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Karen Brown posing at ETFO headquarters

Working to Build a Brighter and More Equitable Tomorrow

Karen Brown

As educators, we are no strangers to the power of collective action and advocacy. Time and again, we have witnessed the transformative impact of coming together to advocate for our rights, our profession and our students. On February 12, the Ontario Court of Appeals upheld the ruling that Bill 124, which imposed a one percent cap on annual wage increases for public sector workers for three years, was an unconstitutional attack on workers’ rights. ETFO’s Bill 124 victory marks a significant milestone in our ongoing efforts to secure fair compensation and recognition for the invaluable work of Ontario’s elementary educators. This victory not only upholds our right to negotiate fair wages but also reaffirms the importance of standing together in defense of our profession and the well-being of our members.

While we celebrate our victories, we know there is so much more work to be done. ETFO was able to secure gains for our public schools in our last round of bargaining, but there has been a significant decrease in education funding in real dollars overall since the Ford government came to power and educators across the province have been feeling it for years. We continue to feel the impacts of large classes, unmet student needs manifesting as violence and lack of supports for students with special needs. For students in marginalized and racialized communities, chronic underfunding is felt more deeply. In January, I spoke at the provincial pre-budget hearings to advocate for the investment our public schools need. Educators and parents need to see improvements in public education, particularly in light of province-wide teacher shortages and with so many students struggling to get the supports they need to be successful.

Addressing violence in schools in particular is a high priority for ETFO in the coming months. Four out of five ETFO members report an increase in the number of violent incidents in schools, and two-thirds say that violent incidents are becoming more severe. The provincial government and school boards have a responsibility to provide the necessary funding to ensure that adequate front-line staffing and supports are in place to meet the needs of students.

In February, the Minister of Education admitted that Ontario has a teacher recruitment and retention problem. This is a concern that educators and Ontario education unions have been raising for years, offering to work with the government to come up with constructive solutions that address and alleviate the many unfilled teacher and education worker positions in school boards across the province. As classroom educators know, this issue has a significant impact on the day-to-day work of our members and the solution is for the Ford government to prioritize and adequately fund public schools. The PC government’s chronic underfunding of public education has left schools understaffed and overburdened. ETFO will continue to articulate solutions because we know things can be better and we owe it to our members and our students to fight for those improvements.

ETFO is committed to defending and improving Ontario’s publicly funded education system, fighting for equity for all and creating safe and supportive school environments. Our commitment to equity continues to be central to our work at ETFO. With the arrival of spring, we marked Black History Month, International Women’s Day and Earth Day, reminding us about the interconnectedness of anti-racism, intersectional feminism and climate justice. As we look towards the future, let us continue our work to build a brighter and more equitable tomorrow for all members of our education community. With determination, resilience, and solidarity, I am confident that we will continue to make progress towards our shared vision of a world-class public education system that empowers and inspires every student.

– Karen Brown