Alessio Donnini – CBC News
Stephen Lecce announced $200 catch up payments to parents on Thursday (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
A number of parents in London, Ont., are voicing their disappointment over ‘catch up payments’ the provincial government made available Thursday.
Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced a new round of direct payments to parents, encouraging them to use the $200 available to help with students’ learning recovery. As well, $250 payments are available to parents whose children have special needs.
The announcement came after results from Ontario’s standardized tests showed students appear to be struggling in math, with a majority of Grade 6 students failing provincial standards.
Some local parents say the catch up payments, which are said to give parents extra funding for tutors and other educational supports, should be directed elsewhere.
“They’re going to be paying for regular household expenses. It’s not going to go to education,” said Robyn Michaud, a member of Western University’s faculty of education and parent of three.
Michaud, and other parents who spoke to CBC London, believe the funding should be put toward hiring and supporting educational assistants (EAs), and other education support workers.
“You can’t have a government at the table saying we have no money to give education workers, then provide all these random payments to parents,” said Michaud. “[The provincial government] is not paying them a livable wage, you’re not going to retain the best staff, and there’s going to be a massive education crisis.”
“Wouldn’t it just be a better decision to take that money and hire EAs? That way, this so-called catch up plan could be a plan that helps teachers support our students and not put the burden back on parents,” said Trang Bui, a parent who has two children in school.
Even if the government’s catch up payments were being handed out on top of funding for education support staff, Bui says the payments are so small they have no hope of helping students catch up, even if they are used for tutoring.
“I don’t feel that $200 would be sufficient for a tutor. That might be a couple of classes,” she said.
Trang Bui with her four children, Sparrow, Casper, Harlan and Linus (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)
Sweetening the deal
According to data from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), just 47 per cent of Grade 6 students met the provincial standard for mathematics this year. Meanwhile, 53 per cent of Grade 3 students met the requirements, down from 60 per cent four years ago.
52 per cent of Grade 9 students met provincial standards this year, down from 75 per cent three years ago.
With Lecce’s announcement coming on the heels of the most recent test results, some parents say the move is an attempt to cozy up to parents while negotiations with education support workers fell apart just days before legal strike action is on the table.
“This feels a little bit more like a bribe to parents and families rather than a catch up payment or a tutoring payment. I’d rather that go back into the classroom,” said parent Ryan Starkweather.
“This is just something to gather public support for the ministry’s position,” said Michaud, who adds, money would be much better spent retaining education support workers through wage increases.
Credit where due
Although Michaud criticized the catch up payments, she does believe there has been some progress made lately. Specifically, she praises the move by the Ministry of Education to extend the government’s $175-million tutoring support program, which was set to expire at the end of this year.
“I give credit where credit is due. Investing in tutoring to reduce gaps is money well spent,” Michaud said. “That’s absolutely money well spent because right now, we are seeing major gaps like we haven’t seen before, and that’s nobody’s fault.”
Robyn Michaud (left) is an Indigenous Education Teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board and lecturer at Western University in London, Ont. (Submitted by Charlene Camillo)
Michaud also supports the choice to invest in evidence-based reading tools that identify problem readers from K2 to Grade 2.
“This is kind of the hill I die on because I believe that every student has the right to learn how to read and has the ability to read, you know, at least at a functional level to be able to function as adults,” she said.
Another generally well-received measure is the plan to deploy what Lecce calls “math action teams” to poorly performing school boards to shore up teaching abilities and raise test scores.