Our Schools | Our Selves

November 2018

As part of its new digital format, Our Schools / Our Selves will be providing regular updates from our provincial offices and some of the community organizations we work alongside to better explain key education policies across the country and their effects in classrooms and communities.

The intent is to provide background to the education policies that are being implemented in various jurisdictions so that we can better understand the context in which policy decisions are taking place, and learn from the experiences of others.

This is the inaugural scan, which includes contributions from CCPA-BC, CCPA-SK, CCPA-MB, CCPA-ON and CCPA-NS. It also features work from three community-based organizations: Support Our Students (Alberta), Fix Our Schools (Ontario)  and Educators for Social Justice (Nova Scotia). We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with colleagues across the country, to benefit from their experience and analysis, and to let readers know about these organizations doing such important work in schools and communities across the country.

Going forward, we will incorporate additional analysis and topics of discussion to provide a more extensive scan and a more comprehensive understanding of education policy and practice across the country—a goal Our Schools / Our Selves has been committed to since its establishment in 1988.

And, as always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Erika Shaker
OS/OS Editor

[object Object]
[object Object]
[object Object]

Major new investments lay the foundation for a new universal, affordable, quality child care and early education system in BC

By Iglika Ivanova and Alex Hemingway

The first full budget of BC’s new provincial government marks a major shift in direction for early education policy. The 2018 budget invests $1 billion over three years in early learning and child care on top of the $153 million provided by the federal government. Child care advocates estimate that this level of investment will keep BC on track to fully implement universal child care in eight to 10 years.

Importantly, these investments represent the first steps in transforming the existing patchwork of child care services in BC into a universal, affordable, high quality child care and early learning system. The key elements include:

  • A new, more generous affordable child care benefit to replace the provincial child care subsidy as of September 2018. The income-tested benefit increases the income threshold for support to $111,000 (the maximum amount will apply for those with incomes below $45,000). The benefit is paid directly to providers. Parents of infants and toddlers are eligible for much higher benefit amounts than previously—up to $1,250 per month for infant care—and higher benefits for older ages will be phased in over three years.
  • A new Child Care Fee Reduction grant available to all licensed child care providers that receive provincial operating funding, starting in April 2018. Providers who opt in and meet basic criteria will receive additional grants to reduce fees by predefined amounts depending on the type of care provided (family or centre-based) and ages of children served, as well as a 10 per cent increase on their base operating grant. The vast majority of eligible providers are now using this program.
  • Capital funding to create 22,000 new licensed child care spaces over three years and funds to maintain and upgrade existing spaces.
  • Prototype sites for $10/day child care for 2,500 children of all age groups across the province, including free child care for families with income below $51,000.
  • Investment in training for early childhood educators, including generous bursaries.
  • Investments to improve inclusion for children with disabilities and to support culturally based Indigenous early education and care.
  • A comprehensive Early Care and Learning Recruitment and Retention Strategy released in September, including wage increases of $1/hr in 2018 and $1/hr in 2020. Advocates are calling for an additional $1/hr increase in 2019 as child care is a notoriously low-paid sector and median wages fall well below the living wage in big cities like Vancouver and Victoria.

We know from the research that quality, affordable child care and early education programs enhance affordability, create employment, improve gender equity, boost the economy, reduce inequality and foster healthy child development. BC landmark investment in child care may well represent the one thing this new BC government does that will have the single greatest impact on the province.

BC’s K-12 education system also saw a major infusion of funding over the past year. Teachers won a long-running battle in November 2016 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the BC government had illegally stripped their contracts of class size and composition provisions back in 2002.

As part of restoring those class-size and composition contract provisions, BC Budget 2018 includes a $376 million annual funding increase (over and above increases to pay for projected enrolment growth) to hire 3700 new teachers province-wide.

The BC government has also added funding for classroom supplies, as well as capital funding to address overcrowding in fast-growing districts and accelerate long-delayed seismic upgrades. The government has also launched a review of BC’s K-12 education funding formula, which was last overhauled in the early 2000s amidst major cuts and school closures.

While restoring class size and composition to 2002 levels represents a huge improvement, there’s still a need for focused investment to adequately support students with special needs. Years of underfunding on the capital side have led to a significant backlog of deferred maintenance in many school districts, including the shocking presence of unsafe levels of lead in school drinking water in schools around the province (the government has begun to distribute grants for pipe replacement where tests have exceeded the safe limit).

On the post-secondary side, the government has made important investments since the fall to eliminate tuition fees for Adult Basic Education and English language learning programs, and grant tuition waivers to children in government care. Budget Update 2018 also announced $2.6 billion in capital investments for the sector over three years. However, action is still sorely needed to increase core post-secondary operating funding, reduce tuition fees, eliminate interest on student loans and provide better financial support to lower-income students.

Iglika Ivanova is Senior Economist and Alex Hemingway is an Economist and Public Finance Policy Analyst at CCPA-BC.

