Will it be a tax credit? Or a payout to parents? And how much?
Families looking for details about Ontario’s new child support benefits will have to wait to find out.
The provincial government announced the benefit as part of Monday’s updated budget, but has not yet released details about the $225 million two-year fund that unions and boards say could be better spent on schools.
“Not every student will need the same support,” said Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “And I think if parents get (checks), at $225 million that means $100 per child. And if you put that together, you could get more out of that money by using it for bulk purchases – I think that’s a better use of money.
The county has already provided $175 million in tutoring programs for school boards to help with student learning loss during the pandemic, Abraham noted.
“I’m concerned about this,” she added. “Are there enough teachers available? … We know that our teachers at school are trained for this, and we think they are the best people to determine what students need.”
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Peter Bethlenfalvy said the benefit would bring “direct payments to parents to help their children catch up” following the educational interruptions during the pandemic, but did not provide details.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce later described the move as part of an “ongoing commitment” by the government. “We think it’s very important to help parents during this time of economic hardship,” he said.
But Abraham said she is concerned about funds being diverted to the private education system and “detrimenting the public aspect of public education whose importance and value we all know.”
Interim NDP leader Peter Tabuns called the new benefit “a very small amount per child,” saying it “places the responsibility back on the parents, as parents want an education system that takes care of their children.”
Liberal education critic Mitzie Hunter, a former education minister, said the government should instead focus on keeping schools safe during the ongoing pandemic.
While Hunter acknowledged that “any parent who gets a check back from the government, it’s a happy moment,” she noted that the money would go to some families who don’t need it, rather than being directed to “where the deepest need.”
Hunter said she was surprised that, so far into the pandemic, the government “the only solution is to give parents a check, rather than do the hard work of working with education partners across the system to find out.” where the improvements are needed.”
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said: “It’s always good to try and help children with their education – I’m just not sure how effective that will be.”
Laura Walton, chair of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions – which is currently negotiating new contracts with the county and school boards – said she too doesn’t see how the new benefit will help.
The money, she added, could instead be spent on additional teaching assistants or preschool educators in classrooms.
“Parent voucher payment is not the answer,” tweeted Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
“Investments in the system are what is needed. Students need smaller classes and support at school.”
The county has given parents two payments to cover education-related expenses since the start of the pandemic. The initial payment of $200 per elementary school student up to age 12 was increased to $400 last year for all students up to age 18.
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