The province has axed funding for programs that “were making a positive difference for at-risk youth,” the Toronto District School Board said Friday in a memo that details the impact that losing $744,500 in grants will have.
The board says 127 part-time jobs for students — 75 from priority neighbourhoods, as well as 52 for post-secondary students — will disappear following the cancellation of the Focus on Youth after-school jobs program and a tutoring program for struggling elementary students as part of a surprise $25-million funding cut.
The board also warned the original Focus on Youth program, which has provided thousands of inner-city youth with summer jobs since it began in 2007 — following the shooting death of Jordan Manners in his Toronto high school — is also under threat.
“Many of the program/funding cancellations were aimed at helping youth most in need,” the board says. “The board’s experience is that the programs were making a positive difference for at-risk youth.”
Chair Robin Pilkey said she is concerned by the potential loss of the summer jobs, because hundreds of teens are hired for those positions.
“It would be terrible if it was just cut, and gone.”
Last week, the government sent out a series of emails to school boards outlining changes to the funding for “other” education programs — known as “EPO” — which includes the after-school jobs, classroom tutors and Indigenous-focused projects, as well as support for teachers in providing daily physical activity to students.
Opposition parties have been heavily critical of the move. NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles has slammed the government for leaving boards on the hook for funding, saying they are “out of pocket covering for this government’s mismanagement” and losing programs vital to student success.
But Education Minister Lisa Thompson has said the grants had become “somewhat of a slush fund” and that some of the spending was redundant, and wasteful.
Thompson said school boards are free to continue offering the jobs programs, but must find the money from within their existing budgets.
Liberal MPP Michael Coteau told the legislature Thursday that Manners’s death “brought attention to an issue that for too long had gone unaddressed, namely, the lack of school supports and programs in our schools that were targeting low-income, marginalized and racialized youth.”
Toronto Catholic Board Chair Maria Rizzo said her board alone is losing $655,000 in grants and laying off 95 students.
The funding was promised last spring by the previous Liberal government. The Toronto public board says it believes “any changes the ministry makes to funding of programs in the middle of the school year should not penalize the board financially.”
Pilkey said she’s very worried about the loss of $137,615 for a “re-engagement” program, where a guidance counsellor sought out youth who have left school with just a couple of credits to go, “to make contact with them again” and see if there’s a way to get them back into class to graduate.
“Our graduation rates have only increased,” she said, wondering why that program would be targeted. “I think, given what the job market looks like, there aren’t jobs for people who don’t have a high school diploma.”
On Friday, the Toronto Catholic board was notified that it would be receiving $141,491 for “parent reaching out grants” to run programs or support initiatives in its schools, starting in January.
The ministry had put the funding on pause despite an outcry from parents, who volunteered their time to apply for the grants last spring to run math nights or host speakers on issues like cyberbullying.
The move prompted Stiles to tweet “this is good news … but unfortunate that some schools had to cancel planned events … while the government sorted out a mess of their own creation. Honestly, it is mind-boggling.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy