Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce is offering parents $200 or $250 per child to help offset the cost of catching up in school after two years of disrupted learning.
Starting Thursday, parents with children up to 18 years old can apply for $200, while parents with school-aged children with special education needs, up to the age of 21, can apply for $250.
“It could not be clearer that we must keep students in class without disruption, with a focus on catching up on the fundamentals – reading, writing and math – after two years of pandemic-related learning disruptions,” Lecce said at a news conference on Thursday.
Applications for these catch-up payments will remain open until March 31, 2023 through a web portal for direct payments.
These relief payments are part of a $365 million Plan to Catch Up, which the government first announced during the throne speech in August. However, at the time, details about how this lump sum of money would be divided were sparse.
This is not the first time parents have received payouts from the Ford government. Last year, parents received $400 per child aged 0 to Grade 12 while parents with children who have special needs under the age of 21 received $500.
“The fundamentals are quite common, but the aim, in this case, is really focused on helping these kids catch up,” the minister said.
Lecce also addressed new data on the 2021-2022 Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) results, released Thursday, showing most Grade 6 students are failing to meet provincial math standards with only 47 per cent passing the test. That’s three per cent lower than the 2018-2019 results.
“When kids are disrupted, when they’re not in class and away from the teacher, they perform more poorly,” Lecce said.
To address the failing grades in math, the government is deploying “math action teams” to underperforming school boards and making a Grade 9 online math course accessible.
Lecce said schools will also begin screening students’ reading levels, for those in the second year of kindergarten to Grade 2, and start regularly reviewing the curriculum to ensure that it is inline with skills needed in the workforce.
The education minister also said the province’s publicly funded tutoring program, previously introduced in April, would be extended.
When first introduced, the tutoring program garnered response from critics claiming that the money would be better suited going towards the public education system instead of handed out to private companies.
President of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU), Laura Walton, responded to Lecce’s announcement Thursday afternoon, saying “private tutors don’t magically appear out of thin air.”
“The one or two tutoring sessions Lecce’s thinly veiled tax cut might buy is no substitute for the stability of highly-qualified frontline education workers in schools – educational assistant and early childhood educator supports that the Ford government is responsible for removing by cutting $1.6 billion from education last year alone,” Walton wrote.
Of the announcement regarding payments, Walton said,”tax cuts disguised as one-time payouts and pandering to their big business buddies gets nothing done.”
Earlier this week, the mediation between Ontario and education workers has broken down, and Walton said it was “very possible” CUPE could strike next month. Both sides have not been able to come to an agreement on salary.
“It’s especially hard to make ends meet for the lowest-paid education workers who have been forced – through government legislated interference in collective bargaining – to take an 11 per cent pay cut over the last decade,” Walton said.
Earlier in October, Premier Doug Ford warned education workers to not “force” his hand in the negotiations.
– With files from CTV Toronto’s Katherine DeClerq
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