By CATHY DANDY
Education is firmly in the spotlight with elementary and secondary school teachers initiating job action across the province.
For parents, the conversation should not just be about saying yes or no to the strikes.
Families need to understand what their children have lost and to demand the supports needed for effective learning.
Doug Ford’s government education budget echoes the wholesale funding cuts of the Nineties under Mike Harris.
For those of us who were parenting school-age children during the previous Conservative government, there is a sense of déjà vu. Parent activists like me fought back against the loss of music teachers, librarians, guidance teachers, vice principals, and special education supports.
Many of those adults were never restored under the Liberals and now Ford’s drastic funding cuts to school boards budgets has resulted in another sharp reduction of staff and programs with “wasteful spending” given as the reason.
Yet it is an imagined crisis with no evidence of waste to justify the cuts to critical supports for children and youth.
In addition to increasing class size at all grade levels and reducing the number of Early Learning Educators in Kindergarten, school boards have been forced to cut back essential mental health services, special education services and programs that help young people living in poverty.
The TDSB cut 10 psychologists alone and the resulting “restructuring” means that many fewer kids will get assessed and then get the help they need. I see this every day as I work with families who need help for their children.
The loss of thousands of secondary school teachers also is having an impact on what teens can study. Core subjects remain but the classes that brought inspiration and opportunity – the arts, languages, hands-on learning – have been eliminated with the reduction in teachers.
The major difference between slashing budgets now and when it was done in the mid nineties, is that education research conclusively says fewer adults are bad for children and youth.
It is an accepted fact that students must have many strong “developmental relationships” while in school. Strong, abundant adult supports in the classroom, in special education and in mental health, changes the way young brains develop physically and thus academically. Eliminating adults from the system will have a negative impact on children and youth.
This is not to say that all adults in the system know how to form effective relationships with students. However, the focus in education should be on determining the optimum adult/student ratio and then training and coaching those adults to support students based on the best brain science.
Removing teachers and eliminating special education supports are not evidenced-based moves.
So what is a parent to do? The message is not a simple “I support teachers.”
Parents must gather the stories of how these cuts are hurting kids in their community. What has your school lost? What does your principal say about the changes? Which students are struggling and what does the research say should be in their classrooms to help them?
This government needs to know that removing education funding has an intellectual and social cost on children and youth and one that families are not willing to have them pay.
Cathy Dandy has worked for 25 years in the education and mental health sectors as a parent activist, school board Trustee and Director, and now helps families navigate and advocate the public education system to get help for their children.