By Cathy Abraham, President, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association
The policies and decisions of Ontario’s next provincial government will affect the world our children and youth will inherit tomorrow. They also affect their opportunities to get a good education today.
Throughout the provincial election campaign, I’ve been encouraging all voters, and especially parents, students, seniors, and other members of school communities, to learn about the critical issues impacting Ontario’s public schools before Election Day on June 2.
The provincial government decides what is taught in our schools and how much of our taxes are used to pay for education. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our future depends on high quality, publicly funded education. This affects you – whether or not you have children in the school system. As a voter and citizen of Ontario, it is clearly in your interest to know where the candidates stand on the issues.
Throughout the pandemic, amidst all the unforeseen challenges, changes, restrictions, and subsequent re-openings, public school trustees across the province have engaged their local communities in conversations about the future of public education through advocacy, research, consultation and education. These activities have never been more important than they are during a provincial election period.
I’m proud of the work of our school boards throughout the pandemic, as we’ve partnered together to adapt to the most challenging circumstances our system has faced in decades. For a variety of reasons, parents, students, and communities are in many ways more aware than ever about the important role public education plays in the development of the next generation of Ontarians and the future prosperity and harmony of our society.
Our schools have now returned to a manner of operating that is closer to normal, but they will never be quite the same. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with our students and our system for years to come. The next government will have the opportunity to learn from both the challenges and innovations of the pandemic, and implement a vision for the future of public education in Ontario that provides the best possible outcomes for all of our students.
As president of a non-partisan association representing all English public school boards and school authorities in Ontario, I know we need a government that will:
- Prioritize the mental health and well-being of our students and staff
- Ensure that our system is fully funded, with flexibility to enable school boards to address their unique local challenges
- Promote and facilitate the elimination of existing systemic racism and oppression within the policies, practices and structures of our public education system
- Work to address the unique needs and challenges of Indigenous students
- Maintain labour peace by successfully negotiating collective agreements (which will occur in the first year of the next government’s mandate)
- Recognize the important role that local, democratically elected school board trustees play in ensuring that our schools are world class.
As we emerge from a period in which governments of different political stripes, at all levels, saw spending increase to record levels, it is essential to remember that funding allocated to public education is an investment, with a tremendous return.
According to a 2019 report from the Conference Board of Canada, “Each dollar of public education spending generates $1.30 in total economic benefits to Ontario. At the same time, the inverse holds true for each dollar taken from public education.” What we don’t spend now, we risk spending later on fixing problems that could have been prevented in the first place. We know the negative impacts of the pandemic were greatest in marginalized communities, and that strategically targeted resources can make a world of difference.
It continues to be extremely important to have the voice of communities – school board trustees – at the table when these decisions and plans are being made. We know it’s a challenging time, but that’s why it’s more important than ever for different levels of government to work together to make smart investments and cooperate in new ways.
When deciding who to vote for in this election, I encourage Ontarians to vote for candidates who will champion the cause of public education and continue investing in our students – the future of this province.
– Cathy Abraham is the President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and a public school trustee with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.