Education Critic MPP Lisa Gretzky asked a series of questions to the Liz Sandals, Minister of Education during Question Period on February 22, as is noted below in the recording of that exchange.
Sadly, during this exchange, Premier Wynne’s government seemed content to have increased funding for school repairs. Yet, our provincial government seemed oblivious to the fact that, even with the increases, the funding they are allocating for school repairs is far less than what Ontario’s Auditor-General has confirmed is actually needed to keep our schools in good repair.
Imagine if you owed $100 to Rogers or Bell for your monthly phone service and you pay them $2.50. When their Accounts folks call, you proudly let them know you’re going to double your payment for the month and pay an additional $2.50, bringing the grand total to $5 on an outstanding bill of $100. We’re quite certain that Rogers or Bell would be unimpressed with you doubling your monthly payment and would, instead, focus on the fact that you still owe them $95 of the $100 bill! We’d like Premier Wynne and Minister Sandals to start focusing on what is needed to ensure schools are safe, well-maintained buildings for our children to spend six hours each day. We’d like them to stop congratulating themselves on increasing funding, when it isn’t yet close to sufficient!
Hansard Recording from Feb 22, 2016
Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: My question is to the Minister of Education. Schools in this province are falling apart. Over the past five years alone, this government has underfunded school repairs by $5.8 billion. Add that to the previous repair backlog and we now have a shortfall of $15 billion—that’s billions, Speaker.
Kids are being forced to wear winter coats inside because classrooms are 12 degrees. Roofs are collapsing and children are being injured by broken infrastructure. While this government starves school boards of the resources they need to address these issues, students and families are being left behind.
My question is simple. With a budget on the horizon, Ontario families want to know: Will this government stop cuts to the classroom and commit to fixing the disrepair in our schools?
Hon. Liz Sandals: I’m pleased to report that, in fact, we have continued to increase education funding. If you look at the amount of funding that was received in 2003 and compare it to today, it’s up $8.1 billion. That’s 56%, at a time when the number of students has decreased.
Interjection: I think she said “billion.”
Hon. Liz Sandals: Billion with a “b.”
The amount per pupil has gone up. The absolute amount has gone up. The amount of funding for school renewal has gone up. The amount for school renovations has gone up. The amount of money for school repairs has gone up. Everything is going up.
While there do continue to be schools that are not in great shape, we have actually fixed the funding model—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you.
Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: That just shows how out of touch the minister is, because the needs of the students have increased, the cost of electricity has increased and the cost of transportation has increased. Therefore, the budgets are not sufficient.
Again, to the Minister: Ontario boasts highly qualified education and child-care workers, bright students and parents who want what’s best for their children. This morning, organizations like Fix Our Schools, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care held a press conference at Queen’s Park to demand answers. Directors of education, trustees and students also attended.
The Minister of Education needs to put our students first. Kids are paying the price for her misplaced priorities. This government must recognize that it’s unacceptable that kids are wearing winter coats in classrooms.
Will this government repair our schools and finally provide a safe and equal opportunity education for all Ontario students?