Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he trusts that Ontario parents will put provincial dollars to help their children catch up in school to “good use.”

The Ministry of Education announced on Thursday that the government will be offering parents $200 or $250 per child to help offset the cost of catching up in school after two years of disrupted learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents with children in Kindergarten up to 18 years old can apply for $200, while parents with school-aged children with special education needs, up to 21 years old, can apply for $250.

Lecce said he believes parents will know best how to use the money to enhance their children’s learning.

“I trust the parent to spend money on their family more than a politician or bureaucrat or a union leader to do so. They will put these dollars to good use. They will invest in their kids for textbooks, for technology, for after-school programming,” he told CP24 Friday morning.

Parents can apply online for the payments, and upon submission Lecce said the money will be directly deposited into their accounts in about two to three weeks.

Applications for the catch-up money will remain open until March 31, 2023.

The payments are part of a $365 million Plan to Catch Up, which the government first announced during the throne speech in August.

This is the fourth time the government has issued payments to parents in the past two years to relieve pressures brought on from the pandemic.

Last year, parents received $400 per child aged 0 to Grade 12, while parents with children who have special needs under the age of 21 received $500.

In addition to the catch-up payments, Lecce said the government is also increasing support in the classroom.

“We have 5,000 more staff in our schools this year, $600 million more this year than last year. And yes, we are going to be, for the first time in Ontario for young kids out there…doing a literacy assessment to understand if your child has regressed in reading and give them the right interventions and supports to get them on track,” he said.

Lecce has often said that students are best served by being in the classroom, after students were forced to stay home and learn virtually throughout most of the past two years of the pandemic.

Despite criticism that the catch-up payments encourage learning outside of school, Lecce said the government is supporting both parents and investing in the education system.

“I think a lot of parents so far have given me the thumbs up saying ‘look, it helps.’ It's not going to pay the mortgage. It's here to help incrementally support their children with their learning loss, get them back on track, and I think anything the government can do and our premier can do is a positive thing,” he said.

Executive Director of People for Education Annie Kidder said the government could be using its funding in a more effective way to improve learning.

“It is a real worry that one of the responses is this kind of ‘we’ll write you a cheque.’ Because it's just not effective. It's not the kind of systematic work that we need right now and that schools need,” she told CP24.

Kidder said the pandemic exposed “a lot of cracks” in the education system and that the government needs to pin down how it wants to move forward.

“There are provinces and territories that are describing a bigger broader vision for education and then figuring out not just one-off kind of things, but what do we need to do to ensure that kids have the wide range of skills they need to be able to collaborate, solve difficult problems, understand what's real information and what's not real information,” she said.

Lecce’s announcement came after new data on the 2021-2022 Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) was released Thursday morning.

The latest assessment says the majority of students in the sixth grade are still failing to meet the provincial math standard. Only 47 per cent met the mark, three per cent less than the number of students that met it in 2018-2019.

Meanwhile, 59 per cent of Grade 3 students met the province’s mathematical standard, while 52 per cent of Grade 9 students did.

-With files from CTV News Toronto’s Hannah Alberga