Provincial money labelled ‘band-aid’

By Denise Rideout
The $40 million the province will be pumping into special education is only a band-aid solution, say special education activists and school board officials.

“We’re getting some money this year. But what about next year?,” says Jean Traynor, who sits on the special education advisory committee for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

“The kids aren’t going away. The problems aren’t going away.”
Traynor says the province needs to invest money for the long run, not just for the 2000-2001 school year.

She says the new money doesn’t make up for all the cuts Ontario has made to special education funding. Traynor says the cuts have been especially deep at the Ottawa-Carleton school board.

Last January, the board announced cuts of $20 million from its special education budget because of provincial cuts to funding. The cuts would take place over a three-year period.

Traynor, whose 13-year-old daughter is in special education, says the cuts haven’t just meant the schools can’t buy supplies for the students. She says it means there are fewer teaching assistants to help the students with academics and life skills.

“It’s very difficult to give the students what they need with the money we have,” Traynor says.

Now this new money, announced by the Ontario government on Jan. 27, will add to the $1.2 billion the province already spends on special education. The government made the announcement after widespread criticism from parents’ groups and trustees about how the Progressive Conservatives’ funding formula has led to deep cuts in special education funding.

There has been no decision yet from the Ministry of Education as to how much money Ottawa-Carleton schools will receive.

But school board chair Albert Chambers says the province would have to give it at least $20 million to make up for the cuts to the special education budget. He knows that’s unlikely to happen considering the $40 million has to be spread across the whole province.

“Forty million dollars doesn’t go very far,” says Chambers.

Chambers also says the board wants the Ontario government to come up with standards that determine how special education services should be delivered. He feels the province’s attitude is ‘here’s some money, you figure it out’.

“We’re looking for a serious decision that would clearly define standards across Ontario for special education services and then we want the province to fund it.”

Rob Savage, press secretary for Education Minister Janet Ecker, says he doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

He says in its announcement on Jan. 27, the government said it would be setting up province-wide standards. These standards would tell schools how to deliver services to students who are autistic or for those who are developmentally delayed, for example.

Savage also thinks the $40 million should give school boards the money they need.

“We’ve been spending more now in special education than ever in Ontario’s history,” Savage says.