As this school year draws to a close, I want to begin by saying thank you. Thank you for the incredible work that you do in your classroom each and every day. Ontario public schools are some of the best in the world in large part because of the commitment and efforts of educators. You consistently give your best, often under extenuating circumstances, working to support students despite a government that has consistently undervalued and underfunded education work. I want to take a moment to say that your provincial executive recognizes your incredible contribution, and we will continue to work tirelessly to bargain, lobby and advocate on your behalf and on behalf of students in our public schools.
Since its election in 2018, this government has intentionally shortchanged our public schools, trying to create a crisis in public education like they have done in healthcare. It is not lost on me as a write this column for Voice magazine’s women’s issue that these are two sectors dominated by women, where the lowest paid and most precariously employed are racialized women. Despite what Minister Lecce has said in the media about investment in our public schools, we know that, after adjusting for inflation, per-student funding has decreased by $1,200 since this government came to power. Based on the recent provincial budget, school board funding will increase by only 0.7 per cent on a per-pupil basis for next year, an increase that will be easily outpaced by inflation. The government has also now removed all the additional COVIDrelated funding that was in the system during the pandemic, even though the effects of the pandemic continue to impact students.
In May, I spoke out against Bill 98 in committee. Bill 98 contains significant changes to the Education Act. At its core, it would centralize control of public schools in the hands of the Ministry of Education; stripping school boards of the ability to tailor programs and supports to the communities they serve. It would also remove safeguards that ensure transparency and accountability in how public education is delivered.
It would grant the government broad regulation-making powers; leaving future decisions about curriculum review, resource allocation, programming, building of new schools, disposition of school board assets, conduct of trustees, equity programs, mental health supports, and nearly every aspect of the delivery of public education in the hands of the Minister of Education and out of reach of the students, families, educators, elected trustees and communities that would be impacted. ETFO urged the public to pay attention to the changes that are being made without meaningful collaboration or consultation with education stakeholders.
Those legislative changes are taking place while we attempt to bargain a new central agreement. As many of you are aware, it has been a relatively quiet bargaining year. Your bargaining team has proceeded carefully, understanding the incredible strain that educators and the education system have been under during the pandemic and in this first year of recovery.
However, after tabling our positions, it has become increasingly clear that the government is not interested in negotiating a fair settlement for teachers and occasional teachers. They are focused on settling with minimal salary increases and no other real investments in public schools. In addition, they have strips on the table to sick leave, professional judgment and they have tabled no increases to benefit funding. We know that these proposals won’t work for our members or our students. Our public education system needs real investment and our students need supports to thrive.
Bargaining is an opportunity to address critical issues for our members. We need investments in special education. We need a real plan to address school violence and the supports and staffing that are required to ensure students learn to the best of their ability. We need salary increases that address inflationary pressures. We need fair and transparent hiring processes. And we need recognition that in-person learning is the best and most equitable model for students and educators. In May and early June, ETFO held steward plus one meetings in every local in the province and stewards held meetings at their schools throughout the month of June. It will take all of us working together to ensure that educators are able to bargain the contracts you deserve, and that students in Ontario public schools have the resources and supports that they need.
I look forward to organizing with all of you in the upcoming year and wish you a happy and restful summer break.
– Karen Brown