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Canada

LILLEY: Contract battles heating up between province and teachers

Get ready for war.

That’s my advice to the Ford government when it comes to dealing with contract negotiations with teachers unions and  support workers.

As Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced class sizes will increase from 23 to 24 for Grades 4 through 8, and 22 to 22.5 for grades 8 through 12 for the coming year, the education establishment lost their collectivist minds.

“This is nothing more than a feeble attempt at sleight-of-hand on the part of Minister Lecce,” said Harvey Bischoff, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation.

“His government declared war on the province’s public education system back in March, and he would like us to believe that today’s announcement constitutes an olive branch.”

Back in March, the Ford government announced they would increase class sizes from 23 to 24 for middle schools and average high school class numbers would increase to 28 from 22 over four years.

To the OSSTF, an increase from 22 to 22.5 is somehow declaring war.

That shouldn’t come as a shock.

CUPE, the union representing support workers from janitors to educational assistants is threatening job action come September.

That’s according to Laura Walton, an educational assistant and CUPE executive.

“Any action we take — whether its work-to-rule, rotating strikes, full strike, or reaching a deal — will focus on reversing cuts to education funding and protecting services for students,” Walton wrote in a Toronto Sun op-ed.

Walton cites what she calls “cuts to education” as the reason for their work action.

It’s the same claim made by OSSTF, that education spending is being cut.

The Liberals planned to spend a total of $29.1 billion on education in their last budget, the PC’s budget in April put the total education spend at $31.5 billion.

There is no cut to education spending.

Is the new government allocating spending differently?

I hope so. But you can’t say they are cutting education spending.

In reacting to the classroom size announcement, NDP education critic Marit Stiles said that there has been 20 years of “chronic underfunding” of the education system.

That she could say that and not a single media member would call her on it means that they all may need to go back to school.

In the first budget that the Liberals introduced after winning power in October 2003, the total education spend, adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars, was $13.4 billion.

When they left office the total spend was $29.1 billion.

That means that spending rose, in real dollar terms, by $15.7 billion.

The province more than doubled education spending over the McGuinty/Wynne timeframe and the number of teachers went up while the number of students went down.

In 2004 there were 112,235 teachers overseeing 2,129,742 students in the province’s elementary and secondary schools.

In 2018, by the time the Liberals left, we had 125,980 teachers plus 9,054 early childhood educators overseeing 2,020,301 students.

We went from 18.8 students per teacher to 16.1, not counting the extra 9,054 ECE workers, and the NDP calls this “chronic underfunding?”

No, this is an unsustainable path.

The province needs to right its finances and part of that is getting education spending under control.

The plan laid out in March, taking high school classes to an average of 28 students while leaving K-3 classes at their current cap of an average of 23 students is not only something parents can live with, it is economically sensible.

Any attempt to walk away from this, without concessions by teachers unions elsewhere, will mean Ontario will never balance the budget.

If Ontario doesn’t get its books in order, the entire education system will be put at risk.

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