Ontario’s education minister calls them “responsible decisions” that were made following a detailed look at school board spending, but a provincial student group is warning that at-risk youth are taking the biggest hit in the government’s $25-million cut to specialized programs.
“A lot of these programs are there to help students who are more vulnerable — those students will be the most impacted” by the loss of programs, said Amal Qayum, president of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association.
“We urge the government, moving forward, to make decisions after consulting all stakeholders, especially students.”
On Friday, the PC government sent out a series of emails to school boards, announcing cuts and changes to funding for EPO — “other” education programming — that had been pledged by the previous Liberal government last spring.
Focus on Youth, which provided after-school jobs and programming for youth in high-poverty neighbourhoods, is gone, as are $2,500 Speak Up grants, which gave students a chance to make a pitch for an activity or event to help make change in their neighbourhood.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson said Monday at Queen’s Park that “we have done a lot of work and the decisions that we made regarding EPO reflect our priorities.
“We actually have had a lot of foresight and we spent a lot of time working on this initiative and our teams have gone through, for quite some time, line item by line item, and we feel that we have made very responsible decisions,” she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the changes “callous” and “shocking.”
If the government isn’t replacing the axed programs, “then they are leaving a whole lot of very vulnerable and marginalized kids without the supports that we know — based on lots of research, and reports, and inquests — that we need,” said NDP education critic Marit Stiles.
Toronto Catholic school board chair Maria Rizzo questioned Thompson’s assertion that the cuts are “responsible.”
The loss of a program that involved “hiring college and university students to tutor students in elementary school — how responsible is that?” Rizzo said, adding one of her board’s high schools is losing a math and technology program. “If the government cares about math, why would they cut it?”
Annie Kidder, of the research and advocacy group People for Education, suspects the affected programs are those the province deems to be “non-core,” which the government asked about during its public consultation process that wrapped up a day after the government announced the cuts.
“What’s important is making sure that all of these kinds of programs are funded, whether they’re funded through education or some other ministry,” said Kidder.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said “I really don’t know what data they are looking at that says tutors in the classroom” is not getting value for the money, and it will now be up to boards to fill the gaps.
With files from Rob Ferguson
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74