[object Object]
[object Object]
[object Object]

Wanted: a long-term vision to support equitable public education in Alberta

By Barbara Silva and Carolyn Blasetti

Once upon a time, way back in 2015, Albertans celebrated a government that declared they would “stop the reckless cuts to schools” and provide “stable, predictable funding for school boards”-- bold statements in a time when education funding in Alberta had been cut and undermined for years. This “funding for growth” initiative was welcomed, applauded and celebrated in every corner of the province. A new day was dawning for education.

Three years into the NDP mandate, Albertans have seen some benefits: the $25/day child care program, the school nutrition program, and classroom improvement fund grants are making valiant strides in promoting equity for children and closing the educational opportunity gaps arising from poverty. Unfortunately, the Alberta budget of 2018 continues to celebrate a now stale “funding for growth” campaign, which was only relevant when compared to the former government’s pre-2015 proposed budget cuts to education.

What Albertans did not expect three years into this government was for schools to continue to struggle to pay for school maintenance and repairs; for schools to lack resources including equipment and classrooms supports; for numbers of educational assistants to continue to be insufficient; for parents to still fundraise for basic resources and to still pay school fees; for children’s rights to be threatened under the guise of parental choice.

For most Albertans with children in schools, very little has changed since 2015. In the three years since the election, and in this 2018 budget, the Alberta government has once again provided for the status quo.

Equally unsettling, this “funding for growth”budget has also secured the status quo for private schools in Alberta which continue to receive 70% per student funding (and have since 2006) at a cost of $270million -- an expensive effort to secure loyalty from private school supporters despite the majority of Albertans (according to polls) wanting these subsidies reduced.

Social conservative entities are dedicating huge amounts of time and resources to furthering their vision of education ‘choice’ and parental rights, challenging education initiatives meant to protect vulnerable students.

  • 24 organizations and individuals including several private schools, represented by John Carpay (President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms) have filed a constitutional challenge of the legitimacy of Bill 24, which was brought in to protect the privacy of LGBTQ students and students who join GSA in schools.

The Alberta School Councils’ Association which receives nearly $1 million in government funding per year, passed a motion at their AGM in April against supporting the use of the Alberta Teachers Association Prism toolkit (an optional resource used by teachers to teach about gender identity and sexual orientation),misrepresenting educational resources as curriculum.

There are political ramifications to these initiatives. The UCP (UnitedConservative Party) drafted and passed policy that their recent AGM in Red Deer under the guise of “parental rights’ that would:

  • require parental opt-in consent for any subjects of a religious or sexual nature, including enrolment in extracurricular clubs like gay-straight alliances.
  • demand parents be told of “invasive medical procedures performed on a minor child” (largely interpreted as strategic barriers to women’s health access (abortions) and vaccinations).
  • increase privatization in education, promoting a voucher system.

Change is possible, and efforts to positively counter widening social and economic inequities have taken place.

This Alberta government has made important progress to address these inequities for children and education through additional classroom improvement fund grants that address staffing shortages and supply and equipment deficits. The expansion of theAlberta School Nutrition Program means approximately 30,000 students will receive meals in 2018/2019. The increase in $25/day child care spaces is also significant.

But there is more work to do to address the inequities and inefficiencies created by the current funding model. Short term grants that require ‘hoop jumping’ and create competition between schools are only limited band-aids that do not address larger systemic inequities such a slack of classroom supports, transportation fees and school fees. Families and students are looking for leadership on improving their day to day experiences at their public schools.

As the sun sets on the mandate of the current government and the celebrations of “funding for growth” have long since faded away, Albertans see what is absent in yet another budget; a long-term vision to support equitable public education in Alberta.

Barbara Silva and Carolyn Blasetti are with Support Our Students Alberta (SOS-AB).

[object Object]
[object Object]
[object Object]

Saskatchewan Education Summary

By Simon Enoch

The Saskatchewan government’s 2017-2018 austerity budget cut Operating Funding & Preventative Maintenance to Saskatchewan school divisions by 2.6% or $54 million. In response, Regina Public schools eliminated 22.05 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) classroom teachers while also closing the Discovery and Communication preschools for special-needs children and implemented transportation zones that will disqualify from bus service 1,100 students who currently take the bus. Saskatoon Public schools dissolved the Curriculum Materials Centre and library technical services, resulting in a staff reduction of 10.5 FTEs. They also reduced 11.9 FTEs for secretarial positions in schools and eliminated 6.0 educational consultant and coordinator positions. Saskatoon also introduced changes to student transportation, increasing walk distances and ending noon-hour busing. The provincial NDP estimate that a total of 188 teachers and support workers were eliminated province-wide.

The 2017 budget also initially cut $4.8 million from provincial libraries, which the government was forced to restore after a massive public outcry.

The government had floated the idea of cost-savings through the amalgamation of the province’s 28 school boards as outlined in Educational Governance Review Report, but ultimately backed down after public criticism. In May 2017, the government passed Bill 63, which amends the Education Act to give the Minister of Education more power and reduce the autonomy of school divisions. Under the terms of the Bill, the government can decide school boards’ duties, composition and election procedures, trustees’ eligibility requirements, terms of office and disqualification. It can alter school division boundaries, establish and dissolve school divisions, and amalgamate school boards.

