its statistics show 27 per cent of secondary students now receive special education support, up from 14 per cent in 2000. The figure in the elementary system is currently 17 per cent, up from nine per cent in 2000.  

The funding restraint by the Ford government is prompting school boards across the province to issue layoff notices to hundreds of education workers. Education Minister Lisa Thompson insists that no front-line teachers will lose their jobs, and the government has a $1.6-billion fund to offer boards who can't reduce their work forces through attrition alone. 

Contracts in the education system all expire at the end of August.

Provincial bargaining has begun between the umbrella association of school boards and the two largest teachers' unions, but little progress has been reported. Ford has warned the unions not to strike. 

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