The head of a province-wide student group calls cuts to education funding outlined in today’s Liberal budget further evidence of “a broken promise” to Ontario students.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan unveiled the 2012 budget at Queen’s Park today. In education, he said the budget will ensure full-day kindergarten is implemented by September 2014. It will maintain smaller elementary school classes, and maintain the 30-per-cent Ontario tuition grant for college and university students – all opposing economist Don Drummond’s reformation report to reduce Ontario’s $16 billion deficit.
Sandy Hudson, the chair of the Ontario Federation of Students, was present at Queen’s Park for the budget announcement and expressed her anger with other budget content.
“Students are very frustrated about the budget right now,” she said.
Specifically, Hudson opposed cuts the government plans to make to student transportation and underused schools, while amalgamating some of the province’s 72 school boards. She said the Liberals plan a cap on secondary school credits starting September 2013 – meaning a decrease in the number of students being able to return for a fifth year. She said the plan will cut numerous grants, including a $75 million reduction in capital grants over the next six years.
Hudson added that only one-third of students are eligible for the continued tuition rebate grant, while rising tuition fees and cuts to financial assistance programs are compounding students’ grievances.
“Students feel that they’ve been betrayed time and time again by this government,” Hudson said. “We’re looking to the opposition parties to be strong advocates for students to make sure we have an affordable, accessible post secondary education system in this province.”
Duncan said that the most important thing the government can do now, to galvanize the economy and produce jobs, is to balance the budget.
“The budget takes strong action and makes the right choices to protect the results we’ve achieved in health care and education,” he said.
The minister was asked about parents who may want to keep their children in high school for another year.
“We’re still prepared to allow an additional four credits sent to those students who feel they need the additional year for whatever reason,” Duncan said.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said the retention of full-day kindergarten was “the right thing,” but was critical of the budget targeting public sector workers. Duncan announced he would ask all public sector workers to accept a wage freeze for the next two years.
“My concern is that public sector workers are being singled out to resolve a deficit that they did not create,” he said, adding that the reduction in education funding to 1.7 per cent did not keep up with inflation rates.
The current collective agreement with teachers and school board employees will expire in August. Duncan’s proposed two-year wage freeze, as well as a freeze on banked sick days the minister said would help achieve a balanced budget in 2017-18.
Hammond said he would not comment out of respect for the bargaining process, but said the budget will now have implications for the McGuinty government.
“This budget is going to have all public sector workers step back and re-evaluate that relationship (with the McGuinty government,)” Hammond said.