The 2018 budget restored $30 million to the $54 million cut in education. School boards say this may allow them to restore some of the previous year’s cuts, but with approximately 2,500 more students enrolled in the past year, they will still have to find efficiencies.

The 2017 budget cut funding for universities and post-secondary institutions by 5%: $25 million less to universities (from $475 million to $450 million) and $6 million less to technical institutes ($156 million to $150 million). Student aid funding was reduced from $32.5 million to $26.2 million and post secondary scholarships will be reduced from $14.3 million to $12.5 million. The 2018 budget maintains operating grants for post-secondary institutions at 2017-18 levels. However, the budget did cut $12 million to student supports such as scholarships, income assistance and student loans.

(Of the $12-million cut, about $8 million came from the suspension of the Advantage Grant for Education Savings (SAGES). The program provided grants of 10% on contributions into a Registered Education Savings Plan to a maximum of $250 per child per year, with a maximum lifetime grant per child of $4,500).

In response to the cuts, the University of Saskatchewan raised its tuition by 2.3% in 2017 and recently announced a 4.8% hike for 2018-2019. The University of Regina raised its 2017-18 tuition and fees by 2.5%. University president Vianne Timmons says lay-offs and tuition increases in response to the 2018 budget are “likely.”

Simon Enoch is Director of CCPA-SK.

[object Object]
[object Object]
[object Object]

Public Education in Manitoba: Update

By Molly McCracken

A strong public school system is the cornerstone of a democratic society that promotes well-being, citizenship and social mobility.  Access to education is particularly important in a province like Manitoba with stubbornly high child poverty rates. However province’s promised overhaul of the education system appears driven by fiscal policy over an equitable education system. The sector is under threat of being weakened as the provincial government moves to balance the budget and bring the PST down to 7% without identifying new sources of revenue.

In May 2018, then Education Minister Ian Wishart announced the smallest increase in public education funding since the 1990s—$6.6 million or a 0.5% increase.

In fact, Manitoba is clawing back more money than it is granting: $7.5 million this year, part of the $61.4 million tax incentive grant to school divisions. This funding was initially offered by the previous NDP government as an incentive to freeze property taxes at the previous year’s rate, but it became part of the division’s funding, regardless of if how much property taxes were raised.

Manitoba capped the mill rates set by school trustees at a 2% increase in property taxes collected. In addition, the province is telling school divisions to reduce administration costs by 15%.

In 2107, the province passed the Public Services Sustainability Act, which freezes public sector salaries for two years, with a 0.75% increase in year three and 1% in year four. In response, the Manitoba Federation of Labour and 28 unions in the coalition Partnership to Defend Public Services have taken Manitoba to court on the grounds the legislation is unconstitutional and takes away the right to collectively bargain.

The province is also introducing amendments to the Public Schools Act to impose province-wide bargaining with teachers when their collective agreement expires June 30, 2018, which was not discussed with the Manitoba Teacher’s Society prior to it being announced. Manitoba has not had a strike or lockout in teacher bargaining for several decades; but this could change with these attempts to limit labour bargaining power.

Manitoba is also signaling school board amalgamations are in the future.  

This is all part of a larger plan by the provincial government to constrain public funding for education. Last May 2017, Minister Wishart announced a review (to be launched later this year) of education funding in the province, which he says “will be the biggest change in a generation” to the education system. The direction the province is going appears determined before the consultations begin.

This past summer, a cabinet shuffle introduced Kelvin Goertzen as Minister of Education. Previously as Minister of Health, Goertzen led the overhaul of health facilities, which involved closure of two emergency rooms and the elimination of an urgent access centre in Winnipeg, among other reductions in service. It is speculated that Goertzen was shuffled in this portfolio to bring in similar changes to the Education system.

Less funding to schools means divisions will have to make tough choices. Education fees to families already exist; schools exhibit an increased dependence on fundraising, the emergence of a number of elite sports academies with very substantial fees and, in some cases, increased attention to the recruitment of international students. Young and O’Leary found that costs to parents can run as high as a thousand dollars a year per child when field trips, lunch supervision, purchase of a tablet, rental of band instruments and other fees are included (2017). Fundraising for schools is a slippery slope—increased reliance could lead to inequities between schools with well-to-do families compared to low income families and leads to the perception that education is charity, not a human right (Young and O’Leary, 2017).

Operating funding in Manitoba is part of the provincial review. In Manitoba because more than one-third of the operating costs of schools come from local school board taxes, differences in the relative wealth of school divisions presents a further equity issue. Differences in per pupil expenditure means different services; for example, wealthy school divisions can provide full day, every day kindergarten classes, but poor divisions can’t. Provincial funding in the form of equalization grants ameliorates some, but not all, of this inequality.

