Parents eligible for child care cash from province as strikes continue

Teachers from Central Manitoulin Public School and Assiginack Public School who are currently engaging in job action take to the street corners of Little Current to make their voices heard. photo by Warren Schlote

ONTARIO – Parents of children impacted by the ongoing education strikes in Ontario are eligible to claim a child care subsidy, offered by the provincial government, to help offset care costs during strike days. 

“Our aim has always been to reach a negotiated settlement that keeps kids in class, which we have done successfully with multiple labour partners to date,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce in a statement.

The province’s Support for Parents initiative means parents of students who cannot attend school due to job action can apply for funding to help cover the costs of caring for those children.

Children up to the age of six who do not yet attend school, but attend child care at a school location which would be closed due to the strike, are eligible for $60 per strike day. Kindergarten students are eligible for $40 per day and students from Grades 1 through 7 are entitled to receive $25 per day. All students within special education programs from Kindergarten through Grade 12 are entitled to $40 per day to help offset care costs.

Parents can sign up for this child care allowance through the Ontario government website, Payments will be effective retroactively to past strike dates.

Some problems have arisen with the subsidies. Parents have raised issues about overpayments on their accounts, which the government has blamed on the computer system managing the payments counting both elementary and secondary strike days, even though most secondary school students are beyond the eligibility requirements of the program.

Other parents have said they have not received the funding for their children after signing up.

Reaction to the government offer has been mixed. While some parents may welcome the cash to offset costs that are largely beyond their control, others, including the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) consider these payments to be little more than a bribe to parents to get them on-side with the government. The costs for one day of these payments is estimated to be $40 million, according to the province.

An online petition called ‘Take my Bribe Money and Put It Back into Education’ on petition site has drawn more than 35,000 virtual signatures as of this past Friday. Some parents have shared comments about signing up for the compensation, taking the received funds and giving them back to their children’s classrooms.

Whether or not child care facilities can accommodate the increased pressure of a flood of students out of class is another issue. Parents should be advised that availability fills up quickly so alternative arrangements may have to be made.

Job action has continued into this week. Rainbow District School Board elementary students got a four-day weekend after a rotating strike affected the Rainbow board on Monday and a province-wide ETFO strike took place on Tuesday.

As for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), Rainbow high school students and teachers were spared from rotating job action this week.

Although no progress has been made with OSSTF negotiations, the province did begin negotiations with the ETFO once again in the last few days of January. However, those talks failed two days later.

“The government is unwilling to make any significant efforts to address the problem of classroom violence, or to support the integration of students with diverse learning needs,” stated ETFO president Sam Hammond in a news release. “Agreeing to accept cuts to the funding that elementary students have had in previous years, and that they desperately need now, is not something that ETFO will consider.”

The province, however, has made a concession on one major sticking point: the current Kindergarten model. ETFO members have been rallying to preserve the Kindergarten model in its current state and the province appears to have agreed to that demand. However, Mr. Hammond said the preservation of the current Kindergarten model has not been formally introduced to the negotiations. Therefore, he said, those promises were unofficial and his union could not yet consider it a success.

Special education funding, hiring practices and dissatisfaction over wage increases remain contentious points that have not moved forward. ETFO said it was close to a deal at the previous week’s brief talks, but said the province brought forth unacceptable proposals which broke down the talks.

Hundreds of thousands of Ontario parents have signed up for the child care allowance program to date.