Students to lose jobs after Ford government axes school programs

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Nearly 100 students will be laid off from their part-time jobs at the Toronto Catholic school board because the programs they work for are being axed by the Ford government as part of the province’s $25 million funding cut to school boards.

Those job losses are just the “tip of the iceberg” because all of Ontario’s 72 school boards are being impacted by funding cuts or reductions to specialized grants.

“It’s deplorable and despicable,” said Toronto Catholic District School Board chair Maria Rizzo. “Kids will suffer in the long run (by the cuts).”

A report by the board’s staff to its trustees outlines which of its programs have been impacted by the cuts and reductions because of the 2018-2019 funding changes to EPO (Education Program-Other). Cancelled programs include the Focus on Youth’s after-school program, which operates in high-needs urban neighbourhoods and employs about 60 part-time students, mostly from high school. Also on the chopping block is the Tutors in the Classroom program, which will impact about 35 university and college students.

“Those kids are going to be laid off,” said Rizzo, adding the government is impacting students who rely on those jobs to pay for tuition and gain valuable work experience. And those job losses are just at that one board, she said, adding she assumes hundreds will be impacted provincewide.

Dallin said students were “blindsided” by news of the funding cuts and reductions, saying the programs “are extremely important to maximize the potential of youth.”

Other cancelled programs include ones that help support Indigenous students, the physical activity needs of elementary and secondary students, and projects such as SpeakUp, which encourages students to lead projects in their schools. According to the report, the TCDSB estimates the cancelled programs amount to about $655,000 in EPO funding. But because these programs are being cut in the middle of the school year, the report notes that the board has already spent about $255,000 on them.

Other programs will receive reduced funding, but it’s unclear how much less. The province is expected to provide more details by the end of the week.

New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles called the cuts a “slap in the face” to parents who took part in the government’s public consultations on changes to the education system, which wrapped up Saturday — a day after the government announced the $25 million funding loss. For this school year, EPO funding will be $400 million.

“They are causing utter chaos in our school boards and in our schools,” Stiles, the NDP’s education critic and a former Toronto school board trustee said Tuesday in the legislature. Stiles accused the government of “taking an axe to programs” that help vulnerable students.

“Overwhelmingly, the programs affected are designed to help at-risk youth. The government has yet to share what actual research they have conducted that shows that children getting physical activity or children getting programming to help them succeed if they are at risk or providing leadership opportunities for children are programs that need to be cut.”

Education Minister Lisa Thompson noted the government will continue to spend $400 million in EPO funding this school year — even though $425 million was promised by the previous government last March.

“We’re moving forward with thoughtful investments that make a difference in the classroom environment,” Thompson said during question period.

She has previously said that following a line-by-line audit of spending, the changes were “responsible.” Her spokesperson has previously said some of the EPO spending was “wasteful.”

Thompson also said “tens of thousands of people responded” to the government’s education consultations.

“I can’t wait to start diving into that data, it’s so rich,” she said. “That consultation was based on informing our direction for the next school year of 2019 … that’s what our consultation was based on.”

Speaking with reporters, Premier Doug Ford revealed that the government received about 35,000 responses as part of its public consultation process, calling it “the largest consultation in Ontario’s history.”

And when asked whether the cuts in EPO funding are responsible because they impact vulnerable children, he said, “we’re reviewing everything right across the board … we have to go line-item-by-line-item.”

With files from Robert Benzie

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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Specialized programs cut by province were ‘working well,’ teachers in Ontario say

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Teachers in Ontario are speaking out against a provincial government cut in funding for specialized school programs, saying the move was done without proper research and consultation and will affect marginalized students.

Many of the programs on the chopping block were « working well, » according to Liz Stuart, president of Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. The association has nearly 45,000 members who work at publicly funded Ontario English Catholic schools. 

« There is no doubt that these cuts will negatively affect students and classrooms, especially given the government’s decision to implement them midway through the school year, » Stuart said in a statement released on Monday.

The Doug Ford government announced in a memo to school boards on Friday that it is cutting $25 million to a fund known as the Education Programs — Other (EPO). The cut affects 11 grants administered through the fund, which is separate from general operating money.

Cut sends ‘worrying signal’

The elementary and secondary school programs that will lose all funding or have their funding reduced include supports for mental health, Indigenous education initiatives and anti-poverty programs. They were developed to address priorities determined by the government as well as by teachers, parents and students.