Furthermore, the share of provincial funding going towards education is declining. According to the Manitoba Education and Training FRAME Report, provincial share of operating funding is down from 63% in 2015/16 to 60.3% in 2017/18. Total provincial contributions to education is down from 74% in 2015/16 to 72% in 2017/18. Ongoing monitoring is needed on this trend of declining provincial funding for public K-12 education.

The province has said education finance review will examine the current combined funding model of provincial and school taxes, a change that, according to Young and O’Leary, risks weakening the authority of local school boards: “The school board that serves as the local interface between professional expertise and public participation and accountability, without which public school educators would lose an enduring source of support and legitimacy”. (Note: while all Canadian provinces except Manitoba have moved to a full provincial funding model, they have not, for the most part, moved away from using property taxes, now provincially set and collected, in support of public schooling.)

Equalization between divisions could be established without removing the importance of school boards’ local governance and public participation. 

Molly McCracken is Director of CCPA-MB.

References

Manitoba Association of School Superintendents (2016). Education finance and the pursuit of the goal of a high quality, universally accessible  public school system in Manitoba: Where are we, what challenges remain, and how can we meet them? A MASS Education Finance Discussion Paper. www.mass.mb.ca/publications

Manitoba Education and Training (2017). Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education: 2015-16 Budget. Winnipeg: Manitoba Education & Training. http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/finance/frame_report/index.html

Manitoba Education and Training (2017). Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education: 2017-18 Budget. Winnipeg: Manitoba Education & Training. http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/finance/frame_report/index.html

Martin, Nick. 2018. “Education funding slows as system review looms” Febuary 8, 2018. Winnipeg Free Press. https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/latest-public-education-funding-increase-smallest-since-1990s-473439973.html

Winnipeg Free Press (November 16, 2015). School eyes hockey academy. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/school-eyes-hockey-academy-350430561.html

Winnipeg Free Press (May 2, 2017). Province building four new schools with public-private partnerships. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/pallister-including-private-firms-to-build-four-new-schools-421015863.html

Winnipeg Free Press (May 23, 2017). Field of dreams is back on track. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/our-communities/lance/Field-of-dreams-is-back-on-at-Dakota--423907074.html

Young, Jon and Brian O’Leary. 2017. Public Funding for Education in Manitoba. CCPA Manitoba. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/public-funding-education-manitoba

[object Object]
[object Object]
[object Object]

An education ‘bait and snitch’ in Ontario

By Erika Shaker

Ontario’s public schools operate under a funding formula that was implemented by Mike Harris’s Conservative government 20 years ago. It was designed to cut money from the education system to finance a tax cut. It did so at the expense of students, educators, schools and the communities that counted on them. And it reinforced the politics of division, squeezing the system and centralizing control at the provincial level, pitting student and infrastructure needs against teacher pay and the authority of local school boards.  

The Liberals were elected in 2003 under Dalton McGuinty, who was dubbed the “Education Premier”. And there were some positive changes, including smaller class sizes and more funding for special education support services.Ontario was also the first province to implement full-day kindergarten based on early learning principles for 4- and 5-year-olds.

But the funding formula remains largely intact and, since 2002 under Mordechai Rozanski, unreviewed. As a result, many of the current challenges in Ontario’s education system can be traced back to the formula that was designed to underfund it in the first place.

Students with special needs, ESL and FSL and students from marginalized communities have been particularly poorly served by this funding formula, as boards allocate insufficient funding to competing priorities.

Today, the bill for deferred repairs and maintenance in the province’s public schools is hovering near $16 billion, and annual costs of $1.4 billion are required just to do basic maintenance and upkeep for school buildings, many of which are aging. This has been extensively documented by Fix Our Schools, which held a very public campaign during the recent Ontario election (see Fix Our Schools’ article in this collection).

Education loomed large as a battleground during the recent provincial election, with the provincial Liberals and the NDP focusing on different visions for child care (the Liberals favoured universal preschool, the NDP focused on implementing extremely low fees for infants and toddlers—both of these options are now off the table under this new government).

In contrast, the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford went right-wing populist, saying: “I want an education system that respects parents. I want schools that are focused on teaching kids the skills that matter. That’s reading, writing and math.” He promised to “improve” standardized testing (a government-commissioned report earlier that year recommended phasing out the Grade 3 test, among other changes).

He is also all about “respecting free speech at He is also all about “respecting free speech at universities” which echoes federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s vow to pull federal funding from universities that don’t “foster a culture of free speech on their campuses.” This is not innocuous: “free speech” has increasingly become coded language used to criticize, mock and attempt to constrain academics, students, events and courses that identify as progressive, and to argue for a platform for those espousing “controversial” (which in some cases has meant white supremacist, misogynist, or transphobic) viewpoints.

Ford’s campaign priorities also included appealing to social conservatives by promising to roll back the modernized health and phys ed K-12curriculum to the 1998 version, after a largely manufactured uproar over the new sex ed unit that included concepts like consent, gender identity, cybersafety and LGBTQ2+ sexuality.

