By Allison Jones in Toronto
Ontario is issuing a fourth round of direct payments to parents, encouraging them to use the $200 on offer for help with students’ learning recovery, but acknowledging it might just be an extra bit of cash for families as the cost of living rises.
When the Progressive Conservative government initially mentioned the program in broad strokes in its postelection budget this year, the money was framed as tutoring supports. But parents do not have to prove they will spend the money that way.
At an announcement Thursday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce acknowledged it won’t come with strings attached, and is to help parents offset rising financial pressures.
“Both can be true,” he said.
“We’re trying to encourage parents to invest in their kids to help them with learning recovery…and of course we’re saying to parents that we recognize the challenge on the horizon, the insecurity in the global economy and I think it is absolutely responsible to provide direct support to parents.”
Parents will use the money wisely, Lecce said.
“I trust parents to make the right decisions for their kids,” he said. “I know they will do the right thing because we’ve done this multiple times before.”
Ontario issued several rounds of direct payments to parents during and just before the COVID-19 pandemic, during some teacher strikes. Those payments totalled $1.6 billion and the new round is set to total $365 million.
Parents can apply for the “catch up” payments starting Thursday. They can receive up to $200 per school-aged child up to the age of 18 or $250 for school-aged kids up to age 21 with special education needs.
NDP education critic Chandra Pasma said money should go toward the public school system.
“What students who are struggling need right now is supports inside schools — smaller classes, more educational assistants, more mental health supports,” she said in a statement.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner contrasted the payments to parents with the government’s approach to bargaining with education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“Minister Lecce’s ‘catch up’ payments are a petty scheme designed to pit parents against education workers,” he said in a statement.
“They are merely a distraction from this government’s sorry record of funding cuts and failing contract negotiations with education workers.”
CUPE will be in a legal strike position on Nov. 3 and three days of talks this week with a mediator were called off because the two sides were too far apart.
CUPE is looking for annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent and the government in response has offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others.
The union said in a statement Thursday that the amount of money going to parents would cover the raises they seek for one year.
Banner image: Education Minister Stephen Lecce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2022.