BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD, QUEEN’S PARK COLUMNIST
FIRST POSTED: SATURDAY, JUNE 27, 2015 07:00 PM EDT | UPDATED: SATURDAY, JUNE 27, 2015 08:10 PM EDT
Education Minister Liz Sandals
TORONTO – Changes to the funding formula in special education are forcing school boards to cut back on support services to some of the province’s most vulnerable children.
According to NDP education critic Lisa Gretzky, 38 boards have seen cuts totalling $22.5 million to special education. One Toronto board is out $3.5 million.
“As a result, those boards are then having to cut their resources to the student,” Gretzky said in an interview.
She said special education teachers and education assistants are being fired as boards scramble to balance their books in the face of funding cutbacks to special education services.
“These are the professionals in the school system that would actually provide services to the students with special needs in the school system,” she said.
Kids with autism, with learning disabilities and other special needs are losing vital programs, Gretzky said.
“Their needs are very varied and very specific.
“The people who would be able to adjust the learning to the specific students, based on their specific needs, they’re no longer going to have those professionals to help support them.”
She said a lot of special needs kids are being integrated into the regular classroom — without the extra support they need to cope.
“Obviously they’re going to fall behind,” she said.
Gretzky said there’s an economic impact of the layoffs, especially in her Windsor West riding that’s been hard hit by unemployment in the auto sector.
“We have the highest unemployment rate in the province here in Windsor.
“We are now adding more people to that list. That’s not good for the economy in my area or any of the other areas where they’re letting staff go,” she said.
There are about 44,000 students on a waitlist just to have their needs identified, she said. “These are kids who’ve been identified with some sort of special education need but they haven’t yet been assessed,” said Gretzky, who was a trustee for the Greater Essex County School Board before being elected to Queen’s Park.
“It’s really going to affect literacy and numeracy.”
Toronto District School Board trustee Tiffany Ford said her board is seeing millions in cutbacks to special education.
“We are in deficit every year to the tune of millions due to a provincial funding model that does not adequately serve the needs of the most vulnerable,” she said.
“Unfortunately, if we are provided with insufficient funding, parents and families will experience the effects of it. Our staff does an excellent job with what we are given by the ministry, but it is consistently never enough,” said Ford, who is vice chair of the board’s Special Education Advisory Committee.
The Durham District School Board is one of the hardest hit boards.
The province recently changed the way they fund special education, said the board’s special education superintendent, Richard Kennelly. His board will lose almost $2 million over the next four years.
Previously, the ministry allocated funding on a per pupil basis. Some boards received less money than others per student. In an effort to address that inequity, the education ministry took money from boards that got more to spread around the province.
“What ended up happening was that boards like ourselves built up programming based on the funding we were receiving. When the ministry went to level the field, they said ‘we’re not adding any new dollars. We’re going to redistribute the money we have’.”
Boards that were funded at a higher level had money taken away from them.
“You established programming based on demonstrated needs and now that money’s being reduced,” he said.
His board is attempting to move resources around to lessen the impact on students.
“Our goal is to put supports in place which will provide for the same outcomes for the students, based on whether they’re in the mainstream or they’re in a small class,” he said.
They were able to absorb the cuts last year, but have been forced to implement cuts for next year.
“For next year, we do have to do some classroom reductions. We don’t know what the outcomes will be. We think we have some good plans in place but until everything’s played out, we won’t know,” he said.
“We will certainly be monitoring the students to find out what the impact is.”
Education Minister Liz Sandals said her government has increased special ed funding 68% since 2003 and will increase it again for the 2015-16 school year to $2.72 billion.
“We have also been responsive to school boards and their request for more effective special education funding across the province,” she said.
“In working with them and other stakeholders, the ministry is transitioning to a more fair and equitable way to distribute among school boards the portion of special education funding available for students with high needs.
“This will ensure boards can be responsive to the needs of their students and local community.”
- More than 331,000 students receive special education support.
- An estimated 44,000 students are on wait lists for assessments with identification, placement and review committees, or for services.
- 57% of elementary and 53% of secondary principals report restrictions on waiting lists for special ed assessments.
- The average number of students with special ed needs for each educational assistant is 21 in elementary schools and 57 in secondary schools.
- Nearly 80% of school boards spend more on special education than they receive from the province.
- In the 2015-16 Grants for Student Needs, special education funding has been cut for 38 school boards, totalling $22.5 million in cuts next year.
— Source, People for Education