Within days of Doug Ford being elected premier, the impact of his priorities on education became evident. His promise to scrap cap-and-trade resulted in eliminating the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which helped fund energy-efficient retrofits like new windows and furnaces. The upshot is that $100 million is no longer available for necessary upgrades that schools, some of which are in a severe state of disrepair, must make.  

After being informed that “efficiencies had to be found,” the Ministry of Education cancelled three curriculum-writing sessions: Truth and Reconciliation, American sign language, and Indigenous languages in kindergarten. A math leadership session—the last of four sessions—was also cancelled, which seems like an odd decision, given the stated focus on raising math scores.

And in what might be this government’s signature move, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that this fall teachers would be reverting to the health curriculum they had been using in 2014—perhaps hoping that this numeric bait and switch would obscure the return to the outdated 1998 curriculum. The minister has been notably absent from much of the debate on the issue, even limiting her exposure to the media.

Reaction to these changes was swift and intense, and the government seemed taken by surprise. It was almost as if they thought summer was an opportune time to make quick changes because people would be paying less attention. A number of public school boards voiced their concerns about reverting to a curriculum that did not address consent and cyber bullying, or explicitly address adequate recognition of or support for LGBTQ2+ students. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and the ElementaryTeachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced they would fully support members who intended to teach the 2015 curriculum to ensure they were meeting the needs of their students.

In response, the government announced it was setting up a website for parents to anonymously report teachers who are “jeopardizing their child’s education by deliberately ignoring Ontario’s curriculum,” and directed parents to also complain to the Ontario College of Teachers.

Educators and many parents condemned the “snitch line”, arguing that this would only promote division and erode trust in the education system. Some swore to use the snitch line and website creatively to express their support for teachers who intended to use the 2015 curriculum.

The government had announced it would conduct the “largest consultations ever in Ontario history when it comes to education” on on sex ed. but expanded that to include math scores, legalization of cannabis, standardized testing and cellphone bans in schools. The consultation process, however, appears to be limited to telephone town halls “in every region in Ontario” and an online submission platform (more background can be found on our blog).

Swift and vocal resistance to the changes that have been announced suggests that the education sector may provide other interesting opportunities for communities to push back against changes they are concerned will limit kids’ opportunities in much the same way that Mike Harris’ “back to basics” approach to schools did over 20 years ago.

Just as there were broader implications for cutting cap-and-trade, there are broader implications for not meeting the needs of kids and consistently underfunding schools.

Schools are about more than walls and ceilings, obviously. But at minimum, they are about at least that. And when we remove the conditions that allow for schools to be well-maintained, efficient, safe structures, there is an impact on kids, education workers, the community, and all the activities that make up the school day.

The decisions we have already seen from this government—cutting curriculum priorities including the TRC, rolling back modernized health curriculum, and cutting necessary money for school retrofits and funds to facilitate parental engagement through Parents Reaching Out Grants—will have an exponentially negative impact, compounded by two decades of underfunding.

Erika Shaker is the Senior Education Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

The time is now to "Fix Our Schools"

By Krista Wylie, Fix Our Schools

Founded in Spring 2014, Fix Our Schools is a non-partisan, parent-led, Ontario-wide campaign that has always been focused on obtaining safe, healthy, well-maintained school buildings that provide environments conducive to learning and working.

Initially, Fix Our Schools believed that disrepair was only an issue for schools in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). This was, as it turned out, a naïve belief. By Fall 2015, we had unearthed data confirming that school disrepair was an issue for every single one of Ontario’s 72 publicly funded school boards, totalling approximately $15-billion province-wide, as per provincial data.

Fix Our Schools also believed that the primary root cause of what was, at that time, $3.5-billion of disrepair in TDSB schools, was school board inefficiency and ineffectiveness. This too was naïve. By December 2015, we had discovered data confirming that the level of provincial funding to school boards for school repairs had been grossly inadequate and unstable for almost two decades. In fact, the December 2015 Ontario Auditor-General’s report cited $1.4-billion per year as the minimum amount needed by Ontario school boards to reasonably be able to keep schools in a state of good repair. In each of the three years leading up to the formation of the Fix Our Schools campaign, our provincial government only provided $150-million per year to school boards to use for repairs—one-tenth of what was actually needed.

We continue to actively advocate for school boards being as efficient and effective as possible. However, we believe that the primary root cause of the current $15.9-billion of disrepair in Ontario’s schools is chronically inadequate and unstable funding provided by our provincial government since they took control over funding schools and education over 20 years ago.

Disrepair in Ontario’s Schools

In 2002, the Mike Harris PC provincial government bequeathed $5.6-billion of disrepair in Ontario’s schools to the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government. That number has since tripled to $15.9-billion.