Liz Stuart, president of Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, says the cut will have a negative impact on the well-being and achievement of students. (CBC News)

Stuart said the cut sends a « worrying signal » about the government’s approach to education. The Ontario education ministry finished consulting the public about education on Saturday, but it announced the cut on Friday, before the consultation was completed, she noted.

« It is unfortunate that the government did not take the time to properly consult with teachers and others in the education community, who could have told them the impact these cuts are bound to have on student well-being and achievement, » she said. 

Decision ‘extremely rash and callous’

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which has 83,000 members who work at Ontario public elementary schools, agreed, saying the decision was « extremely rash and callous. »

Hammond said the union is opposed to the cuts because the programs were key to students who needed additional help.

« These cuts will affect students on a number of different levels, » Hammond said on Monday. « Most of the programs being cut are vital extension programs for marginalized and vulnerable students. It’s going to take away those additional supports that those students have. »

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, says the decision to cut was ‘extremely rash and callous.’ (Grant Linton/CBC)

He dismissed a claim by the government that the EPO has been wasteful. « The government has pointed to mismanagement of funds. I find that hard to believe, » he said.

« I don’t believe for one minute that the research that needed to be done on these programs has been done. We think that the decisions have been made in haste. »

Hammond said he sat across from Education Minister Lisa Thompson at a meeting a week ago and she did not « in any way » indicate that the cut was coming. He said the way it was communicated is « disturbing. »

Cut to affect only 2018-2019 school year, province says

According to Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Thompson, the EPO cut will only affect the 2018-2019 school year.

« As you know, we’ve recently wrapped up our education consultations and once that data is analyzed and reviewed, we will be looking at these programs again to see what supports can be put in place to support a revised curriculum, » Iafelice said in an email on Monday.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, pictured here, has said the fund « has a long track record of wasteful spending, » though she provided no examples. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Iafelice said, for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, EPO transfer payments will total $400 million to third-party organizations and school boards. The amount represents a $25-million reduction over allocations made in the previous fiscal year.

« Additionally, despite any reductions, it’s important to highlight that $400 million dollars in funding has gone out the door to some great innovative programs that provide direct support to students in the classrooms, » she said.

In an email to CBC Toronto on Sunday, Iafelice had said: « … this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments. »

The EPO accounts for one per cent of the total annual revenue that school boards receive and the money is intended to help supplement general operating funds, she added.

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Ontario government cuts $25M in funding for specialized school programs

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The Ontario government is slashing $25 million in funding for specialized programs in elementary and secondary schools across the province. 

The cut will mean the end of a number of initiatives for at-risk youth, including an after-school program run by teens in low-income areas that was established in the wake of the so-called « Summer of the Gun » in Toronto. 

According to the city’s public school board, the move will also affect programs that encouraged physical activity among  students and offered in-class tutors to children, as well as supports for racialized youth.

Marit Stiles, the NDP education critic, says the cut will be « deeply felt » by Ontario students.

The Toronto District School Board said the cut affects 11 grants administered through a special fund known as the Education Programs — Other (EPO). It is separate from the general operating fund. Programs that will lose funding addressed issues that were deemed to be priorities by previous provincial governments, as well as the federal government, it said.

Government says cut follows review of fund

On Friday, the government sent a memo to school boards about its decision.

« Despite only accounting for less than one per cent of school board funding, this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments, » Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said in an email to CBC Toronto.

« We have performed a thorough review of the EPO fund to ensure that it better aligns with the needs and priorities of Ontario parents, teachers and students while respecting taxpayer dollars. »

Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, pictured here, said in an email to CBC Toronto: ‘Despite only accounting for less than one per cent of school board funding, this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments.’ (CBC)

Iafelice said, for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, EPO transfer payments will total $400 million to third-party organizations and school boards. The amount represents a $25-million reduction over allocations made in the previous fiscal year, she said.

In a news release, Stiles said the cut shows disregard for school boards and students.

« Doug Ford’s cuts in classrooms are callous, and will only make the education and learning outcome challenges Ontario is facing even worse, » she said.

The NDP said memos were sent to school boards across the province after hours on Friday and that they arrived the day before a public consultation on education was scheduled to end.

Robin Pilkey, chair of the Toronto District School Board, said she is disappointed at the timing, lack of information and lack of detail about whether costs already committed to programs will be covered. (Robin Pilkey/Twitter)

Robin Pilkey, chair of the TDSB, said in an interview on Sunday that the board is trying to make financial sense of the impact of the cut and very little information has been provided. Pilkey is the school trustee for Ward 7, Parkdale-High Park.

