Today, major parties in the Ontario election dived headfirst into the debate on education. When the Green Party of Ontario released their platform on Monday, they promised to merge the two major Ontario school boards, and our Michael Luba warned that they may even be in danger of becoming a real party. Instead they kicked off a provincial debate on education in the province, with PC Candidate Tim Hudak releasing his platform today.
Ontario teachers’ unions, who hated the Liberals in 2012 when former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty froze wage hikes and rolled back bankable sick day provisions (Bill 115), are still lukewarm to current Premier Kathleen Wynne after she mandated that teachers’ unions actually need to negotiate with the teachers they claim to represent (Bill 122). Bill 122 also formally recognized that collective bargaining is a Charter right, which yes, it is, however not doing much else at all.
However, representatives of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, say that working with Wynne is a honeymoon compared to Hudak’s newly unveiled plan.
The most reviled aspects of the PC education plan is to raise class sizes “for students in Grades 1 to 3 from 20 to 23 students, from 24.5 to 26 students in Grades 4 to 8 and high school classes from 22 to 24,” mandating that “full-day kindergarten be taught by a teacher only, and not with the help of an early childhood educator,” eliminate plans to hike the wages of every Ontario teacher a level higher on the proposed salary grid, and to end the temporary 30% tuition grant to post-secondary students. The silver lining here: moving up from 24.5 students per class in Grades 4 to 8 means ending the horrific Liberal policy of cutting students in half in order to meet quotas.
These proposed changes have been met with claims by union leaders that the PCs will create “a crisis in public education” and that they are planning to “balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.” As well, they say that Hudak’s plan is “an outright attack on publicly funded education in this province,” which Ontario teachers’ unions of course claim is the best in the world.
Raising class sizes by three students is actually directly taken from a recommendations report to the McGuinty government on revamping public services in 2012, and Hudak insists that these cuts will directly lead to erasing Wynne’s $12.5 billion deficit. Yet, after Hudak forcasted a $319 million surplus by 2016-2017, Wynne released a statement saying she’d be back in the black by 2017-2018, kicking off yet another round of promising the exact same thing as your opponent even though they’ve clearly been working on the idea longer.
However, the PC plan is hardly all slash-and-burn (just mostly). They also pledge to increase funding for specialized math teachers in Grades 4 to 6, and for math and science grads to teach at the high school level. Moreover, they’ll raise targets for reading, writing, and math, and implement a “financial literacy curriculum” in high schools. Lastly, Hudak will allow teachers to vote on union matters using a secret ballot, rather than the tried and true ‘raise-your-hand-and-lose-your-job’ system. So at least Hudak is planning some nice things in order to counteract his proposals that have rallied the teachers’ unions into a veritable frenzy.
Time will tell if Horwath comes up with a better idea than creating the bureaucracy to remove bureaucracy, and Wynne a more interesting plan than kind platitudes.