How does this manifest in the daily lives of students and staff? Some examples are easy to identify because they are noticeable:

  • Classroom temperatures as low as 11 degrees in winter and as high as 40 degrees in fall and spring;
  • Buckets in school classrooms, gymnasiums and libraries collecting rainwater streaming from ceilings, leading to ceiling tiles breaking and falling in classrooms, program disruptions, and mold growth;
  • Railings giving way, crumbling stairs, peeling paint

Yet, much of the disrepair in Ontario’s schools is invisible and will only be noticed when a system fails:

  • Fire suppression/alarm systems in need of repair or replacement;
  • Electrical systems in need of upgrading or repair;
  • Boilers in need of repair or replacement;
  • Identified structural issues

Furthermore, many concerning issues in Ontario’s schools are not even included in the multibillion dollars of disrepair reflected by provincial data:

  • Portables are not inspected as part of the provincial 5-year school inspection cycle and therefore any disrepair in portables is not reflected in disrepair data;
  • Lunchroom and washroom conditions;
  • Asbestos removal/remediation;
  • Water and air quality;
  • Wire glass

Successes Along the Way

Increased transparency

After much lobbying, in August 2016, our provincial government publicly released disrepair data for all Ontario schools and followed through with an update to that data in Fall 2017. This transparency has enabled Fix Our Schools to communicate much more effectively the magnitude of disrepair in Ontario’s schools, so has certainly been beneficial to the success of our campaign.

Increased funding

In June 2016, our provincial government announced a substantial increase in annual funding for school repairs to be the amount it always ought to have been—$1.4-billion per year.  

Certainly, Fix Our Schools was pleased with this increase in annual provincial funding for school repairs. However, the overall disrepair in Ontario’s schools has disappointingly continued to increase. Clearly, additional funding is required to address the repair backlog.

What funding solutions will begin to truly fix Ontario’s schools?

Economist Hugh Mackenzie’s recently issued report, entitled “Ontario’s deteriorating schools: The fix is not in” proposes that, to truly fix Ontario’s schools, the Province must commit to:

  • Developing and implementing a standard of good repair for Ontario’s schools;
  • Fully funding the capital and operational maintenance costs of all open schools;
  • Updating the provincial regulation that guides the collection and use of Education Development Charges (EDCs);
  • Maintaining existing special School Condition Improvement (SCI) funding at $1-billion/year until the repair backlog is eliminated.

School boards can only be effective and efficient in carrying out their school repair plans if the province provides adequate and stable funding, which means a commitment of an additional $1.6-billion per year for repairing, rebuilding, and maintaining Ontario’s schools. This is, admittedly, a significant amount of additional funding. However, schools are a critical element of our public infrastructure; every day, two million Ontario children, as well as teachers, education workers, adult learners, and preschoolers attending in-school child care facilities, need safe, healthy, well-maintained places to learn. Repairs will only become more expensive if we do not address the backlog as soon as possible.

So, if we collectively agree that we value our children and their education, then we will start to do what it takes to truly fix Ontario’s schools and fix the broken provincial funding approach to education that has allowed $15.9 billion of disrepair to accumulate in Ontario’s schools.

Solutions ... The Way Forward

Fix Our Schools has worked diligently and persistently over the past four years to build a base of support across the province. We have often partnered with larger, funded, more organized groups who shared our common interest in ensuring that all of Ontario’s publicly funded schools were safe, well-maintained, healthy buildings.

Building this solid base of support has allowed us to develop relationships across party lines—in multiple levels of government—and on both the political and staff side. We have always been solution-oriented and child-focused, realizing that what constitutes learning environments for Ontario’s children are working environments for teachers and education workers across Ontario.

The seeds that we have sown for the past four years and the relationships we’ve cultivated are all starting to bear fruit as we approach the June 7th provincial election. Partnering with the Campaign for Public Education, Fix Our Schools launched the Fix Our Schools Pledge initiative in March 2018, with the goal of having every MPP candidate in Ontario sign the Fix Our Schools Pledge to:

  • Support the development of an Ontario-wide “State of Good Repair Standard” for all publicly funded schools so that these public assets are safe, healthy, well-maintained buildings that provide environments conducive to learning and working;
  • Support the provision of adequate, stable funding needed to ensure that by 2022 all Ontario schools meet this “State of Good Repair Standard”.

Thus far, the Fix Our Schools Pledge Initiative has proven to be a successful engagement tool for Ontario citizens, providing people with something concrete to do during the election cycle to create pressure on all political parties to prioritize school conditions and education.

Krista Wylie is co-founder of Fix Our Schools, parent to two children who attend publicly funded schools in the west end of Toronto, and has worked professionally in teaching, consulting, sales and marketing. 

[object Object]
[object Object]
[object Object]

Public Education in Nova Scotia: Accountability, Transparency and Funding

By Christine Saulnier

Without a clear vision or even explicitly stated, evidence-based goals, the Nova Scotia government has undertaken major reforms in the public education system. There is no sign that any of these reforms will address the actual problems in the system especially when teacher morale is a serious concern that will undoubtedly affect recruitment and retention. It has spent two full years not listening to teachers’ concerns, and outright undermining and attacking the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

In October of 2017, after the Nova Scotia's public school teachers rejected three tentative deals with the government, and following working to rule for several months and a one-day strike, the government legislated a contract. Bill 75 took away the right to strike, and imposed a 3% wage increase over four years and froze the long-service award for teachers as of July 2015.

