Tim Hudak’s plans for education are “dangerous” and Ontario teachers will work to make sure the PCs aren’t elected, says the head of the country’s largest teacher union.
Increasing class sizes, decreasing staffing — especially for full-day kindergarten — is “an outright attack on publicly funded education in this province,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, or ETFO.
“In the interest of students in this province and in the interest of publicly funded education we are telling our members, based on everything that has been put forward, that we must do everything possible to stop Tim Hudak and his Conservatives from forming the next government so they cannot implement what they’ve put forward in their platforms,” he said.
Wage hikes for all teachers — meaning movement up a salary grid — as well as a promised 2 per cent “catch-up” increase for ETFO teachers would be axed under the Progressive Conservative plan.
The party is proposing to boost class sizes for students in Grades 1 to 3 from 20 to 23 students, from 24.5 to 26 students in Grades 4 to 8 and high school classes from 22 to 24, reports the Star’s Robert Benzie.
Those recommendations were made in a report prepared for the Liberal government in 2012 by economist Don Drummond.
Hudak is also proposing, as Drummond also suggested, that full-day kindergarten be taught by a teacher only, and not with the help of an early childhood educator, saving $200 million.
Teacher unions said younger teachers will be hit the hardest.
“In Greater Toronto, it won’t cost all beginning teachers their jobs, but it would include quite a chunk of them,” warned James Ryan, who heads the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.
“Outside of Greater Toronto, potentially every teacher in their first 10 years could be at risk.”
As for small class sizes, Hammond said they are popular with teachers and parents alike because it allows more one-on-one time with students, especially those who struggle. Research also shows the benefits to kids, he added.
“On the surface, if we’re talking about three kids a class, how hard can that be?” said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.
“But the realities of what’s happening in the classroom — there are more and more students needing individual attention. Three children does make a difference — it makes a huge difference in class.”
He accused the Progressive Conservatives of “creating a crisis in public education … (and) balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.”
Hammond agreed, saying struggling students will be left behind.
With cuts to support staff on the table too, “students with special needs — who are already being sent home from school across the province because there aren’t enough supports for them — will be absolutely affected.”
Hammond also said the promised 2 per cent raise for public elementary teachers puts them on par with other teachers around the province, at a cost of $112 million. (The Liberals penalized ETFO during bungled negotiations in 2008.)
Full-day kindergarten is best delivered by a teacher and early childhood educator, he added.
Paul Elliott, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said classes already go as high as 32 students.
“If he were to come in with that lower funding formula, we still have the same number of students and we have fewer teachers. Then if you start looking at it … classes may very well increase in size, you end up with fewer specialist teachers, end up with fewer guidance counsellors — there are lots of scenarios.”
Ryan, of the Catholic teachers’ union, said he’s “horrified” by the proposed changes and “the devastation his changes would cause to one of the best education systems in the world.”