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Ontario’s 2021 budget falls flat when it comes to education, says Near North Teachers Local president

Rob Hammond said making remote and online learning a permanent fixture after the pandemic subsides is a huge mistake
near north teachers 2021
Near North Teachers Local president Rob Hammond says that the Ontario 2021 provincial budget is shortchanging students by delivering a budget that fails to keep up with inflation.

Ontario announced its 2021 budget on March 24 and Near North Teachers Local president Rob Hammond says the province is shortchanging its students. 

The provincial budget education sector highlights $550 million toward building new schools and additions to existing schools, $40 million over two years to improve remote and online learning technology and a $200 increase to the COVID-19 Child Benefit. 

However, Hammond said making remote and online learning a permanent fixture after the pandemic subsides is a huge mistake. 

“Children learn best when they are in face-to-face situations in front of a classroom teacher who can address their needs,” he said. “The children really need the opportunity to interact with their peers and I think for their growth and overall development and socialization there’s no substitute for face-to-face learning.” 

When asked if the emphasis on remote learning is a way for the provincial government to save money, Hammond replied, “Absolutely.” 

“The government had an opportunity to provide students with supports that they’re going to need going forward and instead, they exaggerate their investments while actually shortchanging students,” he said. 

“If anything, it’s just clear that the government is continuing its ideological attack on public education.” 

As part of the budget, the provincial government announced that it would be supporting families again through the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit. 

“The additional costs of virtual learning, reduced access to after-school programs and child care, barriers to getting back to the workplace and the stress of the necessary public health restrictions means families need and deserve relief,” the budget document states. 

Eligible parents will receive $400 for each child aged zero to 18 or $500 for children and youth with different abilities aged 21 or younger.  

The increase will cost Ontario taxpayers $980 million. 

“Why can’t they just invest in public education and put it into the education system?” asked Hammond. 

“ … It’s a shell game, ‘oh we’ve put out this money for education,’ no, you didn’t put out the money for education; you put some money in  some parents' pockets but in the overall scheme of things, you're robbing their kids of a quality education.” 

Standard funding in education is set to increase by $700 million but the province is ending over $1 billion in COVID-19 funding for education, which means the overall spending will fall by $789 million. 

This means the province has delivered a budget that fails to keep education in line with the rate of inflation, said Hammond. 

“If the cost to run the programs is going up and you’re not putting in any more money to keep up with that, then you’re going to have to  lose programs,” he said. 

Cuts to education were a concern for teachers well before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“What’s the best way to save money?” asked Hammond. “Larger class sizes, get rid of the caps and throw 40 kids into a classroom.” 

“Education should be an investment in the province’s future and they’re shortchanging it.” 

- Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative, Parry Sound North Star. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.