No new money for schools in Ontario fiscal update  

The Ontario PC government has recently adopted a more moderate tone than the one struck in its first year at Queens Park, going so far as to back down on some of its more controversial funding cuts. The Fall Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, released on November 6, allows us to see how the government’s real spending plans measure up to its more moderate words. 

Budgets, released around April, present detailed information on expected revenues and planned expenses; they are the principal way governments announce spending and tax policies. Fall updates present in-year adjustments to budgets, which can be due to external economic factors or the upshot of policy changes. 

If the Ford government was serious about course-correcting, the fall update was a good place to begin steering the ship in a new direction. Yesterday’s update didn’t quite happen that way.

In her analysis of the update, Sheila Block noted that, although revenues are up and the deficit is down, the Ontario government is sticking to a multi-year plan to cut public services. 

What does the fiscal update look like for education funding? The update increases education spending by $186 million in 2019-20. This sounds encouraging, until we unpack the numbers. 

Of this total funding change, $122 million is earmarked “to help municipal partners provide child care programs.” A review of the 2019-2020 Education Expenditures Estimates found a $156 million reduction in child care expenses, due mostly to the downloading of costs to municipalities. The government later vowed to postpone this change, first to January 2020, then to 2021. In any case, there remains a $34 million shortfall in this budget line item.

The remaining $64 million is to “support elementary and secondary education programs.” No further details are provided, but this expense is likely related to the roll-out of three recently announced initiatives: the math strategy, funding for mental health supports, and the expansion of the Specialist High Skills Major program. 

These types of programsdelivered in partnership with specialized professionals like tutors, psychologists and social workershave been traditionally funded through the Education Programs grant. In the 2019 Budget, the Ontario government renamed this grant to Priority and Partnership Funding and slashed it by $157 million. In the revised budget, the remaining shortfall is $93 million. 

These funding shortfalls aren’t the only things left unaddressed for in the Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review. The update doesn’t announce any reversals on the larger education funding cuts, which are related to increased class sizes in Grades 4 to 12, mandatory e-learning in grades 9 to 12, the below-inflation cap on wage increases, and the uncertain future of full-day kindergarten. A genuine turn to a more moderate approach ought to have started there.  

As we all know, when you add back a little to something from which you have subtracted a lot, the result is still negative. This ‘new’ spending is only partial replacement to deep cuts made in the 2019 Budget. 

Ricardo Tranjan is a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario office. Follow Ricardo on Twitter: @ricardo_tranjan.

One comment

  1. Perhaps you didn’t get the memo. Ontario is one the most indebted sub-sovereign jurisdictions in the world. Thanks to COMRADE Wynne and McSquinty AND to ALL of you public sector union employees who are not happy with your indexed pensions, subsidized pensions, good working environments, great hours, more holidays in a year than some get in a decade and excellent health benefits. There is a line up miles long for these jobs even if wages/benefits were rolled back to 2010 levels. As for your argument about it being for the kids….. give me a break! I went to school with more than 30 in my class and things were just fine. I went to university, became a business owner and never wanted for anything throughout my educational experience. In fact that environment prepared me for university better than the hold my hand environment all of you so called professionals are proposing.
    Stop holding our children hostage. You are lucky I am not Premiere of this province. You would have it a lot tougher.

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