Limited funding to support COVID adjustments in schools

On June 19th, the Ministry of Education released funding details for the 2020/2021 school year. While there was a small increase in funding for mental health supports, and a small increase for technology, no specific fu

nding has been announced to cover the increased costs that boards will incur to support school re-openings during COVID.

No funding announced to cover costs to support safe school re-openings
People for Education compared education funding for the 2020/21 school year to funding in 2018/19. This comparison paints a clearer picture because last year’s education funding was an anomaly.

While the 2020/21 funding includes approximately $56.8 million in “unallocated funds”, there does not appear to be any contingency funding for increased costs in a number of areas, including:

Additional staff to comply with new health and safety standards for cleaning schools;
More busing to support physical distancing requirements on buses and potentially staggered start times;
Additional support staff for students struggling with learning loss;
Increased numbers of teachers to support 15 student “bubbles” in elementary school and “quadmestering” in high school; or
Personal protective equipment (PPE).
Boards receive half funding for students returning for extra year of high school
The funding details also flag that school boards may only receive half the per pupil amount for students who completed secondary school online this spring during the pandemic and who wish to come back for another year either to improve their marks or obtain more than the 34 required credits.

Little funding for small classes or more staff

When they return to school in September, students in grades 4 to 12 will be wearing masks; elementary students will be in regular classes with no reduction in class size; and 75% of high school students will be learning online half-time.

These are the highlights of the Ontario’s plan for reopening schools in September.

Despite recommendations in a report from SickKids, the province’s plan does not include funding for smaller class sizes in elementary school, and has very little extra funding for staff such as additional teachers, guidance counsellors, social workers, psychologists and educational assistants.

Little additional funding for teaching and support staff
At the end of June, People for Education analyzed Ontario’s Grants for Student Needs for 2020/2021. We found that between 2018/19 and 2020/21, overall funding for education increased by 3.6%. When increases in enrolment (2%), salaries (1%), and inflation (1.6%) are factored in, the result was a net loss of 1%.

The province has announced some new funding for COVID-related resources, but the majority of the funding will cover increased costs for health and safety:

$75 million for additional school custodians and enhanced cleaning supplies
$60 million for Masks and personal protective equipment
$50 million for up to 500 nurses to support boards with screening, testing, and managing COVID-related issues.
$40 million for cleaning for school buses and personal protective equipment (PPE) for bus drivers
$30 million for approximately 346 teaching postions
$23.6 million for COVID testing
$10 million for supports for students with special education needs
$10 million for health and safety training for school-based staff
$10 million for mental health supports
The lack of funding for additional staff signifies an intention to attempt to maintain as much of the status quo as possible. The result is regular class sizes in elementary schools; more than 400,000 students learning online with little extra support, and no extra funding for support staff such as Child and Youth Workers, Social Workers or Educational Assistants to support students who may struggle.

School board planning for fall hindered by lack of clarity

No plan in place to support families
Ontario’s school board directors must provide their school re-opening plans to the province by August 4th. The plans must ensure that school staff not only are ready for several possible scenarios, but that they are prepared to pivot quickly if the COVID situation changes.

The Ministry of Education has outlined three scenarios to be considered for opening schools in the fall:

students returning to school full-time, with enhanced public health protocols (including things like physical distancing “bubbling” students into groups of 15);
a so-called hybrid or adaptive model where students learn part-time at school and part-time online; and/or
schools remaining closed with students doing all their learning remotely.
A number of directors say they have been hampered by a lack of clarity from the province, and they are concerned that they may spend weeks making plans that will not be approved by the Minister.

Collaborating to develop workable plans
Any of the various scenarios that boards are planning (see box) will require flexibility from the Ministry of Education, school board staff, and teacher and support staff unions. It will also require flexibility from families and students as they may be required to manage as much as half of students’ learning time outside of school.

People for Education and others, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission, have called on the Minister to convene a Task Force or Partnership Table to ensure that those with experience and expertise can work together to problem solve, test ideas, and create an effective and workable plan. Organizations like the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation have provided their own guidelines for school re-opening. However, thus far the Minister of Education has declined to bring together at one table, leaders from organizations representing directors of education, principals, teachers, support staff, students, faculties of education, health, municipal services, and early childhood education.

Ontario launches consultations on education funding

The province provides more than $25 billion to fund education for Ontario’s 2 million students. Most of this funding flows to school boards who administer it. Provincial consultations this year focus on 8 main categories, but they will accept feedback on any funding topics.

The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2021

COVID-19 Outbreak Response: The province – using provincial and federal funding – has invested hundreds of millions in response to the COVID outbreak. They want to know:
How do we ensure that the GSN remains agile to continue to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak?
What’s required to successfully help students post COVID-19?
Online Learning Adjustment: The province has announced that secondary students will be required to take two online credits to graduate. These courses will be funded at a class size of 30 students.
As future adjustments to the funding methodology for online learning courses are to be confirmed through the 2021-22 GSN, do changes and/or adjustments need to be made to the Online Learning Adjustment in order to be more responsive?
Priorities and Partnership Fund (PPF): Boards can receive funding outside of the Grants for Student Needs (GSN). The Priorities and Partnership Fund includes funding for targeted programs outside regular funding such as Indigenous Education, Math programs, mental health programs, and the Specialist High Skills Major. The Ministry regularly moves some of this funding from the PPF to the GSN.
Are there further opportunities to improve the administration of transfer payment agreements to continue supporting a reduction in administrative burden?
Are there other PPF initiatives that should be transferred to the GSN?
What potential areas of overlap exist within currently funded programs? What opportunities might there be to streamline funding, and to streamline reporting?
Reducing Administrative Burden and Red Tape: Throughout its mandate, the government has been looking for ways to eliminate “burdensome, outdated and unnecessary regulation”, and “modernize and streamline regulations”. The province is also looking for ways to “reduce administrative burden … while ensuring strong accountability and value for money”.
Are there opportunities to reduce the number of non-financial reports and PPF reports school boards currently submit to the ministry?
Are there areas of overlap or duplication in the current reports school boards submit to the ministry?

Changes needed to funding for education in Ontario

Funding for education in Ontario is driven by a provincial funding formula. Each year – usually in March – the Ministry of Education allocates funding to school boards through a series of formulae contained in the Grants for Student Needs (GSNs)and the Priorities and Partnerships Fund.

The Ministry of Education has requested feedback on education funding for the 2021-22 school year.

People for Education has a number of recommendations:
Update demographic data to fund supports for students with greater needs
Approximately 14% of total funding in the GSNs is dependent on census data. But the province is currently using data from the 2006 Census. This outdated data has an impact on funding to support students with special needs and students who may struggle in school. For example, $373.4 million in the Learning Opportunities Grant and $795 million in funding for Special Education is currently based on 2006 demographic data. This funding can be used for programs and resources such as special education teachers and educational assistants, smaller class sizes, breakfast programs, guidance counsellors, homework clubs, and support staff.
People for Education recommends the province use data from the 2016 census to ensure funding for students with greater needs is both adequate and reflects the realities of school boards’ current populations.
Reduce class sizes for mandatory online learning
As of the fall of 2020, high school students will be required to take two online classes to graduate. Class sizes for this mandatory e-learning will be funded at a rate of 30 students for every one teacher, significantly higher than in-person classes. An examination of the research has shown that to be effective, online learning requires as much focus on student engagement, similar time for individual attention, and equal amounts of evaluation and assessment as in-person learning.
People for Education recommends allocating funding for online learning at an average class size of 23 – the same as for in-person learning.