Rainbow Board welcomes Ontario investment in public education

SUDBURY—The Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) welcomes news from the province that it is increasing funding to every school board in Ontario this year.

“It looks like we’re going to be okay,” stated Norm Blaseg, director of education for the RDSB, in an interview with the Recorder on Friday of last week. “With the Grants for Student Needs (GSN) funding and board predicted enrollment, and Priorities and Partnerships Funds (PPF), I think we will be fine.”
This comes after the Ontario government announced that it is investing $736 million more in public education for the 2020-21 school year, increasing the total to more than $25.5 billion. This funding, through the GSN program, represents the largest investment in public education in Ontario’s history. As a result, Ontario’s average per-pupil funding amount has reached $12,525, which is an increase of $250 over the previous year.

Mr. Blaseg told the Recorder, “the GSN usually comes out March 31, so it is almost three months late this year. Legitimately of course, due to COVID-19. He explained, “typically boards have three or four weeks to review the technical paper numbers, and forward our data populations. Then we have to submit these to the ministry, typically in July. They (province) have extended this a month.”

“The GSNs are the revenue side of our budget,” said Mr. Blaseg, who pointed out all school boards, “are only allowed to go one percent or less in deficit. So basically we have to align our revenues and expenses.”
“Now that we have them (GSNs) we are feeling a little more comfortable,” continued Mr. Blaseg. “We have also got our priority in partnership funding (top up on government priorities) every year. We received a little over $1 million this year. This will help ensure our needed staffing is in place in September. That’s why it is so important to have the PPF and GSNs.” 

Mr. Blaseg will now send all these funding statements to each of the RDSB department superintendents, “and our finance people have to go through everything with a fine-tooth comb,” he said. “I think we will be fine in terms of the GSNs we received and the board predicted school enrollments.” 

“It is important for us to align our enrollment numbers and GSNs,” stated Mr. Blaseg. “At least now with the funding numbers we can tackle this now.”

All 72 district school boards in the province are projected to have increases to their GSN allocations for the upcoming school year, which includes record-high investments in special education, mental health and well-being, among many other key areas, said education minister Stephen Lecce.

Under the GSN, the new $213 million student-centric Supports for Students Fund (SSF) will support: special education, mental health and well-being, language instruction, Indigenous education and STEM programming. The SSF can also be used for additional critical staffing needs during the return to school in September, including hiring custodians and education assistants for students who need support.

In addition to the GSN, Ontario is providing funding for the PPF, which enables school boards and third parties to undertake important initiatives and provide critical resources for curricular, extra-curricular and wrap-around supports. In the upcoming school year, the PPF is projected to be over $300 million.

Last week, the province also released its safety plan for the resumption of class for the 2020-21 school year, outlining scenarios for how students, teachers and staff can safely return to classrooms in September. The plan also provides choice to parents, enhanced online learning and additional funding. While the decision to return to the normal school day routine will continue to be based on medical advice, boards and schools are being asked to plan for alternative scenarios that may need to be implemented in September depending on the province’s COVID-19 situation.

“Nothing is more important than protecting our kids in this province,” said Minister Lecce. “Parents expect us to take every precaution to keep their children safe when they go back to school in September—and that’s exactly what we’re delivering today. This plan takes the best medical advice available from public health experts to ensure every school board and every school is ready to ensure students continue learning in the safest way possible.”
Ontario’s plan to safely reopen schools will provide options for parents to send their children to class or to enter online learning with health, safety and well-being at its core. Boards will be asked to plan for the following three scenarios to be implemented in September, depending on the public health situation at the time.

The first is the normal school day routine, based on public health advice, an adapted delivery model that has been designed to allow for physical distancing and cohorts of students. Under this model, school boards are asked to maintain a limit of 15 students in a typical classroom at one time and adopt timetabling that would allow for students to remain in contact only with their classmates and a single teacher for as much of the school day as possible. The third is at-home learning: should the school closure be extended, or some parents choose not to send their child back to school, school boards need to be prepared to offer remote education. Remote education should be delivered online to the greatest extent possible, including the establishment of minimum expectations for students to have direct contact with their teacher at the same time on a regular basis, also known as synchronous learning. School boards have been asked to prepare their own safety plans of the upcoming school year and submit them to the ministry. School boards will also be required to communicate with parents and students prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year, outlining the safety plan, guidance on health and safety measures and protocols and any other changes that will be implemented when schools open in September.