Board called in staff to make sense of the cut

« On Friday, after 5 o’clock, an email was received by school boards indicating that there had been changes to the EPOs, » she said. « The information was not very clear. At this point, we do not know the financial implications. We’re not going to know that for several weeks, I don’t think. The impact of this cut is unknown at this time. »

She said she is concerned about the cut, disappointed at how it was handled, but not surprised. The government has been talking about its deficit for months now, she said.

« I think it was disappointing that it was dropped so late in the day. I think it was disappointing that it wasn’t very clear. I think it was disappointing because they cut programs and they don’t say whether boards will be kept whole on these programs because we were obviously running these programs. I mean, we’re in December now, » she said.

The timing of the memo was also surprising, given that the government had not yet completed its consultation on education, which ended on Saturday, she added.

The cuts apply for the 2018 school year, which is well under way. The board called staff in on Saturday to try to make sense of the memo. 

The email had a number of attachments about individual grants, she said. Some of the programs are continuing, some had their funding reduced, some had their funding cut completely. Others were not mentioned at all and the board doesn’t know the status of those ones, she said.

« We don’t why they chose these ones, why these ones and not other ones, » she said.

Staff will have to determine how much has been received for each program and how much has been spent. 

Programs to be cut include Focus on Youth

The programs funded by EPO grants, considered « focused funding areas, » are determined every March by the government and the board has already committed funds to cover staff for programs in this fiscal year, she said. The board doesn’t know if it will be covered for the funds already committed to programs slated to be cancelled.

In March, when the board is told where to spend the grant money, it begins to make plans to do so, she said.

Not every school board has every program funded by the EPO, she added.

The programs to be cancelled immediately include Focus on Youth after school, Tutors in the Classrooms, Experiential Learning for Adults, Indigenous Focused Collaborative Inquiry, Daily Physical Activity – Elementary, Physical Activity for Secondary Students, and Speak Up. The summer program of Focus on Youth is continuing. 

Focus on Youth, for example, was set up to provide activities for students in schools in areas that are considered under-served by other agencies. Students were hired as group leaders and peer mentors in the program. 

Originally, part of the idea behind the program was to steer students away from gangs. « It certainly is an unusual program to cut, » she added.

« It is a program that served students directly. And I think, for that, it is a loss. It doesn’t seem to me that it could be good. »

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Ottawa will bankroll some climate change programs left after Ford ends Ontario’s cap-and-trade

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Ottawa is stepping into the breach to bankroll some of the climate change programs left after Premier Doug Ford ended Ontario’s cap-and-trade environmental alliance with Quebec and California.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on Thursday announced that small- and medium-sized Ontario businesses as well as community organizations and non-profit groups will soon be able to apply directly for funding.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna says schools, communities, and hospitals were left ‘in a lurch’ after Doug Ford scrapped Ontario’s cap-and-trade.
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna says schools, communities, and hospitals were left ‘in a lurch’ after Doug Ford scrapped Ontario’s cap-and-trade.  (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“Schools, communities, and hospitals are all committed to climate action and now they’re left in a lurch so we’ve said we’re willing to work with them directly now with this money,” McKenna said in an interview.

“Of course we would have liked to work with the provincial government both on fighting pollution and tackling climate change,” the minister said.

“They took a different path — they made pollution free; they cancelled hundreds of projects in communities across Ontario,” she said.

“They’re clearly not committed to climate action, but Ontarians are.”

The federal money, which comes from a national $1.4-billion “low carbon leadership fund,” will help pay for some of the programs that were scrapped after Ford’s government abandoned the cap-and-trade accord with Quebec and California.

This would include $100 million for retrofitting schools to make them more energy efficient and a similar $64 million initiative for hospitals.

McKenna said details of Ottawa’s plan are still being finalized.

“There was an agreement with the Ontario government that was cancelled so we will be announcing soon how folks can apply,” she said.

“The government of Ontario cancelled projects that were helping individuals, universities, colleges, communities and businesses reduce pollution, improve energy efficiency and save money.”

Ford, who has banded together with other provincial premiers and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, has panned the federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a “carbon tax.”

By axing cap-and-trade, which generated $1.9 billion into provincial coffers for environmental programs, the new premier noted gasoline prices and natural gas bills are lower.

“The carbon tax (is) the worst tax ever,” Ford said two weeks ago as he stepped up his attacks on the federal Liberal government.

“There’s only one way — one way — we’re going to get rid of the carbon tax and that is by getting rid of Justin Trudeau,” he said at the time.

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