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?