Ottawa invests $381 million for safe return to school in Ontario; $70 million will go towards hiring more teachers
Published Wednesday, August 26, 2020 3:06PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 27, 2020 7:26AM EDT
Ontario is receiving $381 million from the federal government in additional funding this year to assist with a safe return to school for students and staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday that Ottawa is investing an additional $2 billion in funding for all provinces and territories to support schools as students are set to head back in less than three weeks.
Half of the money will be dispersed this year and the remaining funds will come in 2021.
The funding is on top of $19 billion Ottawa had already announced for provinces and territories to help them cope with the economic impacts of the pandemic.
“We’ve seen the provinces put forward plans for that reopening and they’re confident that they’re doing what is necessary but parents were still concerned,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Toronto. “So we said let's give the provinces even more resources to be able to do everything that is necessary to keep our kids safe.”
The money will be delivered through a new fund specifically for school reopenings and there will also be $112 million to help schools in First Nations communities.
Trudeau said the money will be divided based on the amount of students in each province and territory.
“We looked at Statistics Canada’s numbers for Canadians between the ages of four and 18 and that is how we divided the money in a fair way with a $2 million base rate if you want to get into the technical details of it,’’ Trudeau said.
Premier Doug Ford responded to the investment at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon and said the money enhances his government’s back-to-school plan.
“I stand by it, we have the safest and the most cautious plan in the entire country and thank goodness for Dr. Williams, thank goodness for Dr. Huyer, they put their stamp of approval on it along with other people on our health table,” Ford said.
According to a press release from the provincial government, the funding will be split towards implementing the province’s reopening plan, safe student transportation, hiring additional special education and mental health staff as well as public health nurses, and support for remote learning.
Specifically, $70 million of the $381 million will go towards the temporary hiring of more educators, $100 million will be allocated to hiring custodians, HVAC improvements and internet connectivity and $30 million will help purchase additional personal protective gear.
The government has also put aside $12.5 million for hiring up to 125 additional nurses in public health units across the province to help schools manage potential COVID-19 cases.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce was at Ford’s press conference and said the province is also setting aside some of the funding to respond to a potential second wave of the virus.
“We’re also providing $50 million dollars to respond to the second wave and/or the flu pandemic, having an immediate ability of the province to respond to school boards’ needs with money and resources when those challenges arrive,” Lecce said.
In addition to Ottawa’s funding, the province has invested nearly $900 million to support school boards with back-to-school plans.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh spoke to CP24 about Ottawa’s investment and said the government waited too long to provide more assistance to schools.
“[This] should have been done months ago,” Singh said. “I’m happy to see an announcement today but we also want to see it tied directly to making schools safer and what parents are asking for specifically. Parents are saying they want smaller classroom sizes…”
Toronto District School Board Chair Alexander Brown said the board is grateful for the funding but said it’s too early to tell if it will help reduce classroom sizes, a particular concern for many parents and educators.
Brown said the board does not know yet how much funding it will receive from Ottawa’s investment but he said parents should feel more at ease knowing more resources are coming.
“If I were a parent I would be very confident, much more confident, that we can get kids back safely. But again, we still need to see the details to know what that means, so I don’t want to make any promises yet,’’ Brown said.
Ottawa is expected to announce the second half of the payment later this year for the remainder of the school year pending federal approvals in December.