In January 2018, the provincially-commissioned Glaze Report was released. Many criticized it for its lack of consultation, and for including questionable data analysis to arrive at its findings. The government quickly acted to implement some of its recommendations—those that seemed to already fit with their earlier intentions. It acted swiftly to remove principals from the union, and to replace all English language school boards as of March 31, 2018 (ousting women out of the only level of politics that saw them holding 55% of school trustee seats – 57 of 104) with an appointed provincial advisory council and unclear directions for volunteer school advisory councils. These reforms, many of which will have the effect of limiting mechanisms for community involvement and local democracy, have raised concerns about transparency, and accountability in the public education  system.

In March, the government tabled its third consecutive no-deficit budget, choosing to put $29.4 million on the public debt instead of investing in quality public services including education. Additional funding ($10 million) was allocated to implement new recommendations from the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions. The government also committed $15 million to begin implementing recommendations of the Commission on Inclusive Education, some of which is earmarked to hire 190 support people and specialist teachers to address some student and complex classroom needs.

There is a bit of good news on the public education infrastructure front with the decision not to use the P3 model to build any new schools and ending the current contracts by buying-back most schools built under this model.

In calling for adequate public school funding, the incoming president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Paul Wozney explains that “Public education is the tide that lifts all boats.”

As he also acknowledges, some students will have trouble just getting in the boat and over the additional barriers or one-size fits all equipment or lack of supports to ensure that all children can enjoy the voyage.

The 2018-19 provincial budget did increase funding to the breakfast program in recognition that hunger is a significant barrier to learning for many children. While an important short-term fix, this solution misses the mark on getting at the root causes of why some kids are hungry: because their families live in poverty. Like all programs focused only on the provision of food without addressing income security, many families are left struggling to provide shelter, clothing, and all the essentials for their children.

The Nova Scotia government has prioritized the need to invest in universal early learning and child care;  this year’s budget continues to invest to expand the number of pre-primary classes as part of a plan to ensure the program is available across the province for all children by the year 2020. It does lack a plan for investing to build a seamless system of quality early learning and child care and to support the rest of the sector providing care outside of school hours and for those children under the age of four. It used the additional federal government funding to add onto the patchwork of market-based programs and increase subsidies, which leaves this sector marked by high fees, low wages and lack of spaces, especially for rural and infant care.

This last year saw some new money for universities; however, with a reduction in “special payments” while operating grants will increase 1.2%, this amounts to an overall reduction of 1.8% in the funding year over year. This lack of investment comes despite a recent poll that 95% of Nova Scotians think post-secondary education (PSE) should be a high priority for the Nova Scotian provincial government, and are concerned about the affordability and accessibility of higher education opportunities. And no wonder: the unemployment rate is 17.3% without high school, 13.1% for those with high school diploma or equivalency, and 7.4% who complete postsecondary education.

Tuition fees in Nova Scotia are the second highest in Canada, at $7,567 for the 2017-18 academic year, compared to a national average of $6,571, but nothing in the budget will address students’ mounting costs and debt. The government’s only direct investment is in funding online mental health support for students, while it still refuses to extend Medicare coverage to international students.

Meanwhile the Canadian Federation of Students-NS had at one point been barred from the campus violence prevention committee for speaking publicly about the lack of government action on this file.

There are many reasons that holding the government to account will be difficult, and all the more critically essential, as we try to ensure that life-long access to quality education, indeed public services, continue to play the levelling role they are meant to.

Christine Saulnier is the Director of CCPA-NS.

Educators for Social Justice Nova Scotia  

By Ben Sichel, Pamela Rogers & Angela Gillis

Teachers, like many workers, owe a lot to our unions. Thanks to collective organizing, teaching in Canada has become a relatively stable middle-class profession with reasonable salaries, benefits, and job security, especially compared to most non-unionized jobs.

Teacher unions are also at the forefront of the fight for high-quality, universal public education. Many high-profile labour disputes in P-12 education in recent years have centred on issues like class size, class composition and supports for students with special needs, as teachers embraced slogans like “Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions” and “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”

Unfortunately, and too often, the potential of collective labour action isn’t fully realized. At contract time, members show up for rallies and lobby their provincial politicians, but in between negotiations, most members are content to let a small number of elected union officials do the heavy political lifting. Rank-and-file teachers report feeling disconnected from their unions; many have never attended a union meeting (and many have never been invited to a meeting or even informed of when and where they are). Meanwhile, executive members sometimes stay in their positions for years, feeding perceptions of cliquishness and distance from the general membership.

