Kids ARE returning to schools with fewer resources and less support

For the life of me, I wasn’t able at first why I was hearing people singing or humming and even two or three bopping to the tune of the Happy Days show theme. You know the one with starring Richie Cunningham, the Fonz and all the others from Milwaukee. I mean, it’s not exactly on the TV show ratings radar anymore. Then, it dawned on me. Without exception, all of the people I heard and saw doing this were parents of either youngsters in school or perhaps post-secondary school.  I finally clued in when I heard a wife singing the famous song lyrics to her equally joyful husband:

Gonna cruise her round the town,

Show everybody what I’ve found

Rock ‘n’ roll with all my friends

Hopin’ the school year (music) never ends.

Just a word of advice from the parent of two grown sons to all parents with children returning to school: If your children ask why you keep singing or humming that tune, be gentle in your response. Just tell them it is because you are so happy for THEM, that they get to go back to school and enjoy being with their friends and taking on all the new challenges and opportunities. Tell them that you’re just cheering yourself up feeling the house is so empty and quiet now that summer has gone. Don’t say its because they are out of the house finally.

Naturally, this temporary glee will eventually peter out, especially when Ontario parents come to grips with the state of affairs in Ontario’s education system. Once students are fully entrenched into the current academic year, the changes will begin to emerge. It’s kind of like buying a car from a dealer who says that the new model costs way less but it is exactly the same as the higher priced model. The driver isn’t really going to notice the difference until he goes to use one of the many features that has been removed as an “efficiency” by the company in order to save money.

When the students are back in school they are going to notice fairly quickly that Doug Ford has taken away guidance counsellors, music instructors and custodial staff. They are losing caring adult guidance, losing course options, and even losing rooms. Some will even find that when they make their way around the school some classrooms are shuttered and padlocked. While the full extent of the lost positions has not yet been fully experienced by the students, here is one certainty: kids ARE returning to schools with fewer resources and less support.

A few days ago, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce tried to spin the impact of cuts on classrooms, calling concerns “exaggerated.” But he confirmed that this September is only the first of four years of cuts that will see thousands of teacher and education worker jobs cut.

With today’s global economy and competitiveness, we need to be opening more doors of opportunity for our students, not closing them in their faces. How is having fewer teachers in classrooms going to improve the quality of our student’s education? Students who are struggling to learn need more support in the classroom, not less.

I’ve said many times that one of the most essential skills that a politician must have is the ability to really listen to the People. Last spring students, parents, teachers, education workers and the NDP sent Doug Ford a message loud and clear saying that hiking class sizes is a really bad idea. It will have dire long-term consequences for Ontario students. Obviously, Ford didn’t listen.

The Ford Conservatives have had a really rough first year in office. Ford’s popularity nosedived to a rating lower than Kathleen Wynne had at the end of her final term in office. Ford is some worried! At the eleventh hour, just 10 days before school started, Ford and Minister Lecce blinked and tried to soften the blow saying they were willing to revisit the class size plans. But, give me a break! Doug Ford is callously using our children as political pawns, thinking that they are pieces on a chessboard for him to play with. He knows full well that the monumental task of redoing course offerings and student timetables for thousands of students at the last moment is absolutely impossible at this point. But the Conservatives were merely changing the messaging, not reversing or revising cuts. Class sizes are going up, thousands of teacher and education worker jobs are being cut, and Ontario’s schools are going to get worse instead of better.

Don’t forget Ford has quietly cut over $1 billion in public health, cutting 25 of 35 public health units in the province. These cuts have put school nutrition program in jeopardy. School nutrition programs help ensure children get the nourishment they need to concentrate and succeed in the classroom. These cuts not only mean more kids will go hungry, but it means more kids will have a harder time keeping up in the classroom.

Now, despite all of the issues that are plaguing our education system, I want to give a shout out to Barney Deforge of Barney’s Bargain Barn fame and all of the Homeland Mission volunteers who contributed to the Back-to-School give-away at the end of August. They are trying to counter the cuts to school nutrition programs and attacks on parents’ pocketbooks. According to Barney, over 560,000 pounds (254,000kg) of food and supplies were offered free to anyone who needed them. That represents over $2 million worth of food, school supplies and other goods. What was not given out at the event was packed up and sent off to neighbouring communities to share the bounty.

Not to sound like a broken record, but people like Barney Deforge and the countless workers and volunteers of Homeland Missions and other organizations represent what is best about Northern communities. My hat is off to them for making a difference in our children’s lives.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected]or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Mike Mantha