Ontario’s Liberal government is promising to spend around $300 million over the next three years. This is to improve support services for children with special needs and hire more teachers. This comes just months ahead of the spring election. Premier Kathleen Wynne said today that the money will be spent to eliminate the wait list to have children with special needs assessed, and to hire 2,000 new teachers and education workers.
The additional staff will include educational assistants for students with exceptionally high needs and specialists such as social workers and speech pathologists.
The announcement comes just days before the Liberals present their final budget ahead of the June election and Wynne has made several major funding promises over the last week.
- Vowing to expand the government’s free pharmacare program to cover seniors
- $2.1 billion over the next four years to rebuild Ontario’s mental health system (includes funding for 180 mental health workers in schools.)
- $140 million over three years to hire guidance counsellors.
The province has spent $2.86-billion on special education this year, but leaves it up to school boards to allocate funding to schools or programs based on local needs. Some argue that it would be more effective to allocate money to each child based on their needs. The first installment for the 2018 school year is $102 million, and school boards expect to create an additional 600 full-time positions by the 2019 school year. Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said the funding will be permanently added to the budget and mandating boards spend it on special education and not move it to other underfunded areas. The government also announced a bump in education grants — $625 million more for the 2018-19 school year, up to $24.5 billion — including a small raise of $400 a year for trustees.
Critics said the additional dollars will not make much difference to special education students and has ignored parents’ concerns for years. NDP Education Critic Peggy Sattler (London West) said the funds are “unlikely to have an impact on reversing the years of special education cuts that we have experienced.” But the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association welcomed the news. People for Education, an advocacy group, estimates that 35,000 students across the province are on wait lists for special education assessments.
1/6 children in Ontario needs special support, according to Premier Wynne.
Wynne has an announcement planned for tomorrow morning that is expected to address child care. Wednesday’s budget is also expected to eliminate the wait list for developmental services for children when they turn 18.
Ontario’s spring election will be held on June 7.