We formed Educators for Social Justice - Nova Scotia (ESJ) because we want to address some of these disconnects so that our union (Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union) can help realize its full potential. Some of our members have extensive experience working within “official” union structures; some have none. Some members are university professors and community activists who are invested in a vision for progressive public education. Inspired by similar groups of teachers in the U.S., notably in Chicago, we meet monthly to discuss constructive action to make our union more active and progressive. We also work to connect our union to broader struggles for social and economic justice.

Our core principles are:

  1. A robust, well-rounded public education system that supports social justice and challenges oppression,
  2. Strong contracts for education workers,
  3. A democratic, participatory, member-driven union
  4. Building alliances.

During the 2017-2018 school year, ESJ focused on teacher action research, direct action, and forwarding progressive NSTU resolutions as ways to shape public education, and to foster discussion and debate on education in the province.

Teacher action research

After two years of failed contract negotiations, an imposed contract, Work to Rule job action, and a second strike vote in early 2018, many teachers are understandably frustrated with the unwillingness of the Liberal government to listen to concerns around job demands and workplace conditions. Teachers have also expressed skepticism about the ability of the “Council to Improve Workplace Conditions”, formed in 2017, to address ongoing their workplace concerns in a manner that reflects the realities of teachers rather than that of “hand picked” representatives who can be counted on to support ongoing education policy.

Using the idea of “teacher action research,” where educators create and execute a research plan to better understand the politics of the education system in which they work (Mertler, 2016), ESJ members collectively designed a qualitative survey that was administered through an online platform and circulated through social media outlets. The survey consisted of four questions:

  1. As a teacher, what do you think has worked well since the imposition of the new collective agreement?
  2. In your opinion, what still needs to change? What would improve your experience in your classroom, and more broadly, your school?
  3. What do you love about teaching? Why do you teach?
  4. Is there anything else you would like to tell us?  

Our goal was to provide an alternative, non-partisan reading of classroom conditions in Nova Scotia through the eyes of teachers, administrators, recently retired teachers, assistants, substitute (supply) teachers, and specialists who work in schools. We also wanted to provide teachers and other educators a chance to present their ideas anonymously.  From January to April 2018 we collected responses from nearly 300 participants. Although the results are currently being analyzed by ESJ members, we released preliminary videos containing teacher responses that can be viewed on ESJ’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Direct action

Another recent action involved direct confrontation with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS). AIMS is a right-wing, public policy think tank based in Halifax which advocates for corporate-centric policies such as teacher merit pay, standardized testing and school rankings. At a public library event put on by AIMS in March 2018, ESJ members and allies outnumbered AIMS-friendly attendees. We filled the audience with coordinated protest signs, and prepared questions in advance which rattled the organizers. When questioning was cut off at the end of the event, ESJ members stayed behind and insisted on answers from the keynote speaker, who was forced to backtrack on some positions he had put forward in the media. We filmed the exchange and made it public on our social media channels.

This action has created more awareness about corporate lobbying and market interests in education, and provided an avenue for teachers and their allies to confront and discuss education issues with AIMS members.

NSTU action

ESJ has also strategized to make policy and fiscal changes in our union through official channels. For the past two years we developed resolutions for Annual Council, the NSTU’s Annual General Meeting, campaigned actively to have them passed, and was successful in forwarding several progressive resolutions at the 2017 and 2018 NSTU Annual Council.

In 2017, ESJ lobbied the NSTU to join the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour (NSFL) to strengthen and unite the labour movement in the province. In 2018, when a resolution came up to leave the NSFL, we campaigned again via social media and a slideshow in the halls at Council to remind delegates of the tremendous collective strength and benefits of belonging to NSFL. A vote to table the resolution for two years passed by a convincing margin.

Other resolutions we lobbied for successfully include:

  1. Establish ongoing practical political education for members concerning job action (e.g. conducting peaceful rallies and effective demonstrations);
  2. The NSTU providing monthly speaking points for union members to use when communicating with MLA’s and members of the public, allowing for a more consistent message so as to effectively frame public discourse on education;
  3. Enhanced NSTU policy on further improving economic welfare of substitute teachers, recognizing that teachers working on a daily substitute basis often must carry additional jobs in order to cover living expenses;
  4. Increasing our union’s donation to the CCPA;
  5. Ending our union’s participation in We Day, recognizing that we cannot use neoliberal solutions to fix neoliberal problems.

Through action research, direct actions to confront neoliberal lobbying groups, and strategizing for more progressive resolutions, we have built (and are building) a network of teachers and allies that are pushing for positive change in a tenuous time for public education. In the fall of 2018 we held a conference to explore what a progressive public education system might look like. Our next steps include releasing a report on our action research findings, and a continued presence at annual NSTU council through forwarding strategic resolutions.

Lastly, we hope to build networks across provinces (and states!), of education workers to engage with others fighting for more socially just and progressive education systems.

Educators for Social Justice Nova Scotia contact information:
Twitter: @ESJNovaScotia
Email: [email protected]
Website: https://esjns.wordpress.com
Facebook: ESJ Nova Scotia

References

Mertler, C. A. (2016). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators. Sage Publications.